The American Interest
Religion & Other Curiosities
Published on November 13, 2013
Islamization in Turkey?

As reported in The New York Times on November 1, 2013, a rather dramatic scene occurred in the Turkish parliament in Ankara on the day before. Four female members of the parliament took their seats wearing Muslim head scarfs. Mind you, this is the most moderate form of this type of religiously mandated garb; it only covers the hair, leaving the face open. Nevertheless, its appearance in this place is a very visible sign of a big change in Turkish public life.

It comes after about a decade of government by the Justice and Development Party (known by its Turkish acronym AKP), which has repealed the ban on the public display of all sartorial symbols of Islam enforced under the secularist regime established in 1923 by Kemal Ataturk for both women and men (no turban, no fez…). The last time that a woman parliamentarian appeared in parliament thus garbed, she was loudly taunted and expelled from her seat. Thus the recent event was plausibly seen as a landmark—but a landmark of what? Supporters of the AKP saw it as a sign of democratization, specifically as an expression of greater religious freedom. Those still adhering to the Kemalist ideal of a secular republic interpreted the event as another step in the Islamization of society, which they had suspected all along was the hidden agenda of the AKP.

The AKP came to power after winning a landslide victory in the 2002 election, which gave it two thirds of the seats in parliament. The 2011 election further increased the party’s majority. The AKP had only been founded in 2001, after several earlier attempts to form parties with Islamic roots were squelched by interventions from the military (which, under the Kemalist constitution, was assigned the mission of defending the secular republic). Since 2003 Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been prime minister. While the AKP does have Islamic roots, especially in its core constituency in conservative Anatolia, it has officially declared its acceptance of the secular republic. As one of its early statements put it succinctly: “We do not want an Islamic state. We want to be Muslims in a secular republic”. Represenatives of the party have repeatedly repudiated the designation of “Islamic”, “Islamist”, or even “moderate Islamist”. Rather the party describes itself as advocating “conservative democracy”. The former adjective is to refer to social and cultural values”, which, in a Muslim-majority country, will inevitably include some that emanate from Islam.

The AKP has sought an affiliation with other conservative parties in Europe (which form an official bloc in the European Parliament, in which Turkey is not, or not yet, represented). Many of these parties still contain the label “Christian Democratic”, which suggests that the AKP would relate to Islam about the way Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union relates to Christianity (that is, not an awful lot). But if the AKP favors conservative values, its economic policies are anything but conservative: Turkey now has vigorous pro-market policies, which have led (not surprisingly) to remarkable economic growth. It is no accident that an important element of the AKP’s constituency has been the so-called “Anatolian Calvinists”: This of course does not mean conversion to Protestantism, but an economic culture, curiously reminiscent of Max Weber’s “Protestant ethic”, adhered to by vigorously capitalist and immensely successful entrepreneurs—who also happen to be religiously Muslim and morally conservative.  (Makes one think of the American Bible Belt?) While the AKP has been clearly right-of-center in its domestic policies, it has not questioned Turkey’s membership in NATO and formally sought admission to the European Union; indeed, it has generally been pro-Western and pro-American in its foreign policy. This may now be changing.

In June 2013 there were widespread anti-government demonstrations. They were triggered by a project to tear up a popular park in the center of Istanbul and to replace it with a mall (which, perhaps significantly, was to include a replica of Ottoman military barracks).  The unrest spread to other cities. Long-festering tensions between secular and religious populations did surface in these demonstrations, but this was just one part of the anti-government sentiments. There was more general dissatisfaction with Erdogan’s increasingly authoritarian style of governing and with his inclination toward conservative interferences in private life. Did the latter add up to an agenda of Islamization? If so, they were a rather mild form of it. There were restrictions on the sale of alcohol, and an as yet unrealized proposal to make adultery some sort of criminal offence. (There was no discussion of a penalty of public stoning, the omission no doubt causing relief in urbane coffeehouses.)

The AKP did of course lift the ban on head scarfs, but this act was legitimated in terms of religious freedom rather than Muslim morals. Surveys showed that more than 70% of all Turks approved of this measure. Did the AKP democratize the political system? To some degree, yes. It opened up the system to groups that had previously been marginalized, notably people in rural areas and small towns in the Anatolian hinterland. Turkey today is more of a democracy than it was in the heyday of Kemalist rule. The power of the military has been greatly diminished; it is now quite firmly under civilian control. On the other hand, a number of generals were put on trial on charges that many objective observers regarded as flimsy. Laws remain on the books that have allowed many journalists to be jailed on similarly dubious grounds.

