Saturday, May 03, 2008

Politics, religion, and civil rights - a teetering balance worldwide

Recently, I wrote about my friend Mustafa Akyol’s response to the controversial film Fitna. Another reader, Mohammed, notes that Fitna’s renditions of the Koran are not very accurate, according to a scholar to whom he directs my attention.

I’m no Arabist, but I wouldn’t be surprised. Atheist authors often quote the Bible out of context, ignoring the history, and I suppose that many can play at that game, and use the Koran too.

To show how complex real life is, Ezra Levant, the Jewish lawyer who is fighting for free speech in Canada, says that he prefers the Canadian Muslim Congress to the Canadian Jewish Congress on this key issue. (You would have to live here to understand in detail, but basically, Canadian leftists ally with politicized Islamists to undermine free speech - the two groups have nothing in common expect their disdain for things like free speech. And groups that lean left tend to buy into the package, without considering the big picture.)

While we’re here, here’s Mustafa’s contribution, along with that of a number of other thinkers, to a symposium on Turkey’s future:
First of all, Turkey’s secularism is one of a kind, and it has almost no resemblance to the separation of church and state in the United States. In Turkey, secularism means that the state can dominate and control religion. Secularism protects only the state, in other words, not religion.
Turkey’s secularist establishment even speaks of the need to protect the society from religion. “The secularism principle,” Turkey’s Constitutional Court argued in a 1989 decision, “requires that the society should be kept away from thoughts and judgments that are not based on science and reason.” (This is also quoted in the indictment against the AKP.)

Turkey’s secularists abhor “moderate Islam” as much as radical Islam. Indeed, they see any sort of religious influence on society as a threat to “modernity.” According to Princeton historian Sükrü Hanioglu, the extreme secularism of the Turkish Republic is rooted in the “vulgar materialism” of late-19th-century Germany, which heralded a post-religious age of “science and reason.” This philosophy, which was emulated by some of the Young Turks and was inherited by most of their republican successors, has become the cornerstone of the official state ideology. That ideology, often called “Kemalism,” also includes a very staunch nationalism, a belief in a protected and state-regulated economy, and, as foreign visitors to Turkey will notice, a cult of personality created around the county’s founder, Kemal Atatürk.

This ideology tolerates no “deviation,” and therefore political parties in Turkey need not be “Islamist” to clash with the secularist establishment.

Yes! Many people worldwide do not understand that secularism in North America has NOT historically been the same thing as “laicisme” (routinely translated as “secularism”) in France or Kemalism in Turkey.

Secularism in North America has - at least historically - meant that church and state were separated for the benefit of both. Separation of church and state means, among other things, that the government is not supposed to dictate to religious bodies what they should think, say, or do beyond protecting the basic civil rights of members of a religious organization.

Unfortunately, in the wake of globalization, there are dark hints that the less benign French approach may be gaining ground in North America, and we can all only hope that reason will prevail in Turkey.

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