Posts in English

Are Minarets ‘Our Bayonets?’

[Originally published in Hurriyet Daily News] The recent Swiss ban on minarets has the bad potential of being a watershed event in terms of Western-Muslim relations. Therefore, there is a lot to say about it. First, the ban is clearly a violation of religious freedom. It would be a violation of religious freedom, too, if crosses were banned from church roofs or Magen Davids from those of synagogues. That's why the whole affair is simply a "disgrace," as a recent New York Times editorial aptly defined it. Second, the fact that this was done in a democratic way - through a referendum - is not a justification. Democracy is not the highest political value: higher ones are freedom, human rights and justice. Democracy is valuable only when it operates within these norms. Otherwise, Jim Crow laws in the United States, which democratically established racial discrimination until 1965, would have been legitimate, too. They were not. Bad example is no example Third, the fact that most contemporary Muslim societies have much worse records of religious freedom is also not a justification. Yes, Switzerland is still a beacon of liberty compared to, say, the all-tyrannical Saudi Arabia, where no sanctuaries except mosques are allowed. Yes, even Turkey has a lot to be ashamed of, such as keeping the Halki Seminary unjustly and immorally closed. But Europe was supposedly a good place where such disgraces did not exist, a place that Muslim nations could be called on to take as an example. I have personally made this case to Muslim audiences in different parts of the globe. "Would you like it," I used to ask, "if restrictions were put on Islam in the West?" Now the same question makes less sense. Fourth, the role of racism and xenophobia in the making of this ban cannot be dismissed. The far-right Swiss People's Party, the main champion of the campaign, indeed does not hide this. One of its posters shows three white sheep kicking a black one out of Switzerland for the sake of "security." When this came out, Swiss Jewish groups said the symbolism of the poster, and its use of color, was "frighteningly reminiscent of Nazi propaganda." (So, why was it a big problem for some when the same fact was pointed out in this column? We have such racists in Turkey that we bash all the time. Why should the racists of Switzerland - or Austria, or anywhere else - be immune?) Fifth, Swiss society as a whole, of course, cannot be held responsible. To begin with, more than 40 percent of the voters said "no" - something commendable. Some Swiss officials, intellectuals and religious leaders also did a good job raising their voices against the ban. Moreover, those who said "yes," a 57.5 percent majority, cannot all be racists. Most of them seem to have been acting out of fear rather than an ideological bias. That fear of Islam, as I noted in my previous piece, is a big part of the issue. Moreover, it has some understandable sources. Islamism, which is a combination of Islam and modern totalitarianism, is certainly a fearsome ideology - just like any other totalitarianism. The violent offshoot of Islamism, i.e., jihadism, is much worse, for it targets innocent people to achieve its utopia. Westerners are more than justified in their concern about these two "ism"s. But they also need to understand two crucial facts: First, not all Muslims are Islamists. The latter, in fact, is a small minority. Second, while Islamism gets fed by cherry-picking militant themes in classic Islamic sources, it gets its real fuel from the idea that Islam is under attack and that Muslims are subject to humiliation. The Erdoğan rhetoric To illustrate the latter point, let's look at the famous line by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan that the Swiss People's Party picked upon: "The minarets are our bayonets, the domes our helmets, the mosques our barracks and the faithful our army." These words actually belong not to Erdoğan but Ziya Gökalp, the godfather of Turkish nationalism. The latter was in fact a mild and sophisticated thinker who argued for, among other things, reforms in Islamic law and Westernization. His exceptional minarets-are-bayonets line is from a heroic poem he wrote in 1912, in the midst of the Balkan War, during which not just the Ottoman military but also its civilian population were suffering very heavy losses. It was, in other words, a time of a sense of being besieged. And when Erdoğan recited these lines in an emotional speech in 1997, Turkey was passing through one of its regular military coups, during which religious conservatives were being humiliated and threatened by the generals. It was another time of a sense of being besieged. No wonder that Erdoğan himself got imprisoned soon after. To put it differently, what made some Turkish Muslims see the minarets as "bayonets" were the threats they faced. Otherwise, everybody knows that the minarets are only the symbol, and the source, of the call "to prayer, to salvation." Here is the lesson to take away: One of the effective ways to fight Islamism is to convince the Muslims that the modern world respects and accepts their religious values, rather insulting or banning them. Yet the Swiss vote, alas, did the exact opposite.
All for Joomla All for Webmasters