Islamists reduce the West’s diversity and view it as a monolithic entity. The otherness of the West is a crucial construct of Islamism. Islamists aim to eliminate Western influences in the “Muslim world,” especially in the areas of politics, economy, society and culture, which they consider to be incompatible with the “true and authentic” Islam.
Islamism utilizes Islam to pursue political objectives. Islamist simplify Islam and give the impression that theirs is the only interpretation of Islam on political matters. They imagine Islam as a complete and ready-to-use divine system, with concrete political, cultural, legal and economic blueprints. Their ideology is exclusivist. They focus on obligations and responsibilities rather than rights. Generally speaking, inclusion, compromise and tolerance are not prominent characteristics of Islamism.
Islamism is state-centric. It does not pay much attention to civil society and always pursues capturing state power by either revolution or by democratic means, depending on the context. Islamists would be happy to use Gramscian apparatuses such as the media, schools, the mosque and intellectuals to manufacture the consent of the masses. Despite their rhetoric, generally speaking, Islamists are first and foremost nationalists. They also care for and relate to the ummah but their focus of activity is mostly on their nation-states. Spirituality is not the ultimate concern in Islamism and sometimes it can even be sacrificed for the sake of social and political action. Islamists usually have a harsh rhetoric and are repulsive rather than inviting. They are not men of dialogue and are fond of borders. There are of course several manifestations of Islamism and one can talk about multiple Islamisms, not a single ideal type. Nevertheless, the above-mentioned characteristics can mostly be found in these Islamist variations.
Prior to the emergence of the Justice and Development Party (AKP), a schism had emerged within the ranks of the Turkish Islamists and the younger generation, the renewalists, who openly rejected many of the above-mentioned characteristics of Islamism. They later established the AKP and this party claimed to have a conservative democrat ideology. They avoided referring to Islam on political and even social matters and espoused a post-Islamist and even a non-Islamist outlook. The EU was no longer a Christian-club. The West was not a monolithic enemy. The state’s reason d’être was to serve the people. Plurality was the essence of democracy. Human rights were of primary importance. Social engineering was an anathema. Passive secularism was right and it was not assumed the state would interfere with religious matters.
Nevertheless, there are an increasing number of signs that the AKP is reverting back to Islamism and this is not a first in Turkish political history. After the closure of Necmettin Erbakan’s Welfare Party (RP), the Turkish Islamists established the Virtue Party (FP), which was a post-Islamist party. Yet, after the Constitutional Court also shut down this party, in addition to the non-Islamist AKP, another party was established by Erbakan, the Felicity Party (SP), which reverted back to Islamism and is still Islamist. The AKP has not of course declared it, but it seems to be gradually following Felicity’s path.
The likely end of the EU reform process, the increasing anti-Western rhetoric, the increasing intolerance and closure to dialogue, the signs of hostility towards criticism and plurality, increasing nationalism, insensitivity towards human rights (also Kurdish, Alevi and non-Muslim rights), the increasing state-centric approach and state-protective attitudes could all be signs of latent Islamism. Moreover, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s talk of “the state’s duty to raise religious generations” was an obvious Islamist reaction. His rejoinder of “one nation, one country, one state and one religion” may be read within a broader picture. The introduction of elective courses on the Quran and the Prophet’s life in secondary and high schools that I also applauded may be the part of the latent Islamist project, too. These are not enough to conclude that the AKP is now Islamist but are enough to raise the question. We need to closely scrutinize what will come next.
If the AKP continues in this direction, an increasingly plural and strong civil society will oppose it. It may then need to rely on only its grassroots with populist policies and establish a sort of coalition with the bureaucratic oligarchy and the Kemalist establishment.