Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Moderates in Turky --
This piece at TPMCafe is written by George Washington University sociology and international relations professor Amitai Etzioni.

In it, Etzioni notes that a constitutional amendment in Turkey will lead to an observant Muslim holding the presidency, where in the past the military has exercised a veto of sorts to insist that parliament appoint a secular head of state. Etzioni argues that imposed secularism goes against the Turkish majority and drives moderate Muslims into the arms of extremists.

Importantly, the Turkish majority favors a moderate Islamic society and is no longer enamored with a dominantly secular one. (After all, secularism was imposed on Turkey, in the first place, by a fierce autocrat and the military.) When the AKP won an outright majority of seats in Parliament in 2002, it became the first non-secular Turkish party to have done so in 15 years, signaling a significant religious attachment among the Turkish people at large, despite eighty years of state-imposed secularism. Denying the majority a political expression is likely to alienate these voters who favor a moderate Islamic government, pushing them toward the extremists.

Most importantly: the same change of strategy must be applied to much of the Muslim world. Large segments of it will not be satisfied with secularism; to counter Islamists it is best to support the moderate Muslims found in droves in nations such as Indonesia, Bangladesh and Malaysia, rather than merely secular parties. Just as Social Democrats were often a better antidote to Communists than the conservatives, so the texts and leaders of nonviolent, moderate religious parties are the most promising way to curb Islamists. Indeed moderate religious parties are found as key participants in numerous democratic societies in Europe and in Israel.

President Reagan used to say that God should not be kept out of the classroom—as if a bunch of educators could prevent his presence. Politicians should take note: they cannot keep God out of politics, either. The only choice they have is which of His messages they will object to if sought by the voters: those that sanctify suicide bombers and car bombs—the God of the terrorists—or those that call for humility, modesty, teaching of the scriptures and non violence? Those who call for jihad as a holy war to kill all the infidels, or those who see jihad as a spiritual journey of self improvement?

With the recent death of Jerry Fallwell, I use this moment to reflect on the Religious Right. The movement embodies a non-trivial percentage of the population. It would be wrong to disenfranchise them by imposing secularism with a heavy hand. Doing so has driven them to despise the state. Religious conservatives should have sufficient liberty that they feel they have a chance to fulfill their goals, or to create grudgingly acceptable compromises, through the democratic process. Not that they should have guaranteed success, just a guaranteed seat at the table.
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