Islamism and cultural void

We have been witnessing a fruitful intellectual discussion over the notion of Islamism. »»

We have been witnessing a fruitful intellectual discussion over the notion of Islamism. Is there any difference between Islamist and Muslim?

 The discussion has moved along this axis. I would like to make a contribution to the ongoing discussion on Islamism from a different perspective. The discussions raised by the groups referred to as Islamist before 1980, along the state-individual-Islam axis, were the outcomes of constructive and good-faith attempts. However, there were many shortcomings, and their sphere of influence was limited. They were not based on a pluralist language and a pursuit of competence. If we talk about their poetry, they did have a more genuine and comprehensive aesthetical poetry in general. Today, it could be argued that poetry as a means of communication has been in decline in the world -- and with some justification. But the Islamist conservative circles were not productive in other areas of literature.

Some still discuss whether there is room for the novel in Islam. When Cemil Meriç says, “There is no room for the novel in Divan literature; why should there be?” we pay attention to this remark out of respect for this great thinker, whereas we also ignore the fact that he has frequently praised Balzac. The Islamists who argue that there is no novel in our civilization since we do not have any tragedy (like that from Ancient Greece) are just wrong. “Crime and Punishment” by Dostoyevski and “Grapes of Wrath” by Steinbeck speak to the conscience and hearts of all people. The forms are universal, but the content and styles vary. So what is the reason for the lack of success among the groups who define themselves as Islamist conservatives to give birth to a competent novelist since Tarık Buğra, a prominent novelist for nationalist and Islamist youth in the republic’s history? This cannot be explained by their hesitant approach vis-à-vis the novel alone.

Unlike commonly held views, the problem with the Islamist conservative youth is that they have an indifferent, homogenous and anonymous mindset as defined by Jose Ortega y Gasset, a prominent Spanish philosopher from the 20th century. Thanks to the religious rituals they perform and the political and economic positions they have acquired, the Islamist conservative young people hold that they have matured spiritually and materially. For this reason, they do not think it is necessary to think, read or engage in cultural activities. They prefer a lifestyle that involves no curiosity, ideas or sadness, a style depicted by Çıldırlı Aşık Şenlik. This indifference and insensitivity are the primary reasons for the lack of serious novels, poetry or any other literary work.

Without his intellectual capacity and competence, would his recognition as an Islamist make Ahmed Cevdet Pasha, the genius of the Tanzimat era -- a period that refers to the massive modernization and reorganization of state institutions and the law system in accordance with the Western political model in the mid-19th century in the Ottoman Empire -- more valuable and popular? Was there any hesitation about the Islamist or Muslim identity of Sultan Abdulhamid II, who hosted actress Sarah Bernhardt in his palace, played the piano and promoted universal works in the fields of music and literature?

Those who make a call for a revisited Islamism in the discussions over Islamism need to go through a process of self-criticism with regards to the ongoing state of intellectual weakness and mediocrity. The adaptation of Islamist bestseller “Huzur Sokağı” (Street of Serenity) to a TV series could be an indication for political domination, nothing more. It is not possible that these and other similar works, which have no aesthetic value other than their sincerity, would open up new horizons for society and provide a new vision for individuals. In a book by Faruk Mercan, “Gülen’in Sıradışı Hayatı” (Extraordinary Life of Gülen), Fethullah Gülen is quoted as saying: “Our theologians do not read novels. I wish they’d read more.” This remark refers to some void. Yet there is another problem. The cultural deadlock cannot be overcome as long as those who attempt to exploit the emotions of the Islamist conservative young people through a melancholic and agitating poetic style.

It is necessary to remind those who see “The Messenger” – a film about the life of the Prophet Muhammad -- in tears every Ramadan and listen to its soundtrack on their cell phones of the fact that the music was composed by French musician Maurice Jarre and played by the British Philharmonic Orchestra. Do I need to say that the singers of “Green Pop” -- a music style developed by some Muslim singers, resembling pop music -- are more sensitive than their works?

What those who are subscribed to the notion of Islamism would say about philosophy, law, politics and particularly culture is an important issue. For how long do you think you can raise young people on works by Necip Fazıl and Mehmet Akif alone? In order to overcome their weaknesses and problems, the Islamist conservative groups need to go through a process of constant change.