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7 Shari`a, Islamic Ethics, and Democracy: The Crisis of the “Turkish Model” Ahmet T. Kuru Turkey was long regarded as the nation most likely to produce a harmonized combination of Islamic ethics and democratic principles. Several commentators noted that the Justice and Development Party (AKP) rule in Turkey could, at least in practice, provide such a combination even though the party lacked the intellectual depth to provide an ideational synthesis of Islamic political thought and democratic theory. I myself even presented the AKP as a model to Arab Islamists when defending the viability of a middle way between assertive secularism and Islamism (Kuru 2013a). However, recent developments in Turkish politics, from the Gezi events to the corruption scandal, have revealed that the AKP has failed to combine Islamic ethics and democratic institutions, let alone model them for other countries. Since 2013, the AKP’s leader, Turkey’s prime minister, and then president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan have moved toward Islamism and away from passive secularism . The AKP has embraced a Machiavellian approach that justifies almost any means—including but not limited to demonizing the Hizmet (“service”) movement led by Fethullah Gülen, turning the progovernment media into a propaganda machine, and establishing a mukhabarat (intelligence) state—to cover up corruption allegations and keep Erdoğan in power. In general, the AKP has shown that it has neither fully embraced Western democratic standards nor produced an Islamic alternative in terms of political, economic, and media ethics. The Hizmet movement has also made mistakes during recent controversies, particularly by being overly politicized throughout its power struggles against the assertive secularist generals and, more recently, against Erdoğan. Whence came optimism about the idea of the “Turkish model,” and why did it fade so quickly? This chapter begins with three main reasons for the­ optimistic expectations: (1) the historical and geopolitical importance of Turkey , (2) the ethics-based understanding of shari`a developed by Bediüzzaman Said Nursi (d. 1960) and Gülen, and (3) the transformation of the AKP from Shari`a, Islamic Ethics, and Democracy | 159 Islamism to passive secularism. I then elaborate on recent political and ethical crises in Turkey, particularly the Gezi, corruption, and mining scandals, examining how Islamist support for Erdoğan has continued despite these scandals— which has prompted critics of Erdoğan to question the links between Islamism and public ethics. Reasons for Optimism: History, Ideas, and Politics The Ottoman Legacy, Assertive Secularism, and Islamism The historical and geopolitical importance of Turkey as inheritor of the Ottoman Empire have prompted several observers to look to Turkey for a model combination of Islam and democracy. A third of current Muslim-majority countries in the world (seventeen of forty-nine) were once Ottoman territories. Even some Muslims in other parts of the world, such as those on the Indian subcontinent, regarded the Ottoman sultan as the caliph of Muslims. In addition to their religious status, Ottomans have also been pioneering reformists, embracing European institutions as early as 1839, if not earlier. Thus Turkey, which was founded by the Ottoman elite, became, to no one’s surprise, not only the first secular republic among Muslim-majority countries (Özbudun 2012) but also a member of NATO. Mustafa Kemal Atatürk’s (d. 1938) assertive secularist policies, inaugurated in 1924, were followed by other leaders in the Muslim world, such as Reza Shah (d. 1944) in Iran, Amanullah Khan (d. 1960) in Afghanistan, Muhammad Ali Jinnah (d. 1948) in Pakistan, Sukarno (d. 1970) in Indonesia, Gamal Abdel Nasser (d. 1970) in Egypt, and Habib Bourguiba (d. 1987) in Tunisia. Their idea of keeping Islamic groups and institutions under state control, however, was bound up in authoritarianism, and these secular autocrats largely failed to satisfy their people ’s expectations of political and socioeconomic development. The Iranian Revolution of 1979 created a new wave of Islamist republicanism. Although Islamists came to direct power in only a few countries, such as Sudan and Afghanistan, they became a major opposition force in many others. Their formalistic understanding of shari`a has not, however, done any better than secular autocrats’ ideologies at providing solutions to political and socioeconomic problems. Islamists have displayed an obsession with issues of criminal law (Bacık 2013) and with restricting women’s public lives, all while undermining the importance of Islam’s moral principles and ethical goals (for various interpretations and implementations of shari`a, see El Fadl 2014; Grote and Röder 2012; Hallaq 2009; Hefner 2011; and Kadri...


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