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Islam and Politics ( 13 Nov 2013, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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On Private Life: Kemalo-Islamism Vs. Civil Islam



By İhsan Yilmaz

13 November 2013

Not only within the ranks of the Justice and Development Party (AKP), but also among Islamists there is a division on the recent hot debate of male and female university students living together in private houses.

This may hopefully pave the way for a revisiting of Islamist ideology by Islamists. Some of them appear to be realizing that having a state-centric approach may be harmful for not only the peaceful coexistence of all sorts of individuals and groups in society, but also for Islam as well. If they came to power as a result of a violent coup or a bloody revolution, they may not have pondered on these issues much, but the Turkish case is totally different. Here, we are talking about a party that declared it will play by the rules of democracy and respect fundamental human rights, pluralism, diversity and the free choice of individuals as long as they do not pose a threat to others and order in society. In other words, the electorate was never knowledgeable of an illiberal electoral democracy. Thus, gradually eroding the pluralistic and liberal democratic setting of the country instead of improving it would be seen as a betrayal.

Not just most practicing Muslims, but also some Islamists will have a problem with this approach, finding it sinister and unethical. I hope that these critical, young generation Islamists may move towards an approach of Civil Islam, jettisoning the centrality of the state in the Islamist thinking and practice.

As I have written here before, proponents of Civil Islam argue that Islam is not an ideology, and its main focus is not on the state, but on individuals, justice, civil society, piety, spirituality, self-discipline, ethics, social justice, the rule of law and so on. Islamists imagine Islam as a complete and ready-to-use divine system, with concrete political, cultural, legal and economic blueprints. Their ideology is exclusivist and they are not open to negotiation, compromise or pluralistic viewpoints. Islamists do not pay much attention to civil society and always pursue capturing state power by either revolution or by democratic means, depending on the situation. Islamists would be happy to use Gramscian apparatuses such as the media, schools, the mosque and intellectuals to manufacture the consent of the masses.

What is more, they see it as legitimate to use law as an instrument to socially engineer society in line with their religious Weltanschauung. Some of them are so blatant that they ask minorities to sacrifice some of their freedoms in order to not offend the values and sensibilities of the majority. And, they claim to be the singular voice of the majority. They give the impression that when voters say "yes" to their party, its program and electoral manifesto, they can use the state power as they like. There are, of course, several manifestations of Islamism, and one can talk about multiple Islamisms, not a single, ideal type. Nevertheless, the abovementioned characteristics can mostly be found in these Islamist variations. One needs to scratch the surface of their rhetoric and, more importantly, look at their actions, which speak louder than their words.

For instance, they reject the assertion that they see the state as sacred but their praxis shows that they religiously respect, value and appreciate the state without criticizing its innate Nafs-al Ammara (the lesser soul that commands evil and wrongdoing) nature, which should be monitored, checked and balanced. They do not want to accept that power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Their ends justify their means and they think that their kulturkampf solely legitimizes acquiring wealth illegally, anti-meritocratic practices, relations of patronage, favoring partisans and practicing "noble lies." They do not want to see that these are all against the spirit of Islam, Shariah Law and Fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence). Their fabricated claim of darurah (necessity) is only a figment of their wishful imagination since, despite its imperfections, Turkey is not “Dar al-[kultur] Harb*” (the abode of [kultur]kampf*).