You should have seen the websites of some Islamist newspapers when NATO finally decided after long deliberations to relocate some of its Patriot missile systems to Turkey’s Syrian border.
They very clearly seemed enthused about the decision, and none of them remembered their harsh criticism of NATO, the West and so on. Presumably, this is a golden opportunity for me to elaborate on the Turkish Islamists versus the West issue.
I keep repeating it, but to play it safe I must mention it once more: For me, Islamism is not equal to Islam. Unlike what the overwhelming majority of Islamists would argue, I think that Islamism is only one of the interpretations of Islam by Muslims. It is a non-monolithic political ideology with diverse manifestations but with several common points. On the other hand, Islam is not an ideology, and its focus is on individuals, justice, civil society, piety, spirituality, self-discipline, ethics, social justice, the rule of law and so on.
Despite their claims otherwise, Islamists have generally prioritized the public aspect and, especially, the political aspect of Islam. While for an ordinary practicing Muslim the above-mentioned aspects of Islam may or may not have social or political ramifications, for Islamists, implementing their imagined political project is a must. They spend most of their energies, time and efforts on this dimension. In most cases, they would blame not only secularized Muslims but also observant Muslims just because they spend much of their time, etc. on individual spiritual development and civic-social projects rather than on political projects directly.
Another fundamental aspect of Islamism is its reactionary anti-Western character. A non-Islamist observant Muslim may also have some issues with some aspects of modernity, secularization, assertive secularism, the West and so on. But he also knows that none of these are monolithic, that they are ideal types and that in reality dichotomies such as the West versus Islam do not exist. Rather than totally opposing the West, etc., one could and should be critically engaged with it with a participant-resistant approach.
A non-Islamist observant Muslim would argue that until there was the threat of assassination, the Prophet (peace be upon him) did not live in a ghetto and in isolation in Mecca but was participating in critical engagement and dialogue even with pagan Meccans, let alone the People of the Book, who the Quran advises engaging in dialogue with. Thus, a non-Islamist observant Muslim does not view the West and/or modernity as “the other.” He is well aware of the overlaps and is engaged with “amr bil ma’ruf and nahy anil munkar” (enjoining the good and discouraging the evil) by conduct and good example, not by shallow rhetoric.
Non-Islamist observant Muslims evaluate the NATO issue similarly. Nothing is perfect and Muslims must work towards making the world a better and more just place. Yet, in times of necessity and when there is no better option, they must choose the least harmful solution. Despite its deficiencies and so on, the democratic world seems to be only feasible alternative to work with and cooperate with. And, it seems that the Recep Tayyip Erdoğan government seems to think so also. That is why it continued to work with NATO while criticizing it, and it even allowed NATO to establish a missile protection shield in Kürecik, Turkey, that the Iranians perceive to be anti-Iran and pro-Israel.
Life is not as simple as it seems in the books, in ivory towers or in opposition. Turkish Islamists have lost the luxury of being in opposition. It is now bargaining time and discovering that the world is not only composed of binary opposites. That is why I surmise that the pro-Justice and Development Party (AK Party) Islamist newspapers and columnists would prefer not to elaborate on the Patriot issue vis-à-vis their Islamist ideology. This is how they have behaved in the Kürecik case. Maybe showing that Islamist ideology, like many other ideologies, is not life-proof, is not open to real world experiences and loses its “coherence” when it meets reality and facts.
(Ihsan Yilmaz is a writer for Today’s Zaman where this article was published on Dec. 6, 2012)