Posts in English

Who Is an Islamist? Who Is a Muslim? And What About Me?

[Originally published in Turkish Daily News] Political terms can be misleading, especially when used to serve ambitious agendas. For Senator Joseph McCarthy, for example, even a slight of touch of social democracy was “communism” in sheep's clothing. During his heyday in the U.S., it was very easy to de-legitimize a political actor by simply labeling him as “red.” In the post-9/11 world a new version of McCarthyism has grown – this time not about the “reds” but the “greens.” Islamism became the new enemy of the West, and, actually, with some good reason. Like Mr. Khrushchev, who swore, “We will bury you,” there are Islamists in the world who threaten the whole of Western civilization. Therefore, it is only natural that Westerners feel concerned. Yet they should not fall into the mistake of lumping all political manifestations of Islam into the same category, where differences are only in degree. The gap between Muslim democrats and Islamist totalitarians is both colossal and crucial. The Nominals versus the Practicing The West needs to be extremely careful to make this distinction, because there are forces that deliberately try to blur it for their own interests. Take the tyranny in Uzbekistan, for example. Its ex-communist-and-actually-still-communist dictator Islam Karimov loves to depict all his opponents as Islamic fundamentalists. (Some of them really are, but not all.) Just a little to the north, there is the Russian autocracy, which wants to put the whole blame for the bloodshed in Chechnya on Islamic fundamentalists, in order to hide or justify its own brutal tactics. Similarly, China, one of the world’s leading human rights abusers, is ranting about the “Islamic militants” in its Xincang region, in which it has viciously oppressed Muslim Uyghurs for decades. The "Islamic threat" is now the most fashionable bandwagon for secular tyrants to jump on. Turkey’s secular autocrats follow a similar route. For a long time, they have been depicting their Muslim-minded rivals as dangerous Islamists who want to overthrow the secular system and establish a theocratic regime. They are not totally unsubstantiated, because there have indeed been such groups and movements in Turkey. But the latter are growingly marginal. The political line that came closest to that position, the “Milli Görüş” of Erbakan, is now represented by the Saadet Party, which gets 2 percent of the votes. A few days ago, I received an e-mail from a list that apparently supports Milli Görüş. It was a very strong critique of the incumbent Justice and Development Party (AKP), for it had “allowed the opening of pig farms and slackened the bets on horse races.” Both complaints refer to sins in Islamic law – pork and gambling are “haram,” i.e. prohibited. For the Saadet followers, by allowing these “un-Islamic” phenomena, the AKP had become just too secular. Yet if you listen to Turkish secularists, you will hear nothing but “Islamism” about the AKP. Even in these pages, my fellow columnists confidently use that label. Burak Bekdil routinely bashes “Turkey’s Islamists,” who are supposedly in power. Yusuf Kanlı freely uses the term “political Islam.” The AKP, on the other hand, right from the beginning, has rejected that it is an Islamist party and has defined itself rather as “conservative democrat.” Where does this gap in terminology come from? First, it comes from the point I noted above: These days it is trendy to stand up against the “Islamists.” But there is more: In Turkey, the term in fact has a unique meaning. Here, an “Islamist” is not necessarily a person who wants to establish a political order based on Islam. The term simply means someone who really believes in this religion and takes it seriously. Interestingly this comes from the oft-repeated truism that “99 percent of Turkish citizens are Muslims.” Culturally speaking, yes, they are. Moreover, the “secular” state wants to keep them as such – and thus it hates the Christian missionaries – because it believes that cultural homogeneity is necessary for political stability. But quite many of the “99 percent,” especially most of the urban ones, are not too interested in religion. They can visit their grandmas on the “bayrams” (religious feast days) and share cookies, but that’s it. They are nominal Muslims – not practicing ones. These nominal Muslims definitely have all the right to think and live as they wish, but some of them don’t show much tolerance to their practicing co-religionists. They see themselves as the ideal, “enlightened” citizens, while depicting the practicing Muslims as pre-modern, narrow-minded and uncivilized ignoramuses. But since everybody is somewhat “Muslim,” then the Muslims who take their faith seriously need a different, and derogatory, name. That’s why they are called “dinci” (religionist) or “İslamcı”(Islamist). My Personal ‘Islamism’ Recently, I too have been labeled an “Islamist” by secularists both in Turkey and abroad. Therefore I felt the need to clarify the ambiguity. If “Islamist” means someone who believes in Islam and who takes it seriously, yes, I would wear that badge with pride. But in my political language, Islamism refers to a political ideology that aims at creating an “Islamic” political system – a project that I reject and criticize. I rather believe that the best political system is the one that is free from, but tolerant to, all creeds. In that sense, no, I am definitely not an Islamist. I notice that people also speculate about whether I am a member of any sort of Islamic group, especially the popular Fethullah Gülen movement. No, I am not. I know that movement, I share their values, and feel sympathetic to their works, but I am a stand-alone figure. I have, in fact, engaged with some of the Islamic trends in Turkey over the years, but, finally, I decided to be “a freelance Muslim.” A balance of Scripture, reason, and tradition – a good formula by Edmund Burke – is something I hope I can figure out by myself, for myself. So, as you see, using the right terms to define the right phenomena is important because we are constantly being bombarded with misleading terms. Consider, for example, the irritated calls coming out of Turkey these days to our European and American friends to respect our “rule of law.” Those who say this are, in fact, cheerleaders for our ongoing judicial coup d’état. To get what they really mean, you should correct the term “rule of law.” What they actually refer to is the rule of tyrannical law. And what that deserves is not respect but condemnation.
All for Joomla All for Webmasters