By Farah Abdul Khaliq and Ali Harfouch
The ‘Turkish Model’ has recently conjured much debate – and has become the centre of discussion amidst the revolutions. Western nations like the United States and France see the Turkish Model as the ultimate solution to nations, whose people want Islamic based political models. Namely because this model on one hand, possess no threat to their own imperial neo-Liberal order while at the same time maintaining an “Islamic” aura. This is especially true for the charismatic Erdogan, who has been hailed as the much needed leader of the Muslim world. Or what Time’s called “An Islamist who is in support of Secular-Democracy”. Our aim here however is not to discuss the ulterior motives and reasons for which the West supports the Turkish Model but to point towards serious conceptual issues that the above statements embodies which amount to nothing short of an existential crisis.
An Existential Crisis
The ‘Turkish Model’ has recently conjured much debate – and has become the centre of discussion amidst the revolutions. Western nations like the United States and France see the Turkish Model as the ultimate solution to nations whose people want Islamic based political models, namely because this model on one hand possesses no threat to their own imperial neo-Liberal order while at the same time maintaining an “Islamic” aura. This is especially true for the charismatic Erdogan who has been hailed as the much needed leader of the Muslim world, or what Time’s calls, “An Islamist who is in support of Secular-Democracy”. Our aim here, however, is not to discuss the ulterior motives and reasons for which the West supports the Turkish Model, but to point towards serious conceptual issues that the above statements embodies which amount to nothing short of an existential crisis.
An Existential Crisis
A nation is defined by the underlying normative-structure at the base of which is the nation’s own philosophy—which gives it its essence. And it is based on this that one perceives reality by conceptualizing and understanding issues from within the normative structure. In other words, the extent to which something is “Islamic” or not would be determined by our own definitions and thoughts. Islam, as such, provides Muslims with a holistic and realistic philosophy and a comprehensive normative-structure which is all-inclusive – in that, it defines explicitly political, economic, and social principles.
Despite this however, in today’s day and age, many fail to refer to this normative structure that Islam provides, and, as such, begin to ascribe to contradicting definitions. Therefore, their definitions must be textually challenged through Islamic principles. Carl Schmitt observes:
As long as a people exists in the political sphere, this people must, even if only in the most extreme case…determine by itself the distinction of friend and enemy. Therein resides the essence of its [religio-]political existence. When it no longer possesses the capacity to make this distinction, it ceases to exist politically [and religiously]. If it permits this decision to be made by another, then it is no longer a political free people and is absorbed into another political system. [The Concept of the Political]
This quote highlights for us what has become the ordinary reality of the Muslim world whereby others determine for them what is violent, what constitutes as terrorism, what is Islamic, and patronisingly even the history of the Muslims is re-interpreted by other normative structures while the Muslims wait for these judgments to be given to them. Naturally, these definitions, which are not from Islam, contradict Islam in its essence.
In light of this, referring to Erdogan as an “Islamist” who is in support of “Secular Democracy”, it is clear that the term “Islamist” has been stretched to an extent that it can no longer be clearly defined. What is all the more dangerous is that these boundaries are being defined by minds outside the Muslim world who attribute themselves to paradigms incommensurable with Islam. If anything, this represents nothing less than an existential crisis in which Muslims no longer recognize their own autonomous normative structure or definitions and have allowed foreign systems of knowledge do so. Such ambiguity forces one to ask whyTurkeyis seen to have an Islamic model, butSaudi Arabia, a dynastic tribal monarchy, isn’t? –Or the Nationalist Neo-Platonic “Islamic” State ofIranfor that matter? And one wonders what would happen if a Marxist were to grant him or her self the authority and ability to determine what is legitimately “Liberal” or “Pro-Liberal” based on his Socialist frame of reference?
The Geopolitics of Identity
In dismissing our passivity and adopting a more critical framework to assess the current state of the Muslim world, it becomes clear that the above crisis is a result of our constant retort to Western systems of knowledge and concepts for legitimacy. Constructing our discourse, concepts, and modes of governance on colonial principles, as we remain within their global power-structures, at the heart of which is the colonization of knowledge, a result of which is – losing our own autonomous normative structure – threatening our very existence as an Ummah. Our criteria and standards are defined by foreign paradigms as opposed to being drawn from our own distinct and revelatory epistemology. Our sense of identity has been situated and remains situated in the West, a situation which stems from the rampant inferiority and defeatist complex which many Muslims have accepted.