Foreign policy has been erratic. Erdogan has made an effort to become popular on the (probably mythic) “Arab street”. He has engaged in increasingly strident anti-Israeli rhetoric, publicly insulted Shimon Peres (the president of Israel who has been a steady advocate of peace with the Palestinians) as someone who “knows how to kill”. In 2011 Turkey allowed a flotilla to sail from its shores to break the blockade of Gaza; when the Israeli navy moved to stop it and a number of Turkish citizens were killed in the resulting melee, relations between the two countries were virtually frozen. The common interests between Turkey and Israel have surfaced once more as the “Arab spring” has turned into a nightmare and the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran looms over the region. A few months ago President Obama cajoled Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, to phone Erdogan and apologize for the Turkish lives lost in the flotilla incident. The apology was reluctantly given and just as reluctantly accepted; it seems, however, that serious talks between the two governments have resumed. Even more recently, Erdogan has urged military assistance to the Syrian rebels, then (after Obama handed over American policy toward Syria to Vladimir Putin ) Erdogan began a rapprochement with Iran.  Some of these gyrations can perhaps be ascribed to Erdogan’s volatile temperament. But there is one constant theme: the ambition, in the best Ottoman tradition, to restore Turkey as a significant power in the Middle East. In sum: When Erdogan became head of the Turkish government, there was widespread fear that he wanted to emulate the Ayatollah Khomeini. This fear is probably groundless. Rather, Erdogan wants to become Suleyman the Magnificent!

Back to those head scarfs in the Ankara parliament: The Republican People’s Party (CHP), which is home to the most militant secularists, of course continues to oppose the public display of this piece of women’s attire, as well as oppose any move than can be interpreted as a step toward Islamization. On the same day on which the four women appeared in parliament with their scarfs, a female CHP lawmaker ostentatiously wore a figure-hugging T-shirt with a picture of Kemal Ataturk. The Times story quotes Saban Kardas, a professor at the University of Economics and Technology in Ankara: “It’s an unnecessary and useless debate… Last week, I was at a wedding and the bride was wearing a head scarf and the witness was wearing modern dress and a short skirt… This is modern Turkey”.

For years now, ever since the AKP came into power, there has been talk of a “Turkish model”—a successful democracy in a Muslim culture. The spreading disaster engulfing the Greater Middle East in the wake of two intertwined developments—the fiasco of the “Arab spring” in one country after another, and the precipitous withdrawal of American power from the region—has given further impetus to this talk. Yes, it would be very helpful if Turkey could yet serve as a model for others who want to somehow combine Islam and democracy. I think it is fair to say that the jury is still out on the prospects of the Turkish experiment. Much hangs on its success, far beyond its borders.

[Photo of Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, courtesy Wikimedia Commons.]

  • Wayne Lusvardi

    Reading Prof. Berger’s account of the modest re-Islamization of the Turkish Parliament as a reflection of “democracy” –- id est, pluralization – is the reverse of the way it is perceived here in the U.S. “Democracy” to many liberal Americans means secularization or marginalization of religious groups or individuals. Turkey’s public sphere has been secularized so long that re-introducing religious garb or artifacts is considered democratization.

    I wouldn’t be surprised, however, if the Aglaia Holt’s of the world have a hard time deciphering what Berger describes as “democratization.” To them it is banning any public displays of religion or religious piety and self righteously sticking up for the rights of transgendered persons to use the bathroom of their choice in California public schools. And the more offensive, the better.

    Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan is a figure right out of a Max Weber novel, which he never wrote. Erdogan is a cultural carrier of modest re-Islamization (no full body burkas, just a scarf). If the symbolism is reflective of democratization then it will signal “modesty,” not another “Arab Spring.”

    In sociologist Sara Farris’ splendid new book “Max Weber’s Theory of Personality: Individuation, Politics, and Orientalism in the Sociology of Religion” (2013, $135!!), she makes the point that the skeleton key to understanding his works is his theory of personality; or better put, his theory of cultural character. Weber’s “The Politics as a Vocation” postulated that the most suitable person for a political leader in Germany during its transition to a modern Capitalist democracy was the charismatic, Puritan rationalistic personality. Weber’s works in the sociology of religion showed how the Oriental, Asiatic, and bureaucratic personalities are not suitable for politics. Weber believed that excellent administrative officials could only be poor and irresponsible politicians. They followed rules by a higher authority rather than responding with conviction and taking personal responsibility for their actions and their consequences. Likewise, religious personalities who followed an ethic of absolutism or secularists who followed an ethic of relativism both are unable to meet the responsibilities of politics.

    To Weber, Germany’s political problem was “vocational.” Only bureaucrats, rather than gifted politicians, were “again and again in leading positions.”

