A new brand of Islamism

A new brand of Islamism

As Turkey evolves, so do its political movements, including the one that proudly calls itself “Islamist.” And one of the signs of the change in this camp is a brand new weekly magazine called “Sancaktar” (Standard Bearer), which printed its first issue last Friday.

When I took the magazine in my hand, the first thing I noted was its logo: A star with two crescents, which was turned sideways, and hence looked like a smiling face, similar to the “emoticons” that we use in some computer applications. It was certainly more creative than other star-and-crescent combinations I have seen in Turkey over the decades. It was also much more likeable than some of the scary-looking combinations there have been - such as a crescent with a fist, or, worse, a crescent with an AK-47.

The motto of the magazine was also noticeable: “Hürriyet, Adalet, İttihad-ı İslam,” or “Freedom, Justice and Union of Muslims.” I am not someone who believes that all Muslims should be politically united, so the third theme in this trio was not my cup of tea. But the other two, especially the emphasis on “freedom,” was refreshing.

So were these lines in the manifesto of Sancaktar, in which the political line of the magazine was outlined: “We pursue freedom and justice for everyone, regardless of whether they are Muslims or non-Muslims. We believe that we should rush to help everyone who faces oppression, even if he is an unbeliever who is oppressed by our brothers in religion.”

The nuance here was important, because for a long time the Islamist movement readily considered fellow Muslims as “the oppressed,” and perceived others, especially the West, as “the oppressors.” (The Iranian official line reiterates that Manichean division all the time.) But, apparently, the Sancaktar team grants that Muslims can be oppressors as well.

Another important message given in the manifesto was the rejection of the conspiratorial mindset that has intellectually crippled the Middle Eastern societies for decades:

“We are determined to struggle against imperialism and Zionism. But we reject the hurting of innocent people under the cloak of anti-imperialism. On the other hand, we hate attributing almost divine powers to the imperialists, and think that we should discuss and develop our own projects, rather than conspiracy theories about them. We put ourselves at the center of the story, not the imperialists.”

Even on the goal of “the union of Muslims,” Sancaktar sounds more open-minded than some it its predecessors, and mentions the European Union as a source of inspiration.

It is most likely that most Turkish secularists and non-Muslim Westerners will still find Sancaktar’s line distasteful. Islam, they believe, should not inspire any political agenda. Religious convictions and world affairs, they believe, should be strictly separated.

However, repeating this secularist mantra does not achieve anything, other than perhaps making the Islamists — those who do have a political vision inspired by Islam — only more dedicated. That is why I have always maintained that the real issue is how Islamists can be transformed into more rational, restrained, tolerant and even liberal-leaning political actors.

Sancaktar seems to be a positive step in this direction, so I wish good luck to its team.