Islam is the most democratic religion, says Albright. Yet in 1400 years of Islamic history, there has only been one democracy: Turkey.
Albright says that Turkey is a “perfect example” of how Islam is democratic. But let’s look at the record. In the aftermath of World War I, Mustafa Kemal, who called himself Ataturk, or Father of the Turks, established the first secular government in a Muslim society, leading the Sheikh who famously visited Osama bin Laden on video in 2001 to refer to “infidels like the Turks.” Ataturk declared that “the civilized world is far ahead of us. We have no choice but to catch up. It is time to stop nonsense, such as “˜should we or should we not wear hats?” We shall adopt hats along with all other works of Western civilization. Uncivilized people are doomed to be trodden under the feet of civilized people.”
Hats were more than just a symbol: because of their brims, they interfered with the prostrations that were and are an essential element of Islamic prayer. By outlawing turbans and mandating hats, Ataturk was striking at the very heart of Turkish Islamic society. Within a relatively brief period the great Islamic empire that had been the seat of the caliphate and the lodestar of the Muslim world became a Western-style modern state. The unity of the polity was based on racial, not religious grounds (resulting in the murder and exile of millions of Armenians and a not inconsiderable number of Greeks, who fared marginally better even as dhimmis, at least until they were deemed to have violated the terms of the dhimma, than they did under the nationalistic and secular Turkish government).
Ataturk accomplished this transformation by abolishing the caliphate, restricting political Islam and other expressions of Islam, including Islamic marriages, and letting mosques and Islamic shrines fall into disrepair. He worked hard to diminish the place of Islam in Turkish society.
Isn’t this the dream of moderate, Western-influenced and Western-friendly Muslims and their non-Muslim patrons? Ataturk labored to erect a truly Jeffersonian wall of separation between mosque and state. If the notion of a modernized, secularized Islam really has any viability, it should show in Turkey, its principal research and development project.
But there was resistance to Ataturk’s program in Turkey virtually from the beginning. Scholar Paul Dumont notes that “the expeditious secularization imposed on the country by Mustafa Kemal and his entourage created a shock wave through the country which has not yet died out.”
Opposition to Kemalism, as secular rule in Turkey came to be known, was fundamentally religious. Rank-and-file Turks, according to Ataturk’s biographer Andrew Mango, believed that “misery was the fruit of impiety, prosperity the reward of obedience to the law of Islam.”
Religious uprisings have been a feature of the Turkish secular state virtually since its inception, and those desiring to restore Islam to centrality in public life have made steady gains. By the 1950s, says Farah, the secular authorities “found it prudent henceforth to play up to Islamic loyalties and allow the ulama and other religious leaders a freer hand.” That hand has been growing even freer ever since.
Even Albright, while she was Secretary of State, Madeline Albright, expressed her displeasure with the “drift of Turkey away from secularism.”
“Albright Praises Obama’s Efforts to Engage Muslim World,” by Mohamed Elshinnawi for VOA News, April 24 (thanks to James):
“There is no doubt in my mind that Muslim countries can be democracies,” Albright says. “Turkey is a perfect example of that. It is very evident, and, actually, in my study of religions, in many ways Islam is maybe the most democratic religion because there is nobody between you and God. So I do not think that is something that can be used as reason not to have Muslim democracies.”