Saturday, May 7, 2011

Islamic Liberalism: an attempt to balance 2 opposing poles

Islamic Liberalism -- The Challenges Facing the AKP
by Ahmad Ali Khalid*

08 May 2011, Sunday / ,


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AK Party leader Recep Tayyip Erdoğan

Muslim democrats and liberals are looking at the recent Turkish elections with a sense of anticipation and expectation.

Is the Justice and Development Party (AKP) now going to evolve further to extend its discourse of liberal democracy, human rights, economic liberalization and modernization couched within a certain cosmopolitan and pluralist Islamic ethos or has this great political experiment run its course?

The AKP has stayed in power for nearly a decade now and outside observers have had the chance to compare the performance of the AKP and Turkey with that of Iran. At the start of the decade, indeed for the first half of the decade, the reformists and liberals were in power in Tehran with Mohammad Khatami heading up the reformist wing. Khatami’s reign produced an almighty backlash from the religious right in Iran institutionally in terms of the obscurant blocking of liberal legislation by Iran’s frustratingly contradictory system of democratic participation and theocratic legislation. A democratic state needs to be independent of religious authority.

At the same time the impressive performance of the AKP in terms of expanding human rights, improving economic growth and indeed trying to foster a post-Kemalist republican ethic that is suited to the practices of a modern liberal state rather than the suffocating power of the authoritarian secularism has instilled a certain confidence about democracy in the Muslim world. The fact that the AKP has managed to, in the words of the Islamic liberal intellectual Rashid al-Ghannushi, “align Islam and modernity” has created greater confidence in civil politics.

The AKP’s politics of civil interaction, dialogue and promoting a competitive framework of entrepreneurial ethics has breathed life into Turkish politics, moving political decision making away from the military and bureaucratic elite to everyday Turks. The fact that Turkey has seen a mature and articulate Islamic revival where movements like those of Fethullah Gülen are promoting a moral framework that encourages civil activism along with the virtue of democratic liberalism (free media, freedom of expression, mutual respect and pluralism) has prompted a drastic rethink of the Islamic experience in the 21st century.

The AKP is a secular party -- it doesn’t use religion as a political tool. However, the constituents of the AKP rely on Islamic principles of human brotherhood, tolerance and pluralism to foster a distinctly religious understanding of liberal principles. Constitutionally, the AKP is secular, but morally and psychologically it has a religious mindset that fosters the virtues of a liberal polity. The AKP has put forward a new model and understanding of secularism that keeps the institutions of the state independent of religious control, but allows religion to play a constructive and civic role in the public sphere. This is an infinitely better proposition than the dogmatic framework offered by the CHP.

All citizens must be involved in a democratic process

We are seeing political movements merging or keeping close ties with social movements now. There is a realization not only in Turkey but across the Middle East and the greater Islamic world that all politics is local and citizens must be robustly involved in the democratic process. Militaries, bureaucratic elites and feudal structures who have greatly hampered the democratic experience not only in Turkey but also in Pakistan are the root cause of democratic paralysis in the Muslim world.

Credit should be given to Turkey’s mature religious discourse and its religious intellectuals. A society that suffers from religious intolerance and bigotry must be a society bereft of religious intellectuals or is a society that does not respect the voices of its religious intellectuals.

The book “Muslims in Modern Turkey: Kemalism, Modernism and the Revolt of the Islamic Intellectuals” by Sena Karasipahi shows that Turkish religious intellectuals always tried to demonstrate a reformist theology of Islam, which was compatible with human rights and democracy.

Indeed there is something unique in the religious discourse of Turkey. Şerif Mardin, a prominent Turkish political sociologist, in his paper “Turkish Islamic Exceptionalism Yesterday and Today: Continuity, Rupture and Reconstruction in Operational Codes,” demonstrates that in Turkey a synthesis has taken place in the religious discourse. Turkish intellectuals were trying to achieve a synthesis of modernity and Islam and this was reflected in their institutional endeavors.

Mardin’s conclusion makes for sophisticated reading that is all too often lacking in the harsh discourse of the neo-Kemalist secularists, saying: “The history of modern Turkey is not that of a conflict between republicanism and Sultanism, nor is it a history of the strife framed by Islam and secularism. It is a complex, many-tiered encounter between ‘traditional’ forces and modernity that have interpenetrated and been transformed over time.”

The Turkish case has proved that electoral politics has a moderating and transformative effect on religious interpretation. Older and more traditional interpretations are updated to more modern and current interpretations through a self-correcting process keeping in line with the political culture of Turkish society.

In Pakistan, liberal Islamic scholars like Javed Ahmed Ghamidi are forced to flee because of their reformist interpretations; liberal Pakistani intellectuals were never given a chance because of the ideological bias of the Pakistani military which furthered a quasi-theocratic agenda in order to entrench itself into the very fabric of Pakistani civilian politics.

No evidence for accusations

The accusations against Erdoğan and the AKP have never been backed up by substantial evidence or concrete illustrations -- they are always libelous speculations couched in the acidic rhetoric of the neo-con ideologues sitting in the US and EU. Turkey should be realistic about EU membership -- the European political climate is short on liberal open-mindedness and European politicians are fostering a politics of fear. Turkey as a political adjective is used as an insult till this day by educated Europeans.

