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January 28, 2013, Monday

Is non-Western modernization possible?

Many researchers agree that Islamist movements that have been making inroads into the country's cultural and intellectual arenas since 1856 have "assumed a modern and modernizing mission." 

These movements can hardly be said to be "Western” or “Westernizing." The authenticity of the difference between "modern" and "Western" is a big question, but according to the concept adopted by these Islamist movements at the very beginning, the Muslim world had to modernize and become part of the modern age. Otherwise, it would be pushed aside, left behind and destroyed. At that time, Muslims (Ottomans) were facing defeats in wars and losing land and they feared they might have to leave Anatolia and return to the depths of Asia. They feared the tragic experience of Andalusian Muslims might be repeated. Perhaps it was this fear that urged Ziya Pasha to write a history of Andalusia.

A century after the emergence of the first Islamist movements, certain concepts and relationships among them started to become clear. For instance, objections were raised against modernism basically as a form of Westernization. The set of existing religious values, part of the historical traditions and the Muslim world's real search and capacity for harmony, paved the way for many Islamists to believe that modernism can be reproduced in any human/cultural crucible using the appropriate forms and methods. In this context, famous sociologist Peter Berger argues, "Religions are not against modernity, but against secularization." For him, Europe has never been as religious as it is now. Other religions, too, can become more widespread and more social thanks to modernity. This means: in the West, modernity necessarily engaged in tension and clashes with religion, but this religion was specifically institutionalized religion, i.e., the church and its dogmas, as well as the hegemony of the clergy over the state apparatus. Nevertheless, the development of modernity ensured the democratization of religion. Communication, education and greater mobility afforded by modernity ensured greater socialization of religion. It follows, then, that religions do not clash with modernity, but with secularization. In the final analysis, secularization has evolved into a sort of nihilism. A world dominated by nihilism needs religion as much as and even more than it needs modernization.

According to Islamist movements, one of three major factors that prevented the development of modernity and society's modernization during the Ottoman and Republican eras was that modernity had been imposed on the public through imperative, top-down, state-formulated policies. Second, modernity was defined as Westernization and this set the guidelines for modernization. This was modernism as an ideological concept which didn't play nicely with the traditional culture of the society. However, modernity is not an ideology, but a human condition; so it must be defined in this manner and it must respond to this condition. This human condition cannot be ignored, but is Westernization the only way to internalize it? Those who advocate the thesis of non-Western modernization attach a great deal of importance to this question. For them, non-Western modernity should be possible, at least on a theoretical basis. The third factor is that, perhaps in connection with the other two factors, modernity has emerged as a non-religion, i.e., a secular process under the profound influence of 19th century positivism. This has come to be translated as laicism in politics, and unlike its implementation in Europe or in other Muslim countries, this laicism has created significant problems in Turkey's specific historical and political circumstances.

Previous articles of the columnist