Conspiracy theories for moderate Muslims

Conspiracy theories for moderate Muslims

Since the cruel attacks in Paris that killed 17 innocent human beings, Turks are discussing what really happened and why. Like on any other issue, there is a spectrum of views.

On the nicer end of the spectrum, there are millions of Turks who condemned the terrorists and offered solidarity with Charlie Hebdo and the French people. They have done the right thing.

On the dark end of the spectrum, there are marginal voices that declare sympathy for the terrorists who acted in the name of Islam. A marginal Islamist group, the Aczimendis, is one of them, unabashedly organizing a prayer for the souls of the “mujahids” who “sent those disgusting cartoonists to hell.” This was a very open expression of support for terrorism in the name of Islam. On social media, too, there have been voices whose hearts have gone out not to the murdered, but to the murderers. 

However, these really were marginal voices in the Islamist camp. There, the mainstream position was to condemn the attacks as inhuman and un-Islamic. Still, the same mainstream Islamists repeatedly said, or at least implied, something else too: That the terrorists could not be Muslims. Rather, they may be agents of Western secret services who want to defame Islam by organizing false flag operations.

As I have written before, this conspiratorial blueprint is very common among what the West would call “moderate Muslims,” or those who oppose terrorism in the name of Islam. It is good that these Muslims condemn terrorism in the name of Islam, but it is not so good that they refuse to face the true nature of the problem, instead insisting that there surely must be a Western conspiracy behind it.

Had these Muslims instead argued that the West’s own sins – it colonial history, its unlawful “war on terror,” its support for Israeli militarism – form one root cause of Islamist militancy, then they would be saying something right and important. But analyzing the unintended consequences of Western sins is one thing, imagining that the West secretly manufactures all Muslim sins is another. The latter is a self-delusion that Muslims share with each other in order to avoid being self-critical and responsible.

If these conspiratorial-minded moderate Muslims can take the leap of reason and decide to see the world as it really is, they will see something sobering: The terrorists who act in the name of Islam are marginal, but they are not totally ungrounded. There are injunctions in medieval Islamic sources about blasphemy, apostasy, jihad or coercion that they can well use to justify at least some of their militant actions. That is why the Muslim world needs a serious revision of its jurisprudence.

In other words, we need not just “moderatism” in the Muslim world, but also reformism, in the sense of offering liberal interpretations of Islamic law. But you don’t see that necessity if you assume that all of the troubles are crafted by the West.

It is unfortunate that this conspiratorial mindset has become so powerful among Turkey’s Islamic elite, which could have played a much more constructive role in the affairs of the Muslim world. They can still be helpful, but not with the cheap and shallow populism of today.

One final note: It was good that Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu went to Paris and joined the rally for Charlie Hebdo. In Turkey, too, I hope he will take more initiatives in his own (more nuanced and academic) way.