Islamism arose in Turkey not because its Islamic tradition was prone to it. No. It arose because its secular fundamentalists kept on suppressing even the most moderate and progressive expressions of religion. And the bad news for today is that they are craving do the same thing again.
The current secularist hype in Turkey, which goes hysterical in the face of any sign of religiosity in society, is a very dangerous political force that might, once again, crush Turkish democracy and prevent the cultivation of a truly modern, moderate and yet still devout Muslim identity. The roots of the incumbent AKP, which is at the eye of the storm, is in the Islamist line of Erbakan, for sure. But the party reformed itself to a great extent and became a true heir of the Progressive Party, i.e., the “modernization within the tradition” line. Neither the AKP nor the rising modern Muslimhood in Turkish society that it largely represents should be sacrificed to the ideological rigidity of the secularist establishment, which is, despite all the changes in the world, as anti-religious, anti-capitalist, and nationalist as it was in the ’30s.
A series of political parties have called for the Turkish state to be more tolerant of public religious expression – and been serially disbanded by the secular establishment. The latest incarnation, known as the Justice and Development Party (AKP), holds a majority in parliament, elected the current prime minister and seeks control of the presidency. This last move has provoked a standoff with the military, which has a constitutional role in defending the secular state. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has called for parliamentary elections July 22 to demonstrate his party’s strength. That support increasingly comes not from the rural religious but from Turkey’s growing middle class – educated, entrepreneurial, pious and resentful of the secular elite.
Secularists accuse the AKP of seeking a slow-motion Islamist revolution. Turkish writer Mustafa Akyol [...] regards this as a serious overreaction: “The AK Party has traces of Islamism, but it is moving toward becoming a conservative, Muslim democratic party,” more akin to the Christian Democratic parties of Europe. So far, the AKP has been pro-capitalism, pro-European Union and a defender of Islamic family values, instead of being an advocate of Islamic law.
[...] If the AKP proves itself as a center-right religious party, genuinely committed to pluralism, that will be a reverberating example. A democratic transition in Egypt, for instance, is not likely to be achieved by Jeffersonians and secularists. It will require moderate Islamists who direct conservative religious sentiments into democratic channels.