More than often, this is legitimized by the claim that such models and principles are universal. In reality however, neither Western systems of knowledge nor the Turkish Model are universal but rather essentially relative and contingent to specific exigencies. Western “Universal” values represent merely secularized and Eurocentric Judeo-Christian culture while the Turkish Model is a domestication of Secularism to a Turkish national and cultural context. Consequently, neither notions of legitimacy and identity located in the West nor the Turkish Model are legitimate models to be used as frames of reference by Muslims, are still occurring, despite the fact that Muslims have a frame of reference which is not geographically located nor situated in a particular period of time, but rather universal, timeless, and absolute.
Interestingly enough, Ahmet Davutoglu, Foreign Minister of the AKP, is one of the first cotemporary academics to demarcate the deeply-rooted difference and conflict between Islamic Political thought and Western Political thought in his book Alternative Paradigms, tracing the differences beyond conceptual and historical differences, but even ontological. Nation-States, Secularization of Knowledge, and Western models of Pluralism are based essentially on an ontology which is at odds with Islam’s ontology – Tawhid – concluding that we must draw upon our own ontology to formulate a distinct political theory, and conceptual framework. His conclusions are at odds with both his policies and those of Erdogan – who have employed the very same un-Islamic concepts to solidify their power while masquerading it with somewhat of an Islamic discourse. Our resort to non-Islamic structures to determine what is “Islamic” amounts to ontological indifference.
An explanation of this phenomenon can be linked to our passivity amidst Western political thought and what one activist calls “Beaten Ummah Syndrome”. Our inability to transcend the pragmatic policies and superficialities of the AKP and appraise their legitimacy from an Islamic framework largely inhibits any form of intellectual progress towards the decolonization of our consciousness. What is needed is that we re-construct our own normative structure around an Islamic ontology.
As for whether the Turkish secular model is in fact Islamic, the paradox is clear enough. The constitution of a nation lists its basic principles by which a nation governs itself; thus, it can be considered a tangible document of principles of that nation. One only needs to look at the Turkish constitution to realize the lack of Islam within it; it is a secular constitution, based on democracy and nationalism:
ARTICLE 2. The Republic of Turkey is a democratic, secular and social state governed by the rule of law; bearing in mind the concepts of public peace, national solidarity and justice; respecting human rights; loyal to the nationalism of Atatürk
The Turkish state has no stated religion. If the constitution does not state a religion of state, nor does it rule by the principles of that religion, then with what liberty can it be made the Islamic model or the Islamic ideal when the political need arises?
Ideally, one would compare this Turkish ideal to historical Islamic models and contradict it as such. However, given the time constraints, it is sufficient to examine only one crucial principle upon which the Turkish state is based, and, likewise, the one principle which epitomizes Islam – the antonymous principles of Secularism and Tawhid. Secularism is based on normalization of the temporalization of legislative authority and absolute power to the state, or any other political community, while legislative authority is ontologically transcendent in Islam, and absolute power belongs only to Allah whereas the people only maintain relative authority because from an Islamic [ontological] perspective the absolutization of any person, object, or idea amounts to its deification.Turkey’s Secular state is at ontological odds with the Islamic mode of governance whose liberatory concepts are considered to be ontologically-flawed. A normative-structure is a product of an ontologically shaped conceptual framework, and hence why Erdogan’s model of governance is, according to an Islamic normative structure, completely un-Islamic.
It is imperative for us as an Ummah seeking revival to steer away from spoon-fed Euro-centric systems of governance and knowledge, and to use the Islamic normative structure to assess our realities regardless if it is deemed ‘extreme’ or ‘radical’ especially in those we consider to be ‘Islamic leaders’.
Farah Abdul Khaliq is a Graduate from the University of Manchester and an Islamic Activist in the United Kingdom.
Ali Harfouch is a student of Political Studies and Public Administration at the American Uni. of Beirut and an Islamic Activist in Beirut, Lebanon.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect New Civilisation’s editorial policy.