Islamic Breakthrough


The rhetoric over the dialogue' of civilizations has become as commonplace as that as confrontation.' But to posit such ideas, one has to be a political scientist of the Samuel P. Huntington caliber. Concepts involving dialogue,' cooperation,' and other positive terms do not always accurately describe the real situation. This partially explains why a public forum, which the Council of Russian Muftis, the Institute of Islamic Civilizations, and the new Arabic TV channel Rusia Al Yaum held recently, was called "New Bridges of Interaction between Civilizations."


Mufti Ravil Gainutdin confirmed that the Moscow city government has granted permission to build a jami (principal) mosque. A 162-page Golden Koran is to be presented in recognition of the event [reference is to a unique edition of the Koran, to be exhibited at the State Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts in Moscow on June 25; each of its 162 pages is made of 0.9999 hallmark gold, weighing 14 kilograms]. Meanwhile, Rusia Al-Yaum will start offering Mos-cow's perspective on key geopolitical issues for an audience in the Middle East .


This cooperation proves that the situation with regards to Muslims in Russia is not as terrible as some fear. After all, Russian Muslims were born and bred on Russian soil and consider Russia to be their motherland. As for the prevalence of radicalism, that is an altogether separate subject.


The international situation, however, is quite different. Early parliamentary elections in Turkey have been set for July 22 when a nationwide referendum will be held. The outgoing president, Ahmet Necdet Sezer, proposed a referendum on constitutional amendments that would allow presidents to be elected by national vote, rather than by parliament. Parliament, the Milli Mejlis, approved amendments in late May allowing a direct popular election, overriding an earlier presidential veto of the bill. The president cannot veto the move twice. Whatever the outcome of the standoff between the supporters of a secular and pro-Islamic order may be, it is clear that it has already marked the beginning of a new stage in the country's history.


Islam has always had a serious impact on the fate of the world, but ten years ago this influence in the post-Christian world was not quite so obvious. It seemed at the time that inter-religious confrontation was a thing of the past, occurring somewhere on the fringe of public consciousness. Conflicts erupted not between representatives of particular religious groups, but between states, countries, regions, or classes; and those clashes, as well as subsequent reconciliations, were viewed and described in non-religious terms.


In the past few years, Samuel Huntington has talked extensively about the danger of the denationalization of elites in a multi-cultural world. The hope that civilizations would serve as melting pots have been dashed. Immigrants categorically refuse to adopt the culture of host countries. Oftentimes, immigrants are people who have failed to "fulfill themselves" in their motherland. Furthermore, a young man who has come from Saudi Arabia will probably be a "greater Muslim" in Europe than he was in his home country. Not doing in Rome as the Romans do seems to be the new trend. And now, Europeans must reckon with those who refuse to reckon with them.


The Turkish Gambit


Recently, politicians throughout the world started appealing directly to Islamic values, and also appealed to the electorate sharing these values. In late April of this year, the streets of Istanbul witnessed mass action in support of the ideas of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk and in protest against the victory of Abdullah Gul, who favors Turkey 's return into the Islamic fold. His victory in an uncontested election was annulled by the Constitutional Court . At the same time, the Party of Justice and Development is a party of moderate Islam, which campaigns for Turkey 's admission to the EU and derives democratic principles of justice from Islamic morality.


[In May, the Turkish parliament canceled the presidential vote after the only candidate pulled out of the race. The parliament accepted Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul's petition to pull out of the contest, in which he had been the sole candidate, after he failed to win two rounds of voting. President Necdet Sezer said he would remain in office until a new head of state is elected. The Turkish Constitutional Court dismissed the first round of the presidential vote in parliament because of a lack of quorum.]


Turkey 's first president, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, not only included the principle of statism in the program of his Republican People Party, but also enshrined it in the 1937 Constitution of the Turkish Republic as a fundamental economic doctrine. Statism, the principle of concentrating extensive economic and political controls in the state, regards the state as the supreme stage of human development. It was in accordance with this principle that Turkey evolved as a secular state, which enabled it to advance economically. Women were enfranchised, the wearing of the hijab at state and educational institutions was prohibited, and the Latin alphabet was adopted. Now Abdulah Gul's wife, as the country's first lady, pointedly wears the hijab in public.


It has to be admitted that democratic freedoms have boomeranged. A popularly elected "Islamist" president will now embody Turkey 's democratic choice. Should a referendum be held, experts do not rule out this scenario, since the Turkish hinterland is traditional in its way of life, including religious tradition. However, the military plays a very important role in the country's political life. They not only uphold the secular state in word, but also exert pressure. Experts are predicting latent military coups, the last of which took place five years ago, when the leader of the Party of Justice and Development was forced to step down. The Turkish military has staged coups three times since the founding of the modern Turkish state in the 1920s, to restore order and maintain the country's secular form of government. But there can also be other scenarios, and it could happen that the Army would turn against the people's choice - that is, of course, if such a choice is made. [The Turkish military high command warned government leaders that it was concerned about unrest in the country associated with the presidential vote, and said it was monitoring the situation closely. Many fear that a presidential victory by Gul, despite the largely ceremonial nature of the post, would lead to a greater role for Islam in Turkish politics.]


The popularity of pro-Islamic political rhetoric arouses concern within the international establishment. The West is also worried by new-wave immigrants who refuse to assimilate as a matter of principle.


The problem of Islamic expansion popped up on the European radar screen at the turn of the century. In 2001, Bassam Tibi, professor of international relations at Gottingen University , said that there would be 40 million Islamic immigrants by 2050. It was argued that this phenomenon should be welcomed, since "Europeanized Muslims" could become a link between Europe and the Islamic world. Clearly this is not happening, and this situation should worry Europeans who are concerned about preserving their identity. Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world.


Saying the Word


The spiritual and secular realms are inseparable in the Islamic world, whereas European civilization is losing its last distinctive features as a Christian civilization. The liberal concept of human rights was largely based on the postulated ontological value of every human being in the eyes of God. This point was made at a recent Russian-German conference organized by the Moscow Patriarchy's External Relations Department and the Konrad Adenauer Foundation.


Bishop Martin Schindehutte, head of the German Evangelical Church Department for Relations with Foreign Countries and Christian Confessions, said that although he, for one, loathed homosexuality, homosexuals also have a right to declare their orientation. This is in fact Voltaire's classic thesis, which went, I do not agree with a word you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it (It may be recalled that the Russian Orthodox Church is strongly opposed to the legalization of homosexuality as a socially approved type of behavior). Hypothetical readiness to defend something to the death is readily declared, but not even Voltaire himself managed to fulfill his own advice.


Moscow News, 24 2007









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