Faces of the State: Secularism and Public Life in Turkey

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In contrast, the secularization process in these key Arab states, societies and countries was slow, informal, hesitant, adaptive, pragmatic, gradualist, full of halfway houses, partial compromises, plenty of temporary retreats and unending evasions, but without a striking moment of high drama.

That sort of climactic point could have come to pass — somewhat on the Kemalist model — at the hands of President Nasser of Egypt soon after the nationalization of the Suez Canal in a heroic and immensely popular act all over the Arab World. But, Nasser never took that step and the real high drama arrived with the reaction to all that in the form of Islamic fundamentalism, revivalism, armed insurrectionary Islam and so on. Things went that way primarily because Turkey was the center of the empire while the Arab provinces were the remaining periphery of the empire.

Naturally all points of strength were far stronger in the center than in the periphery.

And all points of weakness were weaker in the periphery than in the center. More specifically, the great Ottoman Perestrojka known as the Tanzimat , was far more powerful as to its results and achievements in the Turkish center than in the Arab periphery. Consequently, Turkey was able to fight back and save itself from dismemberment and foreign domination, while the Arab outlying provinces fell prey to colonial rule, dismemberment and fragmentation. He obeys civil and penal laws of Western origin, and is involved in a complex tangle of social and economic transactions, and is never certain to what extent these agree with or contradict his Islamic creed.

Life carries him along in its current and he forgets his misgivings for a time until one Friday he hears the Imam or reads the religious page in one of the papers, and the old misgivings come back with a certain fear.

He realizes that in this new society he has been afflicted with a split personality. Half of him believes, prays, fasts, and makes the pilgrimage.

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Turkey’s Troubled Experiment with Secularism

The other half renders his values void in banks, and courts, and in the streets, even in the cinemas and theatres, perhaps even at home among his family before the television set. To be noted in this connection is the fact that the general tendency of 20th century Arab Islam to such things as retrenchment, rearguard action and retreat to more and more conservative and fundamentalist positions is directly proportional to the degree of the erosion of its primacy over the public, institutional and cultural life of key Arab countries and societies.

This, then, turns into the counter- reform Islam of Rasheed Rida and eventually to legitimist — restorationist and backward looking Islam with Hasan Al-Banna soon after the shock of the abolition of the Caliphate. After the secular nationalism and Arab socialism of the Nasser period an alarmed theocratic Jihadi Islam crystallizes with the later work of Sayyed Qutb which then metamorphoses into the Usama Bin Laden blind, desperate and Samson-option kind of violent Islam. Turkey under the rule of the Justice and Development Party presented not only Damascus but the entire Arab World with a sudden paradox and a confusing anomaly.

These consist of:. More clearly, how do we explain the success of Turkish Islam, if we may say so, and the failure of the other Islamic models in most other arenas? It is no less clear to them as well that the army generals know this very well and react accordingly by doing their best to delay and obstruct the process for as long as possible.

Furthermore, there is wide appreciation among the Damascus intelligentsia that both the Arab World and Islam in general are in dire need right now of a reasonably free, democratic and secular model that works in a Muslim society. Turkey is seen at the moment as the most likely place for such a model to develop and mature, especially given the assistance of EU membership and the safeguards it provides.

In other words, what is needed here is a credible functioning counter-example to the failed Muslim Taliban instance that the US left us with in Afghanistan not so long ago, with all its horrors and deformities. Since the end of the Cold War the bulk of this left, including many communist parties, has come to rally around an Arab civil consensus that has been emerging over the importance and relevance of such values, practices and arrangements as some respect for human rights, a measure of democratic rule, an active civil society, citizenship, the secularity of the state and its apparatuses, the freedoms of conscience, thought and expression for breaking out of the current predicaments of stagnation, arrest, corruption, decay and further civil strife that evidently engulf the entire Arab World at the present time.

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It should be made clear that this is not sheer opportunism on the part of the left. For, this left had thought of itself as working and struggling for more modern, socialist, secular, economically developed and socially just Arab societies. With the collapse of the socialist idea and of socialist movements and states everywhere, the only avenue remaining for the bulk of that left seemed like a retreat to the second line of defense, viz, a rallying around the well known classical bourgeois values issuing from the French Revolution and now locally embodied in the current Arab civil quasi-consensus that I spoke about.

This is why this same Arab left has come around to see in Turkey now the only Muslim country and society where some of the values of the secular consensus that it has come to strongly adopt, emphasize and promote have taken root, appear to function comparatively well and seem to have a future. This instance is particularly telling given the fact that the old Arab animosities towards Turkey remained most acute, persistent and frank in Syria itself. For example, I have noted the phenomenon of outspoken Arab Islamist critics and commentators publicly castigating the Muslim Brothers Organization in Egypt for its total mental laziness, political sterility and organizational inertia over the last 30 years, all in light of what political Islam has been able to achieve in Turkey.

This is not to say that I believe them, but to emphasize the point that had it not been for the strength of the Arab civil consensus of sorts that emerged and for the example of the Justice and Development Party in Turkey, the Muslim Brothers would have never had either the will or the cheek to produce the kind of advanced programs of reform for Egypt and Syria that they actually came up with.

Even these nationalists have come around to a new and different look at present day Turkey. For, they see now that unlike their own brand of Arab nationalism, the Turkish variety proved to be a success story on the whole. The following articles are merged in Scholar. Their combined citations are counted only for the first article. Merged citations. This "Cited by" count includes citations to the following articles in Scholar.

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The Islamist Regime and the Emergence of a New Secularist Generation in Turkey

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