Islamist conservatism or Islamization of conservatism?

İslam Özkan writes: Islamist movements cannot objectively analyze Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) for they tend to be infatuated with it. Yet the Islamism of the AKP’s rank-and-file or grassroots is in fact infused with nationalism and statism. It has little to do with original Islamism and is gradually shifting to the far right.

İslam Özkan

While there is a general perception that political Islam is universal, it has several branches. Islamist movements differ from country to country and within the same country as well. It is thus hard to draw general conclusions from these movements. One can however discuss their similarities.

In fact, Islamist political groups and parties have become more similar in recent times due to several factors. Some of this can be attributed to the fact that Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has become somewhat prominent and dominant in the Muslim world.

Islamist movements cannot objectively analyze the AKP for they tend to be infatuated with it. There are two reasons for this. The first is a feeling of admiration that is questionable as the reality of the AKP is hardly what they imagine it to be. The second is their bondage to a political structure that has helped them through their difficult days, opening its doors to Islamists who are persecuted in their respective countries.

Behind this appreciation and admiration for the AKP lies Turkey’s military, political and economic power which are bolstered by the country’s geostrategic and historic position. Islamist movements seek to benefit from this power. They tend to regard criticism against the AKP as efforts to undermine their very own positions.

Yet the Islamism of the AKP’s rank-and-file or grassroots is in fact infused with nationalism and statism. It has little to do with original Islamism and is gradually shifting to the far right. Moreover, the AKP’s pragmatism with regards to religion and many other issues tends to be overlooked. This pragmatism as well as its nationalism is what make the AKP an outlier. Conservatism and Islamism are usually mixed as they are highly intertwined structures: one is used instead of the other. 

On the one hand, Islamism aims to establish an Islamic state in its modern sense and seeks to transform state institutions into an Islamic structure. On the other hand, nostalgic conservatism dreams of an old-school Ottoman state and longs for past glory. It also emphasizes cultural values rather than political activism.

Despite those differences, both in terms of viewing religion and in managing political developments, there is an intertwining texture that comes with being under the umbrella of the AKP, which somehow facilitates transitivity. If the radical Islamism of the 1990s has faded - which was very rational, open to outside ideas and had interactive relations with other ideologies – it is because Turkish Islamism is gradually shifting to conservatism.

Certain fundamental Islamist arguments are universally discussed to a certain extent in the Arab world, but oddly they are never discussed in Turkey. In a book published in 2001 and entitled “The Priority of the Mind,” Lebanese writer Adil Dahir summed up the basic points that Islamists jointly advocate despite certain variations: religious texts and sayings come should overrule anything else, Islam is the religion and the state, it cannot be separated from one another. Humankind cannot carry out the affairs of the world without divine guidance. Where there is a certain religious provision, there is no case law. There is no contradiction between the Islamic state and democracy. 

Those principles are the general characteristics of the Muslim Brotherhood movement across the world. Still, while Islamists in Turkey have referred to this issues in certain journals to a certain extent, they have not discussed them extensively and in-depth. The focus of those who support Islamism is not Freemasonry but Zionism.

They are not anti-Semitic, and are at least aware of the distinction between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism. Islamism directly targets America and Israel, and attempts to avoid unclear concepts such as the global world state. However, the majority of conservatives in Turkey seem to believe that the freemasons rule the world, and Jews secretly administer the global world system. One can unite all traditional religious communities in Turkey under the concept of conservatism. They do not have political objectives and are not nurtured by contemporary Islamic writers.

The main characteristics of conservatism in Turkey are conspiracy theories, a largely fictional world and a tendency to distort the truth. Conservatives are also hostile toward reality and have a self-centered conception of the world. They base their arguments on data that has no relevance in the real world.

Though they seem like they are integrated, there are two rivers and/or two channels that are used to water two separate fields and/or two separate meadows. They all flow into the same sea under Turkey’s circumstances. They seem as if they perform similar functions. While they seem to be living their second springs now, they actually experience all the negative aspects that come with being committed to a single political party. 

We will be able to see, in the not-too-distant future, the devastating consequences on both sides of this marriage, which has reluctantly occurred between Islamism and conservatism. Both of these streams have shaped the AKP and have been absorbed by it. While the party seems to have adopted a vision regarding the realities of the country that it does not believe in. The party is now suffering from ambivalence with the dual reality that has emerged. The AKP, according to its party program, is a staunchly democratic, liberal and pro-freedom party. However, while governing the country it has an authoritarian, anti-democrat and nationalist attitude. Perhaps this is the reason of its weakness.