Why Islamism cannot be pluralistic
The shortcut answer is that Muslims can defend pluralism but political Islam will not -- unless, of course, for deception. Pluralistic thought has an avenue to survive in Islam the religion, but it does not have a space to breathe in Islam the political ideology. That is the heart of the matter in the political war between secular and non-secular Muslims; between Muslims who peacefully practice their faith and Islamists who violently and non-violently enforce their practices on others.
A Muslim is a Muslim. An Islamist is a Muslim who directly/indirectly/by free vote/by monarchical power would force others to observe Islam precisely as he (not necessarily “she”) would deem appropriate. It is the unbearable allure of commanding good and forbidding evil that makes a peaceful Muslim a not-so-peaceful Islamist.
In the last decade, I have written unnecessarily thick and probably too boring chronicles in this column to explain, often with empirical evidence, why the ruling Justice and Development Party cannot be a “Muslim case for liberty,” sincerely hoping that I was wrong. I still hope I am wrong, after 10 years, despite unnecessarily thicker and more boring evidence suggesting that most probably I am not.
The latest controversy over a ban or tighter restrictions on abortion is in fact nothing but a resurrection of Islamism in the shape of yet another flagship taboo. In this column I have written endless times that the generic difference between a devout Muslim and an Islamist is the simple fact that a devout Muslim would abstain from alcohol and pork, whereas an Islamist would force others to abstain from alcohol and pork.
A Muslim would peacefully fast during Ramadan; an Islamist would attack smokers during Ramadan. Thus, the debate over Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s newfound idea to ban abortion (murder, in his view) is not surprising in any way, especially because it is a reflection of his 2004 attempt to criminalize adultery.
As Hürriyet columnist Ahmet Hakan put it, “It does not suffice for the devout, pro-birth, anti-abortion Muslims to simply avoid abortion themselves; they want the others to avoid abortion by law enforcement.” Just like alcohol. Here, we are not discussing alcohol or abortion. We are discussing whether pious Muslims in an overwhelmingly Muslim country should have the right to enforce their Muslim practices upon a less pious or non-Muslim populace. My case for alcohol was not for the sake of alcohol itself. Similarly, Mr. Hakan’s case for abortion is not for the sake of abortion itself.
In both cases, none of which is a convincing “Muslim case for liberty,” the dominant thinking goes with a strictly non-pluralistic “we-are-in-majority-and-our-faith-is-the-best-so-you-must-behave-like-we-do” tag, with a semi-visible “or-you-suffer-the-consequences” addendum. That is precisely why Islamists love democracy when their (voting) numbers overcome those of the “infidels,” while they hate (majoritarian) democracy when they are a minority.
The Islamist, for instance, would advocate head-count democracy in Turkey but would defend the minority rights for Muslims in non-Muslim majority countries like in Europe, China or Americas. This, as anyone over six-years-old and without an affinity to Islamism should notice, is an overtly childish “we-love-majority-rule-when-it-suits-our-Islamist-goals” democracy. Naturally, it is not democracy.
Otherwise, the “we-are-at-an-equal-distance-to-all-faiths-including-no-faith” hypocrite rulers of Turkey would have ordered opera and theater houses, shopping malls, schools, university dormitories and public buildings to have bars, synagogues, churches and prayer rooms for Alevis in their premises -- in addition to prayer rooms for Sunni Muslims – if indeed they wanted to cater indiscriminately to all Turkish citizens in public places.
Pluralistic Islamism is an unpleasant oxymoron.
Good luck, Egypt; bon voyage, Tunisia, Libya; see you later, Syria; sleep well, Turkey!