By Nuray Mert
It is sad to observe the tragic end of politics in the name of religion in the Muslim world. Unlike many sceptics, I have always defended the idea of “politicization of religion.” I still think that the shortcomings of “political Islam” should not be confused with the political expression of religious values. Since politics cannot be separated from worldviews and values, democratic politics cannot refuse to acknowledge the right of expression in the name of religious values, be it Islam, Christianity, Judaism, or any other. The problem with “political Islam” has not been about its reference to religion, but has all been about Islamism’s denunciation of the “freedoms of others” who might be non-practicing Muslims, as well as non-believers. In short, it was all about the definition of politics, on behalf of Islamists.
Islamists of all sorts define politics as a mechanism to impose values and rules on society, and it is a matter of defining politics in terms of authoritarianism. The theories of “Islamic democracy” could not go further than proposing a curious mixture of elective politics and a “politically correct way” of denouncing liberal, individual rights and freedoms.
Many Western scholars and observers of politics in the Muslim world had been eager supporters of the “politically correct way” of denouncing the pillars of the idea of democracy, in the name of multiculturalism. Many argued that the idea of democracy should accommodate the requirements of different cultures, so much so that in the past decade it almost turned into an academic, intellectual and political orthodoxy. Finally and unfortunately, the so-called Arab Spring failed to pass the test for the idea of “Islamic democracy” or “democratization by Islamist democrats” in Muslim countries. It is only after the illusion of Islamic democracy turned out to be a grand disillusion that it became clear that the problem with political Islam, of all sorts, is about its authoritarian interpretation of politics.
Besides, it became clear that there are no clear boundaries between moderate political Islam and radicalism apart from the moderates’ official denunciation of violence. That is why the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt and even al-Ghannouchi of Tunisia could not dismiss radicals, Libya turned out to be the land of Islamist gangs, and the so-called moderate Islamist opposition of Syria could not compete with al-Qaida affiliated groups. Since moderate Islamist discourses as well as radical ones have a conspiratorial worldview and scepticism concerning values of democracy, rights and freedoms, radicalism has always been a more appealing rival.
It is not only the rising Islamist political powers but also the theocratic Sunni friends of the West that have the similar problems. They do not support radical movements only for pragmatic reasons but they have many in common with radicals’ worldview. That is why, finally, the Sunni bloc in general, started to be perceived as more of a threat not only to its Western allies, but also to regional stability and democracy. After all, it seems that Iran and its “radical axis” could compete with the Sunni allies of the West, by being a more trustable interlocutor and stable partner (if not in terms of its political values). That is why, I think, it is not only the Syrian stalemate, but also the tragic political performance of once Western allies in the region, paving the way to rapprochement between Iran and the West.
Finally, the case of Turkey is of no comparison to other Islamist currents and Sunni powers, but the political performance of conservative/Islamist governments has proven no less disappointing. On the contrary, the present picture of Turkey with its democracy deficit, rising conspiratorialism, the impacts of zealous foreign policy and the current internal rift within the conservative/Islamist bloc, discredits the idea of “Islamic democracy” or “democratisation” by Islamists, who turned out to be conservatives’ even more than any other, since it was assumed as “the model” for the rest.