Democratic Islamism

It’s hard for me to imagine anything more wrongheaded than Michael Rubin’s on-again, off-again crusade against the Islamist AKP Party in Turkey. Obviously, not being a Muslim of any sort I have a hard time imagining myself backing an Islamist political party and would expect Rubin to feel the same way. But as a third-party observer of the Muslim world, it seems to me that things like the AKP are exactly what we should be hoping to see — political mobilizations based around the appeal of Islam that nonetheless abide by democratic norms and don’t see Islamist politics as entailing violent confrontations with the West. If America takes the attitude that only rigid, Attaturk-style secularism is an acceptable form of political organization, then this is precisely the sort of thing that drives the view that the United States is engaging in the global persecution of Muslims and Islam. Rubin, however, is having none of it:

What is most amazing is that the State Department has downplayed Turks’ concern about the Islamist agenda. If there was any truth to Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Fried comparison of the AKP to a European Christian Democratic Party, Turks would not be rallying for democracy and secularism. Perhaps it is time for some introspection in Foggy Bottom and at the U.S. embassy in Ankara.

Rubin’s right that the comparison to a contemporary Christian Democratic Party doesn’t hold all that much water. Ironically, the correct comparison is to the Republican Party in the United States. This is a political party that draws much of its support from the political mobilization of Christian sentiment. The policies and rhetoric it employs to tap into Christian political mobilization are deeply controversial, are capable of prompting mass protests by more secular-minded people, and — yes — wind up with the party backing somewhat illiberal policies on various scores. All that said, the GOP is still obviously a participant in a democratic system of elections and governance. Dennis Hastert surrendered the Speaker’s chair to Nancy Pelosi. And while the Republicans’ deep ties to Christian political have tended to drive non-Christian voters in droves to the Democrats, the GOP does get some support from members of religious minority groups like Rubin himself.