Friday, September 16, 2011
Turkey Reforms Political Islam
While we have all been sleeping,
Turkey has been able to reform its political
institutions to provide an emergent secular state that can take its place in Europe. It is also
becoming a beacon of hope for all Islam just in time to finally sort out the
strangled economic hopes of Islam.
There are still plenty of hangovers with
history in the region, not least its attitude to other religions but that also
seems to be changing. An assured country
can be liberal. Thus many of those
issues are well on the way even now to been historical memories. What is left is an apology to the Armenians
and a swift entry into the EU. We may
even see it in our lifetimes and that is not something I would have hazarded
even a few years ago or even before reading this article. Turkey
We can presume that
immediately strive to emulate the Turkish experience. Expect thundering speeches against Egypt and slim
action for home consumption from both countries. They both still have huge rural populations
that they must cater to. Israel
A Decade after 9-11,
Redefines Political Islam Turkey
Here is thriving proof that a Muslim majority, democracy and economic modernization are compatible.
By Frank Viviano, 12 Sep 2011, New
In 1995, the city of
Gaziantep, on the
southeastern edge of 's
Anatolian Plain, was under siege. Its crumbling medieval center was swamped
with refugees from a civil war between insurgent Kurds and the Turkish Army
that eventually left 40,000 dead and 3,000,000 people homeless. Along the
borderlands with Turkey Syria and ,
smoke rose from rural Kurdish villages obliterated by F-15 strikes. Iraq
Nationwide, the economy was mired in triple-digit inflation and soaring joblessness, with a GDP of less than $116 billion, less than $2,000 per person.
in the 1990s epitomized a devastating crisis among Muslim-majority nations -- a
desperate spiral of poverty, violence and authoritarian rule. Turkey
Today, a decade after the September 11 terrorist attacks that turned much of the Islamic world into a chaotic battleground,
emerged as Islam's most prominent icon of hope. Turkey
The Justice and Development Party
boasts the world's 15th largest GDP, measuring $1.2 trillion -- nearly $15,000
per person and rising by $125 billion annually. The Turkish economy now ranks
ahead of such highly-developed nations as Turkey Australia
and the Netherlands, and oil
With a current growth rate of 11 per cent, outstripping Saudi Arabia China's and defying the effects of a global
recession, it could surpass G8 member in the next few years. Canada
More than 99 percent of
74 million citizens are Muslim. Turkey
Gaziantep, when I returned there on another assignment in 2010, had transformed itself into a city of manicured parks, architecturally stunning museums, carefully restored 10th century neighbourhoods and 21st century shopping malls. Highrise residential suburbs had sprung from empty fields where army tanks were once marshaled. On a per capita basis, this city of 1.3 million is now the number one exporter and importer in the country.
The chief architect of
miracle is the Justice and Development Party -- popularly known by its Turkish
initials, "AK" -- an Islamic political group that took power in a
landslide 2002 election. Turkey
Over the following decade, under Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the new government dramatically reformed the bureaucracy-ridden Turkish economy, setting off an unprecedented boom in business starts, jobs and exports. Ten years ago, notes Bloomberg analyst Ben
Turkey struggled under a
debt load that dwarfed 's
on the eve of the global financial crisis in 2009. By 2010 Greece Turkey's debt was down to 46 per cent of its
GDP, compared with 143 per cent for . Greece
Turkey in 2011 is the thriving proof that a Muslim majority, democracy and economic modernization are compatible -- the new model that, in the eyes of many, political Islam has been waiting for.
The old model:
In 2003, thanks to the sponsorship of a Saudi official, I was able to participate in the haj, the pilgrimage to the
Peninsula that is an obligation for Muslims but normally closed to
others. Although I wasn't permitted to enter Mecca,
the epicenter of Islamic faith, I joined a vast throng silently marching to the
Prophet's Mosque in ,
the site of Mohammed's tomb and Islam's second most important shrine. Medina
During shared evening meals at another Medina mosque, I spoke with pilgrims from China, Algeria, Egypt, Nigeria, Malaysia, Indonesia and Uzbekistan -- and also from France and Holland, home today to two of Western Europe's largest Muslim communities.