Turkey faces challenges no doubt and these challenges will be viewed with great interest for those who wish to see a mature liberal and democratic evolution of Islamic politics. How will the AKP face the challenges of the rule of law, women’s rights, the prospect of social justice and social welfare, which in fairness seems to be drowned out in the AKP’s brand of entrepreneurial politics that stresses the virtues of the free market model.

It has always been said that the left and Islamic democrats have much in common on the cause of social mobility and equality in promoting the ethics of a welfare state. But the AKP has neglected this dimension of politics. Will it rediscover it or has it abandoned left-leaning social policies in favor of boosting prosperity by keeping to an entrepreneurial spirit? Then there is the question that haunts all prospering democracies from India to Brazil, and that is of corruption. Corruption is perhaps the biggest threat that can derail economic growth and the AKP has to tackle this issue upfront and confront it both in terms of policy but also in fostering a social and moral ethic that promotes integrity, which it can only do by setting an example.

But there is also another issue and that is of constitutionalism and human rights. In Turkey, there is talk of a “new constitution” and what is dubbed as a move towards a post-Kemalist republic where secularism is softer, more pluralistic and politics is firmly a civilian affair. If the AKP wins the elections and ushers in a constitution of substance and more crucially one that gets cross-party support or at least popular approval it will mark a maturity in the discourse of Islamic party politics. What type of constitutional principles will the AKP enshrine?

But let’s put aside the neo-Orientalist myth of “theocracy” which hovers unnecessarily around the AKP and look at the issues. The Republican People’s Party (CHP) and indeed in Pakistan the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) cannot claim a monopoly over democracy. The problem with the CHP and the PPP as well is that they both like to present themselves as “saviors of democracy,” but both parties have struggled to maintain a coherent political platform of their own -- this has led to both parties indulging in a politics of fear that has poisoned the civic culture of each of these countries. So when the CHP talks about “protecting democracy” or when the PPP in Pakistan hides behind the crown of democracy whenever they are questioned about their disturbingly poor performances in regards to the economy, rule of law or collusion with the military establishment, they should be strongly challenged. No party can claim to be the high priests of democracy.

*Ahmad Ali Khalid is a writer based in the UK. His blog can be found at:

Catitan Sut:
Ummah kini berada pada suatu keadaan yang demikian asing daripada kerangkanya yang asal. Usaha untuk memperkasa ummah juga bukan lagi tertumpu pada usaha mengembalikannya kepada kerangkanya yang asal.

Usaha yang sedang berlaku di kebanyakan bahagian ummah adalah usaha post-modernist ; mengekalkan beberapa ciri-ciri tradisional yang dapat menimbulkan impact kehadirannya ke atas konsep & kerangka besar semasa.

Hybrid ini mungkin sahaja melambangkan kebijaksanaan dalam mengukuhkan Islam secara realistic dalam set-up yang begitu hostile & non- condusive. Maka strategi 'terak' (menyelip masuk) di mana ada ruang yang mengizinkan dan berhenti apabila tentangan dan dinding menebal, Dari perhentian itu diintai-intai pula di mana lagi ada luang yang boleh di'terak' masuk, penyelipan (penerakan) ini berterusan sehingga mengisi segala ruang yang ada ruang. di dalam kerangka besar yang sedia ada.

Hybrid ini juga mungkin sahaja melambangkan sikap opportunist yang sengaja memanafaatkan sentimen ummah terhadap ajaran & nilai agama demi mencari serta mengukuhkan kedudukan di dalam kerangka besar yang sedia ada. Usaha mereka bukan untuk menerak masuk nilai-nilai agama ke dalam kerangka tersebut, tetapi menggunakan nilai-nilai agama sebagai pengukuh kepada kerangka besar tersebut serta nilai-nilai asalnya.
Maka banyaklah slogan-slogan yang berbunyi keagamaan yang digunakan demi meraih simpati ummah , tetapi pengisian kepada slogan tersebut jauh dari menepati kehendendak syara'. Nama-nama besar dalam peradaban ummah digunakan untuk menyokong slogan mereka, walaupun mereka tidak cubapun untuk memahami karya-karya nama-nama besar tersebut secara jujur.

Di sini lah , apa yang tersangat penting adalah usaha-usaha di peringkat peribadi dan kelompok untuk memahami dan menghayati Islam tanpa sebarang kepentingan dunia. Kita juga perlu hidup dengan amalan yang berbentuk amali seperti bangun untuk qiyam pada malam, berzikir dan membaca al-Quran sebanyak daya, berpuasa sunnat, serta malan-amalan lain terutama yang berkaitan tazkiyatu an-nafs. Allah tiada melihat bentuk rupa serta kekayaan kita, bahkan allah menilik kepada hati kita. Ya Allah sejahterakan lah hati-hati kami, sehingga kami dapat menemui-Mu dengan hati yang sejahtera

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