Mar 30 2020
coronavirus will affect the entire international order. At the same time, this
phenomenon is bound to strengthen some dynamics in the Islamic world while it
COVID-19 crisis has come about at a time when the current generation’s reaction
against traditional Islamic interpretations and Islamist politics was already
gaining steam. The virus will strengthen this new generation’s stance and
distance it further from the old.
example of Turkey, this dynamic was already glaringly obvious – as we saw in
the results of recent research by the respected polling company Konda, which
showed that the proportion of Turks who described themselves as “modern” had
risen from 29 percent to 45 percent. Konda head Bekir Agirdir calls this
dynamic a “late modernisation.”
Iran, a similar late modernisation could be recalled from the protests rising
for some time against the mandatory headscarf imposed on women.
protests, first kicked off by activist Masih Alinejad, have quickly become a
focus of great attention, and tens of thousands have joined the campaign. Now,
some 2.5 million people follow Alinejad on social media, and the videos shared
by women who have removed their headscarves have rocked the Iranian regime.
A poll in
2018 found that nearly half of Iranians believed the headscarf was a personal
choice in which the state should not interfere.
We must not
forget that debating the mandatory headscarf means debating the spirit of the
Iranian regime. From this perspective, the young generation’s resistance to the
imposed headscarf symbolises the rift that has grown between it and the
established politics and Islamic discourse.
For a range
of economic reasons, and predominantly the problem of unemployment, the Iranian
generation under 25 years old has disengaged from the Islamist regime. The
Iranian journalist Ahmad Zeidabadi describes dissatisfaction with the regime as
a common value that has spread across diverse segments of the country’s
require emphasis here. Firstly, that the new perception of society and the
state that will arise from the coronavirus crisis in Iran and Turkey is coming
at a time when reaction against the traditional and prevailing religious
discourse is already rising.
crisis will have a profound impact on how the new, rising generation of urban
youths’ views on religion, society and the political regime evolve.
say this is analogous with the 1999 earthquake that struck Izmit in northwest
Turkey, killing some 17,000 people. That event doubled as the conjuncture at
which Islamist discourse was on the rise as Turkish secularism floundered, and
the dynamics that the disaster brought to the fore empowered the political and
theoretical opponents of Kemalists, the elite that defined themselves by
Turkish Republic founder Mustafa Kemal Atatürk’s secularist ideology.
COVID-19 crisis, the tables have turned and it is a growing demand for
secularism that stands against the weakening religious political actors in the
since it broke out has dealt a heavy blow to traditional religious
interpretations. Mosques have been closed and religious figures have been
shrouded in silence as every television channel hosts members of scientific
organisations to explain the situation, bringing them a new sense of authority.
witnessing the first time in modern Turkish history that scientists have become
the primary reference on a social level, above religious figures.
government’s slogans on policies that are reshaping families lives are
essentially telling citizens to “do what science says.” Traditional religious
actors who for the past decade have presented themselves as the answer to all
kinds of problems are able to do nothing but watch on from the side-lines and
try to avoid attention.
point is that the Islamist actors in both Turkey and Iran are very weak
economically. The only way they have to protect their positions is by growing
resources for the large public spending needed for urgent problems, the
administrations in Turkey and Iran are watching helplessly as their economic
crises deepen. The dominant Islamist actors have lost their ability to draw
support through their discourse and their economic management has left the
is one more point to remember: Large phenomena that leave humanity in a state
of shock may have a very different impact on religiosity. For example, in the
days after the bubonic plague pandemic struck Europe in the 14th century, some
religious groups became even more radicalised and said the plague was a
punishment sent by God. These groups adopted an even more radical and marginal
religious interpretation and began to favour extreme religious practices – such
as blaming and punishing those they deemed sinners for the pandemic.
those whose age and education means they will never foreswear the traditionalist
religious interpretation. They are likely to take a more mystical view to world
case, this was illustrated by an individual placed under quarantine after
returning from Umrah in Saudi Arabia who blamed the novel coronavirus on the
ruling party’s losses in the local elections in March 2019.
of view is likely to grow stronger in provincial parts of countries like
Turkey, Egypt and Iran that are more closed off to the world. In one sense, the
gap between urban and provincial readings of Islam will grow.
We are also
likely to see a similar radicalisation who remain loyal to the core structure
of Islamic sects and congregations. These groups, who see the world as a group
illusion, will interpret the deaths from the coronavirus as a divine
reason, Islamic sects and congregations are likely to become even more closed
off in the world after the coronavirus. These groups already have a messianic
vision of the world at their roots, but they are bound to break away even
further from natural causality and to full adopt a millennialist world view,
making it ever more difficult for people who believe in scientific rationalism
and value individual liberty to exist in them.
Headline: Coronavirus pandemic strengthens secular outlook in Islamic world
Source: The Ahwal News