Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Secularism: Early postmortem results

Dinesh D'Souza notes, about this year's Templeton winner Charles Taylor,
I wish I could read Taylor’s forthcoming book on secularism now, since I am in the process of finishing my new book What’s So Great About Christianity , out from Regnery in October. But Taylor’s A Secular Age is not out until September. This is Taylor’s eagerly-awaited study of how we came to live in a secular age. At one time virtually all of the orbit of life in the West was shaped by religion and specifically Christianity. But now we live in a time and place where our political, economic, scientific and cultural activities are largely removed from the sphere of religion. I want to learn from Taylor what we have gained and what we have lost, and whether it is possible to retrieve some things that have been hastily left behind.

D'Souza is the political scientist who has unsettled a lot of people by pointing out, along with journalist Mustafa Akyol, that the reason that radicalized Islamic extremists make converts among traditional Muslims is not that the traditional Muslims hate Christians but because they despise the spiritual bankruptcy of current Western culture. Thus they can be recruited to jihad.

Akyol, for his part, offers an insightful look into the clash between secularist democrats and Muslim democrats in Turkey. He warns against taking too seriously the legacy media myth that the secularists are pro-democracy and the believers are anti-democracy. It was never nearly that simple in Turkey. For example, he notes,
... the late Ottoman Empire had a very sophisticated intellectual elite. Most of the Ottoman intelligentsia spoke English and French, and they were very well versed in European thought, not to mention the Islamic tradition. Among them were different trends, but to generalize, we can speak of two main camps. One of these was what I call the “modernization within the tradition” camp. Its proponents realized the need for reforms, but were hoping to realize these without abandoning traditional values, and especially the religious ones.

The second trend was what I call the “modernization despite the tradition” folks. Their most radical representative was the secular fundamentalist Abdullah Cevdet, who thought Turks could only save themselves if they abandoned their religion. His distaste with traditional values reached a level of deep self-hatred. As a believer in Social Darwinism, he once argued that Turkish women should be bred with men from the “superior races” of Europe to ensure “biological progress.” He is still remembered with deep disgust among Turkey's conservatives.

In other words, Islamism arose in Turkey not because its Islamic tradition was prone to it. No. It arose because its secular fundamentalists kept on suppressing even the most moderate and progressive expressions of religion.

And the bad news for today is that they are craving do the same thing again.

The current secularist hype in Turkey, which goes hysterical in the face of any sign of religiosity in society, is a very dangerous political force that might, once again, crush Turkish democracy and prevent the cultivation of a truly modern, moderate and yet still devout Muslim identity.

Compared with most ideas for organizing society, secularism was demonstrably weaker at resisting the deconstruction of all values, whether functional or not, because it was simply a negative phenomenon. There was not much behind it to form a resistance. If Turkish Muslims adopt simple secularism, they will not end up spending their Fridays communing with art or nature but shopping (or worse).

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