Sunday,23 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1158, (25 - 31 July 2013)
Sunday,23 September, 2018
Issue 1158, (25 - 31 July 2013)

Ahram Weekly

A simple but burdensome word: Islamist

Deeming “Islamist”, hence extremist, any devout government is unfair and undemocratic, writes Aylin Kocaman

Al-Ahram Weekly

Islamist… What a simple word. Yet also what a strong word; one that alters systems and brings down governments and puts the world into a state of alarm. Everything is so simple once branded with the tag of Islamism. It is easy to support aggressive anti-government protests on the streets; the government is, after all, an Islamist one. It is easy to go to another country and take part in a military intervention; the threat is an Islamist one, after all. The UN, which has said not a single word against Bashar Al-Assad’s more than two years of slaughter in Syria, immediately sends units to African countries such as Mali that are about to be crushed; there is an Islamist danger, after all.

Islamism initially entered the literature to describe radical political activism or extremism. Then the name began being used to brand everyone known for Islam. Let me explicitly state here, as someone who fiercely and determinedly criticises radicalism, that I will never accept a Muslim basis for repression. At the same time, I will never support the idea of a devout person whose ideas, aims and activities might be of benefit being cast aside by being branded with “Islamism” and this being then used as a tool with which to incite people.

This was done in my country, Turkey. A prime minister whose policy towards the West and Israel, and even some elements of domestic policy, were criticised has gone into the lexicon of many secularist groups across the world as an Islamist. Although there are elements of prime minister’s domestic and foreign policy I would like to see changed, that does not alter the fact that over the last 10 years this prime minister has pulled Turkey out of the downward trajectory it was stuck in, nor the fact of the economically powerful Turkey we have now.

I have recently been reading pieces by authors who think that Turkey will share the same fate as Egypt because of the street uprisings that happened simultaneously in Turkey and Egypt. I must say that those who equate the Gezi Park protests with the Egyptian uprisings are actually making some mistakes in this comparison. Let us start with a fact that is perhaps not so well known outside the country: the Turkish constitution is entirely secular. That constitution was based on the European system since the founding of the republic in 1923 and nothing in it is determined on the basis of Islamic laws. In that sense, it is the polar opposite of the Egyptian constitution. It therefore makes no difference that the government in Turkey is devout or, as some would have it, “Islamist”. Turkey is a secular country and has to be governed under that constitution.

The second important point is that Egypt only tasted democracy, albeit in a flawed form, for one year in its 7,000-year history, while Turkey has been run democratically since the parliament was founded in 1920. Whether you call them “interventions” or “post-modern coups”, Turkey has seen four major military coups in its history. That means it has experience; it knows perfectly how coups happen and what direction they take. Therefore, what happened in Egypt is, in point of fact, nothing less than such an intervention. Instead of giving it a more politically palatable name, we need to look at it like this: coups in Turkey have always ended in disaster, and their consequences have cost the Turkish people dearly. The important thing is to strive to ensure this does not happen in Egypt after the coup.

In a country such as Turkey, with its grim experience of coups, and although there are people who want the government to go, nobody, apart from a handful of marginal types, will easily support a coup. It would be a major error to portray those marginal voices as the majority.

The conclusion I want to get to is this: the administrative situations in Egypt and Turkey are very different. What they have in common is this conception of an “Islamist government”.

As I have said in previous articles, a devout government must always support such principles as libertarianism, modernity and valuing women, beauty, art and science. It must not allow the slightest pressure or measure or reference reminiscent of pressure. It must turn its back on the possibility of radicalism and, as a “devout” administration, must apply democracy in the most perfect manner. We must admit that Mohamed Morsi and Recep Tayyip Erdogan have made errors on this.

I always treat the fear of radicalism with understanding. But it ill-becomes societies that claim to be democratic to easily brand governments as “Islamist” out of a fear of radicalism and to disregard the minds that are open to novelty and freedom within those governments.

In one of his pieces, the Turkish journalist Rusen Cakir quoted these words from Mustafa Al-Labbad, president of Al-Sharq Centre for Regional and Strategic Studies: “It is an odd state of affairs for us to be in the same lines as the Salafis, with whom we can discuss not one thing in common, against the Brotherhood with whom we can discuss and agree on so much.” Odd indeed. That is why, before branding the Brotherhood as “Islamist” and casting them aside, they need to ensure they have a place in the administration. The Brotherhood must also cast aside its reservations and take greater care to speak with the other parties.

It must also not be forgotten that arrests are the most primitive consequences of coups and as I have said in a previous piece (“Happy societies don’t rebel”, Al-Ahram Weekly, 10 July 2013), they will no doubt soon attract a good deal of criticism from the West. We can see this is true from the ultimatums regarding detentions issued earlier this week by America, Germany, and the UN. Thus, right now we must regard the Egyptian military’s intervention as simply an effort to divide fighting parties, and must not allow the anti-democratic consequences they have led to in other countries to happen in Egypt. That is why a democratic administration including the Brotherhood needs to be encouraged as a matter of urgency. But what the Brotherhood needs to do at this point is to espouse a libertarian, pluralist and modern mindset with a devout character.

Turkey and Egypt are two Islamic countries. The people in these countries do not wish to abandon Islam, and problems cannot be solved by doing so. We can only find peace by bringing in liberty and democracy — the beauties of Islam. That must be the main priority for Morsi and for Erdogan.


The writer is a commentator and religious and political analyst on Turkish TV and also a peace activist.


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