AKP is not Islamist, but somewhat Muslimist

AKP is not Islamist, but somewhat Muslimist

Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdo?an visited President Obama in the White House the other day. It was, apparently, a good meeting.

Obama praised Turkey’s efforts at home and abroad, and even said Ankara could be an “important partner” in resolving the growing crisis with Iran’s nuclear program.

Yet we all know that Turkey’s stance on Iran is actually a concern for many people in Washington. Erdo?an recently irritated them by declaring Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as his “friend,” and seeming to almost avocate Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

He also employed an obvious double standard in his approach to Israel and Sudan. While bashing Israel’s war crimes in Gaza in the strongest possible terms, he dismissed Sudan’s war crimes in Darfur in quite apologetic tones.

Enter Muslimism

By looking at all this, some commentators conclude that, despite its claims to the contrary, the AKP is an “Islamist” party.

Some even argue that this “concealed” form of Islamism is even more dangerous than, say, that of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, for it is more cunning.

I beg to differ. And, if you have a minute, let me propose a different explanation, and a different term, for AKP’s ideological bent: This party is not Islamist. But it, and especially its leader, are sometimes misled by another ideology that we can call “Muslimist.”

Here is what I mean. Islamism, as I understand it, is a totalitarian ideology whose ultimate aim is to create an “Islamic state” which will impose its favored interpretation of religion on society.

Like all totalitarianisms, this is a horrible model. It is repressive on not only non-Muslims or non-practicing Muslims, but even the devout believers of Islam, for they are forced to accept a form of religion dictated not by their consciences but by political authority.

In this sense, the AKP is not an Islamist party. Their goal is not to make Turkey a “shariah state;” of course, many theophobic Turks, some of whom write in these pages, passionately believe so.

But the AKP’s performance since 2002 proves otherwise. Its most “Islamist” move, after all, was to try to open Turkish universities to students who wear the headscarf – something which is free in the free world, but banned under Turkey’s tyrannical secularism.

Yet the AKP repeatedly shows the signs of “Muslimism” – a term you might not have heard before, because I just made it up. It implies an emotional affinity to our “Muslim brothers” around the world, and a willingness to presume that they should be the rightful party in their disputes with non-Muslims.

It is, in other words, some sort of Muslim nationalism.

For sure, the AKP doesn’t have “Muslimism” as a declared principle. In fact, its foreign policy, successfully orchestrated by Foreign Minister Ahmet Davuto?lu, is based on pragmatism, national interest and a genuine desire to be a peacemaker and stability exporter in Turkey’s surroundings.

This stance is evidenced by the steps for a solution in Cyprus, rapprochement with Iraqi Kurdistan and Armenia and peacemaking efforts between various actors in the Middle East.

Muslimism is a less established factor – and mostly an emotional one – that comes out once in a while in Erdo?an’s rhetoric.

Justice versus our kin

Moreover, Muslimism is understandable and legitimate to a degree. Cultural affinities do influence foreign policy, as President Obama acknowledged in his famous Cairo speech when he mentioned the “unbreakable bond” between America and Israel “based upon cultural and historical ties.”

In fact, many American Jews that I know are attached to the Jewish State with a nationalism that perhaps can be called “Jewishism.” There is nothing wrong with that, I believe, unless it comes to the point of blindly supporting Israel regardless of whatever it does.

Muslimism would not be wrong, too, unless it comes to the point of blindly supporting our “Muslim brothers” regardless of whatever they do. But some of Erdo?an’s recent rhetoric crossed that line.

He said nothing to criticize the brutal crackdown on the Iranian opposition after the country’s faked elections. He said nothing to criticize Ahmadinejad’s mindless threats to wipe Israel off from the map. And he said something unbelievable – that “Muslims cannot commit genocide” – to dismiss the atrocities in Darfur.

Constructive criticism of the AKP on these lines would certainly be helpful. Erdo?an’s recklessness, after all, is not approved by even some of the more reasonable figures in his party, and certainly not by President Gül, who is a much more balanced and refined statesman.

What would not be helpful is to buy into the Kemalist propaganda – that the AKP is treacherously “Islamist” and that Turkey needs some form of a coup to get rid of it.

Finally, I should note that the best criticism to blind Muslimism actually comes from Islam itself. The Koran calls on believers to “be maintainers of justice… even though it may be against your own selves, parents or kin,” (4:135).

That’s why the Muslim thing to do in global politics is not to give blind support to our “Muslim brothers.”

It is rather to give a principled support to justice. The former is the way of a Muslim nationalist. The latter is the way of a true believer.