Whenever the Islamic world is discussed in Western media and political discourse, the focus always turns to religion. It is believed that the problem can be solved merely by choosing a moderate interpretation of the religion over a fundamental one. Given the al-Qaeda or Taliban examples, the preference of a moderate interpretation is understandable. However, there are multiple methodological problems with this approach. Similar to all religions, there will always be quite marginal elements that fail to comply with the dominant methodological outlook, interpretation, ethics and lifestyle of Islam. The solution offered by certain Western elements to this problem materializes in the form of encouraging those actions they classify "moderate," irrespective of its political philosophy and ultimate political projects. This is highly related to what the West wants from the Islamic world or rather what it chooses to problematize.
Since the beginning of the 20th century the West has been supporting oppressive movements - with a couple exceptions, including traditional Islam. Although these movements exclude the majority of the population from the political and economic process, they are favored by the West as they pose no problems in terms of their lifestyle and religious interpretation. While they are considered partners in power, they are also accommodating as they share the common language of modernity.
It was generally not a problem for the West that these structures were pursuing or supporting the continuance of a non-democratic system in their country of origin, generally posed no issues. This is a choice.
In recent years, the Gülen Movement has been pitched by certain powers as being "moderate." In this case, the movement's philosophy of totalitarian politics does not stop those powers from seeing them as partners. This is not very surprising. Even if it were the case, it is obvious that there is a lack of compatibility with the ethics and fundamental global preferences of classic Western democracies as well as the 21st century.
This preference further fails to provide any democratic benefit to the Islamic world. The designation and maintenance of the political order of a country, based on freedoms and law, by the people living in that country is what constitutes democracy. In other words, a country governed under democracy would have less conflict, bringing to an end the alienation between the people and the political process while strengthening the sense of belonging. Hence, irrational interpretations of religion would be marginalized through inclusive economic and political institutions.
The source of threat is not religion, but politics. Democracy is the criterion. In that case, it would be more useful to focus on the establishment of democracy in all institutions of the Islamic world, rather than focusing on the varying interpretations of religion. Other choices would help continue the cycle of exploitation in the region a little longer, ultimately harming both the East and West.
About the author
Osman Can is a Law Professor and Reporting Judge at the Turkish Constitutional Court. He holds a PhD from the University of Cologne, Germany.