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February 18, 2013, Monday

The democracy test

The rule of the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) in Turkey for over 10 years and the coming of the Muslim Brotherhood to power in Tunisia and Egypt have raised an issue in the West and among the domestic liberal circles that are their extensions: “Will the Islamists pass the democracy test?” (See two columns by İhsan Dağı published in the Zaman daily on Dec. 11 and 14, 2012). The question is based on these two assumptions: First, the Islamists fail to resolve their ontological problems with democracy; however, they put it aside and use democracy as a tool to gain power by not objecting to it. Second, Islamists assume they are right by attracting the support of the majority and believing that, because of this support, they can do anything they want to interfere with the lifestyles of the minorities, a postmodern authoritarianism. It is useful to discuss these arguments.

Since the mid-20th century, the issue of the relationship between Islam and democracy has never lost its popularity. This matter is discussed even more extensively now because of the Arab Spring. Our observation is this: The Muslim world is destined to bring new rulers to power. This process, according to my conceptualization, is the start of the experience of third-generation Islamists. It is the second-generation Islamists about whom there are complaints. The conundrum is the practice and product of the groups who failed to resolve a series of problems with democracy, modernity, secularism, a market economy, human rights, women's rights and other issues, failed to think about these problems, who considered deliberation of these matters a waste of time and who stayed away from Islamic sciences and thinking. It would be unfair to hold Islamists alone responsible for these practices.

However, we have come to the end of an era in Turkey; and it is also true that a new process has started throughout the Middle East as well. In this new era, the primary actors are the Islamists. In short, Islamism is not dead; it is experiencing a time of resurrection and rebirth.

Of course, no one has to call himself as Islamist; it is sufficient to adopt Islam as a common identity. In the end, it is God who calls those submitting to His will and pledging adherence to His orders and commands a Muslim. However, I would like to respectfully ask those who consider themselves Muslim but not Islamist the following question: “You are not an Islamist, but on what sources will your government philosophy or political theory be based? What socio-political model would you use to regulate social and economic life? Would you choose liberalism, socialism, fascism or any other socio-political model?” The Islamists offer the following arguments: a) By taking Islam as a reference (the Quran, the Sunnah and the historical practice and experience of Muslims), it is possible to develop a socio-political system that is suitable to resolve present-day problems; b) Islam is a whole; faith cannot be divided into different parts. The Quran frequently makes reference to faith and good deeds at the same time. Faith incorporates belief and morality. A Muslim cannot live with faith alone; it has to be backed up by good deeds, worship, practice and rituals. The detachment of faith from good deeds makes a Muslim flawed.

From the Western political science perspective, this is not important at all; they are considered issues pertinent to theology and divinity. However, this is not the case at all. When subjecting Islamists to a democracy test, it is necessary to take a look at the religious practices that determine the political mindset of Muslim subjects. Unless these practices and factors are known, we cannot have a basic understanding of the subject and we cannot have political science and social science in Muslim societies.

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