The realization of the power of political Islam by the Western world occurred with the 9/11 carnage. Reactions to it ranged from the extreme of declaring crusade against Jihad (the so-called clash of civilizations) to the other extreme of courting Islam. Armed with Ataturk’s experience we know better that none of these reactions can eliminate the root cause of the problem; the only successful method is modern education. Militancy of Islam lies in its politicization, its relentless adherence to its dogmatic philosophy, and its refusal to accept others who do not believe in its ideology.
There is an excellent description of the contemporary world in The Oxford Companion to Politics of the World penned by Gianfranco Pasquino: “Political ideologies may have crumbled away, but they are not necessarily replaced by rational criteria and rational processes of decision making. More important, powerful religious beliefs are still used to shape and justify the behavior of rulers both domestically and on the international scene. Twentieth-century fundamentalism has acted as a drag on secularizing tendencies…..Muslim fundamentalism worldwide and, to a lesser degree, Jewish and Christian fundamentalism are contemporary phenomena that underscore the fact that secularization has not been completed. The proliferation of religious sects all over the world testifies to the resurgence of fundamentalism and throws doubt on the prospect that complete secularization will ever be accomplished.”
We are of course very familiar with the sad state of politics in Turkey, but even in the US, political speeches are interspersed with subtle or direct references to the scripture. Policies are based on the beliefs of politicians. President Bush said in a speech in Istanbul NATO Summit of 2004, “Democratic societies should welcome, not fear, the participation of the faithful”. President Carter’s excellent book Our Endangered Values demonstrates how pervasive and intertwined these two concepts are in the American political system. After having complained on page 3 “these religious and political conservatives have melded their efforts, bridging the formerly respected separation of church and state”, he states on page 6 “I must acknowledge that my own religious beliefs have been inextricably entwined with the political principles I have adopted”. The late US Chief Justice Rehnquist wrote in a minority opinion “The wall of separation between church and state is a metaphor based on bad history, a metaphor which has proved useless as a guide to judging. It should be frankly and explicitly abandoned”. So the U.S. Administration being comfortable with mixing religion with politics at home it does not see anything wrong with the application of the same policy in other countries. Unfortunately, the American public opinion does not differ much either from the Administration’s religion-in-politics policy. In a recent poll carried out by the Associated Press/Ipsos the ratio of Americans who think that religion should not influence political leaders and their decisions is only 37%. This ratio is 75% in the UK, Germany and Spain.
Proponents of democracy rely on the Western experience as a solution. The Christian world found a modus vivendi for the co-existence of the religious authority and the public sovereignty, without either of them accepting the supremacy of the other. Although this so-called “Victorian Compromise” did not achieve the absolute and complete separation of Church and state, it struck a deal for the two powers to tolerate each other. This is a balance between two equal powers rather than a real separation of powers. The theory goes that democracy would allow also in the Islamic world equal participation of religious establishment in the decision making process and absorb rather than isolate the religion, as a function of the democratic process. After all, why could not there be an Islamic Democratic Party like a Christian Democratic Party? It is naïve to think that once in power a religiously oriented party will observe the principle of separation of powers. We witness the contrary all over the world. Islam in particular does not accept any sharing with, let alone surrendering to, public sovereignty.
The question should not be whether Islam can embrace modernization and democracy, but whether Muslims can embrace liberty and sovereignty as individuals. The answer to that question lies in replacing the religious teaching with a rational educational system. Reformation of minds must come first, before the reformation of religion. Teaching religion as a dogma must cease. Minds should be liberated from superstitions by Humanistic education and science. We must therefore formulate a policy as a counter force to Islamic fundamentalism as follows: not cultures or religions, but the intellect and science make up the civilization; and, civilization is the common heritage of mankind; it is universal in which everyone must participate. The singularity of civilization will bring peace, provided that all people are given the chance to secular education and a rational way of thinking. Are not these Ataturk’s words? Don’t these words summarize Ataturk’s political philosophy?
Eighty years of Turkish experience should have been an example for the world. Islamists take advantage of the war on Islamic fundamentalists, and try to promote Western style Islamic secularism under the disguise of democracy. Islamists argue that if you all want Westernization and democracy then Western democracy, including Western style secularism, should apply. Islamists are trying to redefine laicism as secularism. Islamists are not modernizing Islam, they are Islamicizing modernity. It looks as if the Islamists caught the Turkish modernists as well as the Western world by their tail. The West is not aware that the promotion of Western style secularism, of moderate Islam, and of democratic Islam, in fact legitimizes the role of Islam in politics, thus helping Islamists to come to power. That is why the war on “terror” is unsuccessful. The West is not aware that once in power Islam by virtue of its dogma will rule the daily life of individuals, i.e. sovereignty will belong to God not to the people. Only those enlightened by Ataturk’s philosophy are aware of what is going on.
October 2006, sociopoliticalviews.blogspot.com (with permission)