I recently spent a few days in Malaysia, where I was promoting the publication of the Malay edition of my book, “Islam Without Extremes: A Muslim Case for Liberty.” The publisher, a progressive Muslim organization called the Islamic Renaissance Front, had set up several talks for me in Kuala Lumpur. As any author would be, I was happy to learn that the team was enthusiastic about my book and had been getting good feedback from audiences and readers. But I was troubled by something else that I suspect many Muslim authors have experienced: My publisher was worried about censorship.
The risk, I was told, was that the Department of Islamic Development, a government body that “was formed to protect the purity of faith,” could ban the book if it was viewed as violating traditional Islamic doctrine.… Seguir leyendo »
The recent massacres in Paris and San Bernardino, Calif., demonstrated, once again, the so-called Islamic State’s ability to win over disaffected Muslims. Using a mixture of textual literalism and self-righteous certainty, the extremist group is able to persuade young men and women from Pakistan to Belgium to pledge allegiance to it and commit violence in its name.
This is why the Islamic State’s religious ideology needs to be taken seriously. While it’s wrong to claim that the group’s thinking represents mainstream Islam, as Islamophobes so often do, it’s also wrong to pretend that the Islamic State has “nothing to do with Islam,” as many Islamophobia-wary Muslims like to say.… Seguir leyendo »
Turkey’s Nov. 1 election gave the ruling Justice and Development Party, or A.K.P., a major victory that nobody expected. The period of political uncertainty that began in June, when the A.K.P. lost its parliamentary majority for the first time in 13 years, has ended. In other words, the past five months did not mark the beginning of the end of A.K.P. dominance, as the opposition hoped. They were merely a short intermission in the long-lasting dominance of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
How did the A.K.P. surge from 40.8 percent of the vote in June to 49.5 percent in just five months — without any fraud, as independent observers testified?… Seguir leyendo »
On June 29, Turkey’s 12th Gay Pride Parade was held on Istanbul’s crowded Istiklal Avenue. Thousands marched joyfully carrying rainbow flags until the police began dispersing them with water cannons. The authorities, as has become their custom since the Gezi Park protests of June 2013, once again decided not to allow a demonstration by secular Turks who don’t fit into their vision of the ideal citizen.
More worrying news came a week later when posters were put up in Ankara with a chilling instruction: “If you see those carrying out the People of Lot’s dirty work, kill the doer and the done!”… Seguir leyendo »
On March 31, two men disguised as lawyers entered a downtown Istanbul courthouse. They headed to the office of Prosecutor Mehmet Selim Kiraz, locked the door, drew their guns and held him hostage. Soon they revealed that they were members of the DHKP-C, or the Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front, an illegal Marxist-Leninist party. Their aim was to avenge the “murder” of Berkin Elvan, a victim of the massive antigovernment protests of June 2013, who died at 15 after being hit in the head by a police tear-gas canister.
Mr. Kiraz was the prosecutor in charge of investigating the death of Mr.… Seguir leyendo »
Over the past decade, headlines from the Middle East have reintroduced Westerners to terms from centuries past. “Heresy,” “blasphemy,” “apostasy” — these are some of the charges that the radical Salafist group known as the Islamic State invokes when it executes its enemies, sometimes by crucifying or burning them alive.
Some Muslim governments, including United States allies, also mete out harsh punishments for similar offenses. The liberal blogger Raif Badawi was publicly flogged in Saudi Arabia last month on a charge of heresy, which he allegedly committed by criticizing the oppressive Saudi religious establishment.
Although there are contextual differences for these practices, as well as the sanctions for religious offenses in Iran, Sudan or Afghanistan, they all share one fundamental objective: Punishing people in the name of God.… Seguir leyendo »
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey keeps making global headlines. First it was for claiming that Muslims discovered the New World. Then it was for asserting that you “cannot put women and men on an equal footing.” Last week, it was for supporting the arrest, by Turkish police, of a number of journalists. But in the long run, it is his reforms of the Turkish education system that will likely be the most influential — and detrimental — to the global competitiveness of the country’s next generation.
Earlier this month, Mr. Erdogan backed a proposal by Turkey’s National Education Council to make Ottoman Turkish — an older version of the language, written in Arabic letters — mandatory in religious high schools, and available as an elective in secular high schools.… Seguir leyendo »
“Nations do behave wisely once they have exhausted all other alternatives,” the Israeli diplomat Abba Eban once quipped. The Turkish government finally seems to be doing so in Kobani, the northern Syrian city besieged by the Islamic State — after trying everything else. Turkey is now helping Kobani’s defenders after standing, literally, on the sidelines for weeks as a battle raged just across the border.
As Kobani was encircled by Islamic State forces, despite air strikes by the United States and its allies, Turkey, a NATO ally, had tanks positioned only a few miles away. Why, many wondered, did Turkey do nothing to help the secular Kurdish fighters defend themselves against brutal religious fanatics?… Seguir leyendo »
On Saturday, Turkey woke up to happy news: The 49 Turks held hostage in Iraq by the Islamic State for 101 days had finally been released. When they arrived in Ankara with a delegation headed by Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, the survivors were welcomed by family members who had feared that they would never see them again.
The hostages were captured by the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, on June 10, when the terrorist group occupied the northern Iraqi city of Mosul and raided the Turkish Consulate, the last remaining diplomatic mission there.
How the release was achieved has not been fully disclosed yet.… Seguir leyendo »
On the night of Aug. 10, when Turkey’s powerful prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, won the presidential elections that added five more years to his already 12-year-long reign, I had mixed feelings.
Here was a leader I had supported for years — both as a voter and a columnist — as he battled against Turkey’s authoritarian secularists, especially the coup-prone military, which had executed or imprisoned some of his predecessors.
