Turkey & Morocco raise questions about Islamism and democracy


turkey bpcTurkey must adhere to legal and human rights principles in the prosecution of people accused of involvement in a failed coup, if it wants to buttress its reputation as a nation that has reconciled democracy with Islam, the chief of Europe’s top human rights body said Friday:

Council of Europe Secretary General Thorbjorn Jagland said ensuring that the thousands of people who have been arrested or dismissed from government jobs in Turkey have their day in court would benefit both Europe and the region.

“We have looked upon Turkey as a kind of evidence that one can reconcile democracy with Islam,” Jagland said in an interview with The Associated Press. “I hope that this can prevail during this purge.”

The victory of Morocco’s moderate PJD Islamist party in last week’s elections highlighted the emergence of a ‘new breed of Islamism,’ but much of public opinion still associates Islamist ideology with violent jihadist extremism.

SAUDI MutedModernists238With the rise of threats from the Islamic State (also known as ISIS), many Americans are looking to pin the jihadist cult on a tangible actor – and have settled on Saudi Arabia, reports suggest.

“I think that [with] the rise of ISIS and some of the lone-wolf terror attacks we are seeing in the West, people [in the United States] and elsewhere are trying to come up with an answer,” says Fahad Nazar, a former political analyst at the Saudi Embassy in Washington and an analyst at JTG Inc, a Virginia-based consulting firm. “For some, it seems like Saudi Arabia is a convenient answer as they believe … Saudi Arabia’s export of ideology over the years is a part of it.”

The US-Saudi relationship is coming to terms with “irreconcilable differences,” observers say.

“One of the essential weaknesses of the US-Saudi relations since the beginning was that while we have common interests in confronting Soviet Union, Iran, and now terrorism – we don’t have any common values,” says Bruce Riedel, a former CIA official and director of Brookings Intelligence Project. “Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy built on a religious legitimacy with no freedom of press

TURKEYmustafaakyolMuslim reformists are condemned by hardcore Islamists as heretics and sell-outs to the West, argues Mustafa Akyol, author of Islam Without Extremes. In the meantime, many puzzled Muslims are looking out for the right way to understand and live their religion, he writes for the Bush Center:

A “war of ideas,” indeed, is going on in the Muslim world. It would be a major mistake in the face of this drama to declare that Islam never will accept liberty because of its supposedly unchangeable essence — as it was also argued for Catholicism or Judaism in the past centuries. For the West, this is mainly an intra-Muslim matter that cannot be directly influenced by outsiders. Still, the West can play a positive role, by merely showing that “liberty” and “religion” are really not contradictory.

Violent extremism and religion are often—and wrongly–used synonymously by some policymakers, in political discourse, and in the media, argues Shaun Casey, the State Department’s Special Representative for Religion and Global Affairs. However, through our work, we have found that religion is rarely the only or primary driver of violent extremism, he told Arizona State University’s Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict.

“There are a wide and diverse range of factors, such as politics, economy, social conflict, identity, individual psychology, and ideology—including, sometimes, religious ideology,” he added. “Other sources of grievances include localized conflicts, state-sponsored violence, corruption, political and/or socioeconomic marginalization, to name a few.”

Pelham-SaudiArabia-MAP-101316Yet there are good reasons for the West to maintain ties to Saudi Arabia. The alternative to the Al Sauds is not liberalism but some form of radical Islamism, The Economist argues:

Saudi Arabia is the world’s biggest oil exporter, and guardian of Islam’s two holiest shrines. Better these be in the hands of a friendly power than a hostile one. Belatedly, Saudi Arabia has become a vital partner in the fight against jihadists; it is better placed than the West to challenge their nihilist ideology. The chaos of the Middle East stems at least in part from Sunni Arabs’ sense of dispossession. The best hope of containing the mess is to work with Sunni powers like Saudi Arabia.

“Saudi Arabia is already doing a lot to curb extremism and fight terrorism, while maintaining its Wahhabi-based legitimacy,” says Riedel. “But it is difficult to sell this case to the outside world because it is a nuanced argument – Saudi Arabia is being seen as both the arsonist and the firefighter.”

Research suggests that as a general rule, the United States is far less likely to dump a dictator if there is a credible ideological alternative to liberal democracy and capitalism that opponents might institute — if given the chance to govern, according to Michael Poznansky, an assistant professor at the University of Pittsburgh, and  Lt. Col. Keith L. Carter, an advanced strategic plans and policy fellow at the University of Pennsylvania.

Notwithstanding Secretary of State John F. Kerry’s July warning that Turkey’s NATO membership was under scrutiny, the U.S. interest in preserving ties with secular or at least moderate Islamic regimes means that America is probably willing, at least for the time being, to look the other way when its allies and clients flirt with authoritarianism, they write for The Washington Post’s Monkey Cage.

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