The sense of peace and inner reflection, of profound tolerance and solidarity among far-flung people from every walk of life, was deeply moving. "This is what we see in our religion," a young man from western
said, "not suicide bombers or planes flying into skyscrapers." Yunnan Province
Yet it was impossible to ignore the fact that Chinese and Uzbek women on the haj -- few of whom wear more than a light scarf in their own countries, and then only during prayers -- were obliged to cover themselves in the head-to-toe black abaya, required of all women by Saudi law, including millions of Christians, Hindus and Buddhists who work as domestics in the country.
None of those non-Muslims are allowed to honour their own religious beliefs while in
, a country that bans the
establishment of churches or temples. Saudi
It was also impossible to ignore the Mutaween, the 5,000-strong religious police force formally known as the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice. The Mutaween stalk supermarkets, shopping malls, schools and apartment complexes in search of any breach of Wahabbism, the sternly fundamentalist brand of Islam favoured by the ruling Saud family.
They can arrest and jail a woman with a single strand of hair exposed, along with unmarried couples -- Saudi or foreign -- who socialize in public, residents who are discovered with a bottle of beer or a Bible in their apartment, or anyone who observes "infidel superstitions" such as sending St. Valentine's Day cards.
Saudi society impossible to emulate
Indescribably wealthy as the source of the planet's largest oil reserves, and respected as the home and protector of Islam's most important holy sites, Saudi Arabia wields weight far beyond its own size (population 28 million) in an international community of believers that numbers 1.6 billion. One result is that political Islam -- whether in the violent form practiced by Al Qaeda or the state theocracy of
-- widely echoes the Saudi
model of hectoring authoritarianism. Iran
But in socio-economic terms, it is difficult to view
as a functional model
at all. Its resources are so vast and its distortions so extreme that virtually
no country beyond the hyper-affluent oil states can really emulate it. Saudi Arabia
Saudi citizenship means free education, health care and housing -- but often a life without gainful employment. According to the Saudi Labor Ministry, imported temporary workers account for a staggering 90 to 95 per cent of private sector jobs. It's not much exaggeration to say that the only Saudis who actually work are those with the connections to acquire high administrative posts in the bureaucracy, or in enormous state enterprises tightly controlled by the Sauds and their retainers.
Ranks of young men on the streets of
the capital, are visibly lost to boredom, in a land where movie theaters, clubs
and mixed-gender socializing are illegal -- and much of modern culture is only
virtual, observed on the Internet or via satellite television broadcasts from
uninhibited Beirut and . Frustrated and without clear purpose,
they recall the kind of young man that the teenaged Osama bin Laden is said to
have been, or the 15 Saudis among the 19 hijackers on September 11, 2001. Cairo
The establishment of an elected parliament with formal powers has been under discussion in
for two generations, but remains a vague distant goal. Riyadh
As for women -- who have played frontline roles in the mass protests of Iran in 2009 and the Arab Spring of 2011 -- they are forbidden by law to drive in Saudi Arabia, and may not even be passengers in a car unless accompanied by a male member of their family.
The contrast with
could not be more striking. Turkey
A NEW LOOK AT SHARIAH LAW
A central tenet of Islam is the conviction that the Koran, the Muslim book of revelation, is God's final and direct word to humankind, as related to the Prophet Mohammed in 610 A.D. in what is now
. Saudi Arabia
But the Koran is not the sole compendium of Islamic values. It is in an epochal project involving a second Islamic text, known as the "Hadith," that
bold reform movement may pave its most fruitful ground. Turkey
The Hadith is a digest of the conversations and deeds of Mohammed after the revelations of the Koran. It is the chief source of rules that inform Muslim life, including customs, social mores, dress codes and an estimated 90 per cent of Shariah law.
For the past nine years, 80 eminent historians and theologians commissioned by
Department of Religious Affairs have been working on a 21st-century revision of
the Hadith. It is scheduled for publication by the end of 2011. Turkey
"We want to bring out the positive side of Islam -- that promotes personal honor, human rights, justice, morality, women's rights, respect for the other," Professor Mehmet Gormez, vice president of religious affairs and senior Hadith lecturer at Ankara University, recently told The Times of London.
The revision would eliminate such medieval aphorisms as, "the best of women are those who are like sheep," and "Your prayer will be invalid if a donkey, black dog or a woman passes in front of you."
Instead, it will emphasize other passages, often of pointed significance to the contemporary scene. "Religion is very easy and whoever overburdens himself in his religion will not be able to continue in that way. So you should not be extremists," Mohammed cautions his followers in a key Hadith.
