Reed Magazine May
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2004
 
Law of the land

In his paper “Islam, Secularism, Political Ideology, and Public Practice in Contemporary Turkey,” Walton classified this secular–religious tension as part of a larger dichotomy between the West, which connotes modernity, and the East, which implies a pre-modern state. Islam is often pigeonholed under the latter. These categories, Walton argued, characterize the “clash of civilizations” dualism, and on that highly abstracted level, any localized context becomes lost. He insisted that scholars must first examine such contexts before tackling whether there really is a so-called “clash of civilizations” or whether secularism and religion are mutually exclusive.

“Under the exclusionary logic of the clash of civilizations, a society cannot be both secular and religious, both modern and Muslim, both West and East,” Walton said. Yet that narrow logic falls apart on the ground. “Contemporary Turkey demonstrates the co-existence of secularism and religion, modernity and Islam, West and East within a single national context. . . . The simultaneity of civilizations in Turkey demands a critique of the rigid logic and reified categories that support the clash of civilizations at its very basis.”

photo of Khartoum

photo of Sudan
Photos of Khartoum, Sudan, by Noah Salomon ’99 (below).
Noah Salomon picture

An example of where the old rigid logic crumbles is the recent political success of Ak Partisi (AKP), the Justice and Development Party. Led by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the AKP is recognized as an Islamist party, and the mere fact that it has found success in secularist Turkey illustrates the falsity of any strict Islam-vs.-secularism dichotomy. Moreover, it is this pro-Islam AKP that is also “the most insistent upon the necessity of EU membership,” further blurring the perceived borders between East and West.

Making the old dichotomies even more problematic, Walton noted that personal liberties are traditionally associated with Western ideas of modernity, but when Atatürk’s secular government banned Muslim women from wearing headscarves in public buildings, his government was in fact limiting personal liberty, thus distancing itself from this traditional notion of Western freedoms rather than embracing it.

The old dichotomies are not being questioned with regard to Turkey alone. In “The Khartoum Dilemma: Religious Diversity and the Law in Contemporary Sudan,” Salomon focused on that region’s Islamization of its legal system. The Khartoum dilemma “refers to a contemporary debate going on in Sudan among political parties and common people alike—between Muslims and non-Muslims as well as among Muslims themselves . . . over whether or not Islamic law is an appropriate mechanism for the governance of a religiously diverse and modern society.” Although this dilemma presupposes a division between Muslims and non-Muslims, secularists, and Islamists, Salomon contends that there was, in the daily lives of Sudanese in the capital, and even despite the decades of war that have divided the peoples of Sudan, “cooperation between diverse peoples that transcends the divisiveness often perpetuated by government and opposition parties alike.”

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Reed Magazine May

2004