The Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu received the Deyr ul-Zafaran Monastery Syriac Metropolitan and visited the Greek Patriarch last week, to mark the importance of religious dialogue between religious groups amid ongoing tension in the Middle East.
Most commentators interpret such moves toward dialogue as a good sign of social and regional peace, I do not. There is no doubt that the discourse of “a dialogue between religions” is far better than the discourses and politics of a “clash of civilizations” and “crusaders.” Nevertheless, “social peace” and “free society” are not always the same thing. In fact, traditional empires and some authoritarian modern societies managed to achieve some form of social peace. The Ottoman Empire and modern Syria are good examples of the peaceful coexistence of religious communities, yet neither was a free society.
It is a fact that one of the major challenges in the present Middle East is to achieve safety for the non-Muslim minorities in these troubled times, especially after the fall of the Syrian regime. The example of Iraq was terrible, since most of the Christians had to flee the country and Syria became safe haven for the Iraqi Christians. The post-Spring Egypt has witnessed alarming atrocities against Copts, despite the efforts of the Muslim Brotherhood. There is also a risk of confrontation in Syria if the present regime falls. Syrian Christians support the present regime for this reason. Under these circumstances, there must be a search for a model of peaceful coexistence after the change of regime, in order to overcome the concerns of Syrian Christians.
Since Turkey has turned into “a model maker” for the future of the Muslim countries of the region, it seems that Turkey’s foreign minister needed to stage a “Christian opening.” Indeed, Davutoğlu himself stated: “We are going through a transformation in the Middle East […] We give high importance to all religious communities in peace.”
In fact, this is the turn of “communitarian and patriarchal politics.” According to this model, social peace is not designed to depend on “individual rights and freedoms” but on “the rights and freedoms of communities.” Besides, a hierarchy of religious communities is assumed to be ensured under the patronage of a Muslim community/state. The discourse of the rise of “Islamic democracy” after the Arab revolutions promises a “communitarian peace” rather than the free democratic societies which guarantee individual rights and freedoms. That is why talk of “the dialogue among religions” became an essential aspect of the democratic promise in the region, as a panacea for the rise of Islamists’ political power after regime changes.
I have always been against the definition of secularism as a rigid understanding of the separation of public and private realms of life, recognizing only individual rights and denouncing collective religious rights and freedoms. I have always suggested the importance of the democratic definition of secularism. Nevertheless, the democratic definition of secularism should not be the reverse of the rigid definition of secularism, which in fact leads to “communitarian and patriarchal politics,” itself a form of authoritarian politics.