"God does not judge you according to your bodies and appearances," the Prophet says, in a conversation that seems aimed straight across the centuries at controversies over matters of dress and sexuality in Saudi Arabia, Iran and Afghanistan. "He looks into your hearts and observes your deeds."
Turkey's religious authorities have also subsidized advanced theological training for 450 women, appointing them as senior imams ("vaizes") empowered to explain the "original spirit of Islam" in rural communities.
"A revolution is taking place here," according to Taha Akyol, a Turkish political commentator. -- F.V.
Faith without repression in Turkey
At the outset of the Erdogan era, many secular-minded Turks warned that the AK party would eventually transform their country into another
But 10 years later, Saudi Arabia Istanbul reminds no one of or the Mutaween. Riyadh
The city's main commercial thoroughfare, Istiklal Avenue, is a two-mile-long corridor of seething artistic and intellectual ferment, its surrounding streets and squares ringed with avante garde theaters and cinemas, restaurants and nightclubs, art galleries and bookshops. By 2010, when the European Union named Istanbul the "European Capital of Culture" -- despite the fact that Turkey is not an EU member-state -- the district's attractions were drawing up to 3 million people per day.
The dynamic street life of
and smaller urban centers across the country, shatters the notion that a Muslim
nation must be repressive and uncompromising. Gaziantep
On the foreign policy front, the AK government has come closer than any government in the nation’s history to ending the Turks' historic enmities with their Armenian, Greek and Arab neighbors.
In southeastern Anatolia, the expression of Kurdish culture has been legalized for the first time since the fall of the
Empire, permitting school courses, radio and TV broadcasts and
books in the Kurdish language. After the bloody carnage of the civil war,
tensions remain, and separatists from the Kurdistan
Workers Party (PKK) still launch periodic assaults that bring targeted police
or army reprisals.
But in the sprawling new suburbs of cities like
, the Kurds' de facto cultural
capital, "most young people prefer to speak Turkish these days, because
they regard it as the language of modern life and opportunity," says a
35-year-old Kurdish woman who once led militant protests. Diyarbakir
Last month, in a gesture that remains unthinkable almost anywhere else in the Muslim bloc, Prime Minister Erdogan announced that Ankara will return or offer compensation for churches, synagogues, schools, hospitals and cemeteries that were confiscated by the state over the past 75 years.
"Times that a citizen of ours would be oppressed due to religion, ethnic origin or different way of life are over," he said, speaking before representatives of more than 150 Christian and Jewish organizations.
Step by careful step, the Erdogan administration -- which won every national election after 2002 by huge margins, most recently last June -- has broken the long reign of the Turkish Army as behind-the-scenes political powerbroker, in a world where dictatorial regimes rule most Muslim-majority states.
Saudis look to Turkey
In the name of democracy, rather than religion, the expression of selected Muslim customs has been legalized, notably the right of devout women to wear light headscarves in public institutions if they choose. But today few observers speak of a hidden plan to impose theocracy.
The number of women in
parliament increased by more than 50 per cent in the 2011 national elections,
to 78 seats. Turkey
"Secularism, one of the main principles of our republic, is a precondition for social peace as much as it is a liberating model for different lifestyles," AK second-in-command Abdullah Gul insisted in his inauguration speech as president of Turkey in 2007.
Justice and Development, he says, is no different than the Christian Democratic parties that ruled
for most of the half century after World War Two. If religious values supply
part of the AK identity, its outlook is resolutely centrist and modern. Germany
Quietly, just months after September 11, it embarked on a controversial revision of the principal sources for Shariah law, the code that defines and regulates daily behaviour for believers. The deliberate aim, say the project's insiders, is to reconcile Islamic doctrine and Shariah law with the modern world. The final draft, due by the end of 2011, will be closely read by Muslims everywhere.
To the Wahabbist hardliners of
the reforms proposed by
look like heresy. Ankara
But their fellow citizens overwhelmingly disagree. In 2002, according to a survey of Islamic world attitudes conducted annually by pollster James Zogby, a scant 20 per cent of Saudis had a favourable view of
. In 2011
the favourable rating reached 98 per cent. Turkey
Frank Viviano is a veteran correspondent based in Barga,
He wrote this for New
American Media, an independent online publication based in Italy that focuses on multicultural
media. San Francisco