Stepan, Turkey and Islam’s democratic compatibility


The emergence of an “upstart populist party” like the Alternative for Germany (AfD) has been facilitated in no small part by a widespread fear that Islam and democracy are incompatible, Uri Friedman writes for The Atlantic. Other experts note that the experience of Muslim-majority democracies like Indonesia suggests otherwise.

The notion that Islam is undermining Western-style liberal democracy is queried by Ian Buruma. Neverthless, he argues in Taming the Gods: Religion and Democracy on Three Continents, the violent passions inspired by religion must be tamed in order to make democracy work, arguing that the creation of a democratic European Islam is not only possible, but necessary.

Up until his last few weeks, the late Alfred C. Stepan was working on a book on Islam and democracy, aimed at a readership broader than the political science profession, Oxford University’s St. Anthony’s College notes.

One of Stepan’s biggest disappointments on the issue of Islam and democracy was the case of Turkey, notes Ahmet T.Kuru, ofessor at the department of political science in San Diego State University. At the beginning of the AKP rule, Stepan was largely critical of Kemalists’ assertive secularist policies and hoped that Turkey would be more democratic with the integration of Islamic actors into the Turkish political system, he writes for Open Democracy:

In mid-2012, however, it became obvious that we were too optimistic about the AKP’s seemingly democratic discourse. Right after the Gezi events and the Turkish police’s crack down of the protestors, Stepan (left) sent me a short but sensitive email message. He informed me that [Juan] Linz and he thought that Erdoğan had “lost it” and asked “Are we wrong?” The question was a typical reflection of Stepan’s humility and respect for others’ views. Of course they were right. Erdoğan not only lost the chance to be remembered as a democratic leader, but also confirmed those who had argued that Islamists would never become democrats. Last time I met Stepan was June 2015, in a conference in Florence. He was disappointed to see the breakdown of democracy in Turkey, but still tried to remain hopeful.

Al Stepan wrote on many countries, but never in a desk-bound way, writes Professor Archie Brown, a friend and Emeritus Professor of Politics at Oxford University:

He visited frequently every country he wrote about and, when there, interviewed political actors from different parts of the ideological spectrum. He had endless intellectual curiosity and physical and mental energy. In recent years he made half a dozen or more visits to Tunisia and published a number of articles on that country where, notwithstanding its ‘difficult neighbourhood’, more of the democratic upsurge of the ‘Arab Spring’ survives than anywhere else. Among Stepan’s articles which emerged from this particular focus was his ‘Multiple but Complementary, Not Conflictual, Leaderships: The Tunisian Democratic Transition in Comparative Perspective’, Daedalus, Vol. 145, No. 3, 2016…..For further appreciation of Alfred Stepan’s achievements, see Douglas Chalmers and Scott Mainwaring, Problems Confronting Contemporary Democracies: Essays in Honor of Alfred Stepan (2012) and Archie Brown, ‘Alfred Stepan and the Study of Comparative Politics’Government and Opposition, Vol. 49, No. 2, 2014.

A member of the Research Council of the National Endowment for Democracy’s International Forum for Research Studies, Stepan delivered the forum’s Ninth Annual Seymour Martin Lipset Lecture on “Democratization Theory and the Arab Spring,”(Nov. 13, 2012). He also served on the editorial board of the Journal of Democracy, to which he contributed a considerable number of articles.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email