Insight Turkey Volume 14 No 4
What happens when an ideological movement whose raison d’être is to challenge the existing political system and government structure, and one that gains its identity and character from criticizing power, takes control of the government? Turkey no longer has a noteworthy Islamist project. We must place this vanishing, or death, at the end of the story, a story that begins with its birth. When Muslims are able to express themselves through democratic means, they move away not only from violence, but also from an ideological Islamic interpretation. The death of Islamism in Turkey can therefore be explained by the wide-open channels of democracy. In such a free and democratic setting, there is no environment for Islamism to survive, especially when it is fit into a different mold through the support of the government.
The expression “the death of Is- lamism” is a metaphor. It de- scribes the disappearance of a main political movement, more pre- cisely; the loss of the oppositional char- acter of an ideology, giving life to the AK Party government. What happens when an ideological movement whose raison d’être is to challenge the exist- ing political system and government structure, and one that gains its identity and character from criticizing power, takes control of the government? In this case, a political movement based on an Islamist ideology was transformed into a political party in order to come to power democratically. What was once a political movement based on the faith of Islam has been softened and modified in order to be compatible with democra- cy’s rules, and once it carried this idea into government, the Islamic ideology vanished, just like the caterpillar who makes its cocoon and then breaks out of this cocoon as a butterfly. This metaphor argues that the AK Party government transformed Islamism, by injecting it into the democratic system, from a totali- tarian ideology into a moderate democratic one.
In July 2012, a debate over this metaphor began between Ali Bulaç and my- self. Ali Bulaç is to this day one of the most reputable and important names in Islamist thought . He is a highly talented intellectual and has significant influence on the latest generation of Islamists. It is very difficult to imag- ine an Islamist who has not read his books, which have been deemed in- dispensable for those interested in the Islamist ideology When we worked as columnists at the same newspaper, I put forward a claim that Islamism disappeared with the AK Party government in opposition to him. The debate continued in a levelheaded manner and, expectedly, others joined in. Pandora’s box had been opened. The issue grew with the input of Etyen Mahçupyan,Şükrü Hanioğlu, and other writers who still hold on to their Islamist identities. Thus, the freshest views available to judge the state of Islamism in the Turkey of 2012 have emerged. I believe that the course of this debate and the arguments as well as objections put forth support my claim. Islamism does not really exist in Turkey as a live and vigorous organism. The fact that the debate over whether Islamism is dead or alive is being carried out in the manner of an autopsy alone proves this point.
If we consider Karl Manheim’s “ideology-utopia” distinction, we would have to label Islamism as utopia. And what happens to all utopias happened to Islamism as well: it vanished when it took power. Turkey no longer has a note- worthy Islamist project. We must place this vanishing, or death, at the end of the story, a story that begins with its birth.