I still support Mr. Erdogan’s historic peace process with Kurdish separatists, which is likely to save Turkey from a decades-old bloody conflict. But in the past three years, I have become disillusioned with his growing authoritarianism.… Seguir leyendo »
As I write, the latest war in the Gaza Strip and southern Israel rages on. Both sides have suffered — though in unequal proportions. Israel has now lost nearly 30 soldiers and two civilians. Meanwhile, over 600 Palestinians have been killed in Israeli airstrikes, including almost 100 children.
Every time these macabre death tolls arise, we are always reminded by Western politicians that Israel has a “right to defend itself.” One is left wondering why the Palestinians don’t have a right to defend themselves, too. If the answer is that Israel is a state while Palestine is not, then one would wonder who has deprived Palestine of statehood?… Seguir leyendo »
When the Iraqi city of Mosul was captured on June 10 by the armed militias of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, many world leaders were shocked and concerned. Turkey’s leaders were more alarmed than most; ISIS militants stormed the Turkish consulate in Mosul and kidnapped 100 Turkish citizens, some of them diplomats. As I write, the hostages, including two babies, are still in the hands of ISIS.
Back in Turkey, a heated media debate abruptly came to a halt after Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in his usual authoritarian tone, asked the media “to follow this issue silently.”… Seguir leyendo »
History is full of failed grand narratives. Just as George W. Bush’s idealistic “freedom agenda” crumbled when his occupation of Iraq produced a divided and bloody country, the freedom agenda of Turkey’s Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan — a much less belligerent but similarly idealistic vision of the Middle East — ran aground in Syria.
Mr. Erdogan’s idealism was boosted with the Arab Spring of 2011, when secular dictatorships fell, opening the way for popular Islamist parties. Mr. Erdogan believed that his own success story in Turkey would be repeated all across the Middle East.
However, mere election victories didn’t secure any of these nascent democracies: Islamists still had to reconcile with the more secular segments of society.… Seguir leyendo »
For several months, Turkey has been in the throes of a political war. The latest controversy emerged after a series of wiretapped phone conversations between Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and members of his inner circle were exposed systematically on the Internet. These audio files immediately went viral and confirmed to millions of Turks that many of the rumors they’d been hearing about government interference in the media and judiciary were quite real.
In one of the recorded conversations, Mr. Erdogan called Fatih Sarac, a top executive at Haberturk, a popular news channel, to reprimand him for airing the critical views of an opposition leader.… Seguir leyendo »
Over the past decade, the Turkish government has received much praise for successfully melding Islam and democracy. Today, however, Ankara’s continued reliance on tactics of confrontation and intimidation is threatening to overshadow the country’s significant achievements. As Turkey attempts to construct a post-revolutionary order, it would do well to follow the example of one Arab country that has managed to avoid political gridlock: Tunisia.
In 2011, protests led to the ouster of Tunisia’s longtime dictator, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali. The spirit of revolution soon spread to other Arab countries, albeit with less-impressive results. Libya suffered from bloody internal turmoil; Egypt reverted to brutal military rule; Syria continues to be ravaged by civil war.… Seguir leyendo »
For the past month, Turkey has been plagued by an all-out political war between the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and certain elements within the judiciary and the police. No one knows how it will end, but its meaning for Turkey’s troubled democracy is already clear: There is little rule of law here, and “justice” easily falls victim to power.
This is a problem with deep historical roots. When Mustafa Kemal Ataturk founded the modern Turkish Republic in 1923, he devised the legal system as the protector of his “revolution” — rather than citizens’ rights. His politically motivated “Independence Courts” executed or imprisoned many dissidents.… Seguir leyendo »
Foreign journalists writing about Turkey like to focus on the most fundamental divide in Turkish society: the rift between religious conservatives and secularists. But these days an internal clash is raging among the conservatives themselves. And it could be a boon for Turkish democracy.
On one side are the supporters of the prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is enjoying his 11th year in power and facing increasing criticism for his authoritarian style of rule. On the other side, there are the supporters of Fethullah Gulen, an Islamic scholar and preacher who now lives in Pennsylvania, and whose teachings have inspired Turkey’s most powerful civil society group.… Seguir leyendo »
There is a heated debate in Turkey these days over whether the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is furthering democracy or rolling it back.
Optimists argue that, thanks to the defanging of the long-dominant military, Turks now enjoy real democracy for the first time. Others, however, argue that Mr. Erdogan is becoming increasingly authoritarian after a decade in power and that Turkey is less free every day.
Either of these opposing views can be persuasively substantiated — if one carefully cherry-picks facts, which is what both Mr. Erdogan’s supporters and detractors regularly do while ignoring all evidence to the contrary.… Seguir leyendo »
Let's start by calling it what it is: Taksim Square, and not Tahrir. Yes, much of what is happening on the streets of Turkey looks similar to the Egyptian uprising: peaceful protesters refusing to be intimidated by police brutality, insisting on their own individual power to question authority; the role of social media; the way a protest about one issue comes to reflect widespread discontent. But however tempting it may be to cast the protests as the latest (non-Arab) chapter in the Arab spring, they're different in many ways. What's more, the governing AKP stands to gain from them, if it pays close attention.… Seguir leyendo »
The downing of a Turkish jet over the Mediterranean last Friday by a Syrian missile took Turkish-Syrian tensions to a new level. Though the Turkish government did not declare war as some expected, and others feared, it did declare Syria a "clear and present danger" and raised its rules of engagement to an alert level.
How we came to this point is an interesting story. The 550-mile long border with Syria, Turkey's longest, has often been tense. During the Cold War, Syria was a Soviet ally, Turkey was a NATO member (as it still is) and the border was heavily mined.… Seguir leyendo »