    According to Berger, in Erdogan we get a glimpse of a possible Suleyman not a Khomenei or Ahmadinejad or Gaddafi. As sociologist Sara Farris writes: “In Weber’s thought, religious doctrines, insofar as they determine the values and essential principles around which the personality takes shape and which act as the models for individual actions, ‘determine’ individuals’ personality formation.” Ergo: watch Erdogan’s religious behavior and reference group as one way of understanding whether he will bring democracy to Turkey to replace the secularist, totalitarian Kemalists.

    This is why we are fortunate to have an interpreter par excellence in Prof. Berger and this website in understanding the religious worldview and its implications in a modern and post-modernizing world.

    • Monkish

      Kemalism isn’t “totalitarian”, it’s an ultra-nationalist, secularist and authoritarian-republican ideology, which is something rather different.

      There’s only one force in the region which comes close to embodying a kind of “totalitarianism” and that’s the Muslim Brotherhood. It might interest you to know that the AKP is a staunch supporter of the Brotherhood and its disgraced figurehead, Mohammed Morsi.

      • Mark Rogers

        WELL PUT.

  • Monkish

    This is one of Berger’s weaker blog posts. I believe he has allowed his deep (and somewhat irrational) hostility to Kemalism affect his judgement about the Islamist alternative. Erdogan and the AKP are in no way Muslim “versions” of Merkel and the CDU. The AKP has proven over the last few years that its penchant for autocracy, divisive language and the arbitrary use of state power as bad as anything their secularist opponents may have been guilty of. A few examples:

    - The arrest and trial of world-renowned pianist Fazil Say for allegedly “blasphemous” comments on twitter.

    - The rise of anti-semitism in Erdogan’s public rhetoric. Berger neglects to mention that the infamous incident a Davos involved Erdgoan quoting a passage from a notoriously antisemitic author, Gilad Atzmon. The Taksim square demonstration and Turkey’s economic hiccups were placed squarely by Erdogan, in public speeches, on the shoulders of “the interest rate lobby”, “Israel” and “George Soros”. This sort of hate-speech is percolating down to the population and turning what was once a rare phenomenon in Turkey into a mass one.

    - The fact that the AKP has used a nebulous definition of “terrorism” to curtail free speech and intimidate opposition newspapers. There are at present more journalists in jail in Turkey than in China!

    - The scandal around Turkey’s exposing the identities of Iranian spies working for Israel to the Iranian authorities, the AKP’s policy of allowing Salafi Jihadists stream through its border with Syria, and the flitation with China over the possible purchase of a new missile system are leading many analysts to question Turkey’s commitment to NATO.

    – The extremely modest advances in religious freedom for Turkey’s non-Muslim minorities indicate that the AKP’s much hyped “democratization package” was one-sided. The Halki Greek Orthodox seminary remains closed and state property. A Turkish newspaper revealed recently that Turkish authorities have been employing a system of racial and religious codes to identify applicants to government posts – which is why, as of 2013, there are still NO Greeks, Armenians or Jews in the military’s officer corps, the judiciary or the civil service!

  • Meral Demirel

    You talking about islamization of a country where 99 percent is already muslims and present it as if it is a crime!!! We are not ashamed of muslim culture and identity, we were the Ottomans and we still are!!!

  • Peter Jessen

    Comment
    1 of 2

    Lusvardi and Moonkish have inspired the question, “Why do we read this blog?” I submit it is to get answers to questions
    that concern us, and that much of what Berger writes applies, not unlike the
    preacher whose sermons are meant to be general but are taken quite personally
    in different ways by the various parishioners in the pew.

    For Berger, the question of “Islamization in
    Turkey?” is an application of one of his key questions, “what is an acceptable model of development?” (AOAAS, Adventures of an Accidental Sociologist,
    p. 128).

    Berger would say that any acceptable model must
    include a “a calculus of pain” and “calculus of meaning” as the criteria (high
    meaning and low pain for people) for judging whether the actions taken to
    pursue what a desired society “should’ be like (a process, if I understand him
    correctly, he calls an exercise in “pedantic utopianism”). He is concerned in his work that a political
    ethic be developed for dealing with social change (and his question mark is all
    about the question of social change, whether Kemalism or Erdogan).

    I submit that Berger provides guidance for how to answer the significant of
    modernity, how it should be develop and by whom, especially as whether or not
    the “how” allows for freedom of religion and belief, a question that concern us
    all, and is central in his books and articles as well as his weekly expressions
    in these blog postings. I see a direct
    correlation between Berger’s question regarding Turkey, “Islamization
    in Turkey?” and
    how it also applies it to the USA: “Christianity (or any religion) in America?”
    or anyplace else.

    Hence
    his opening question: “the headscarves
    are seen as a landmark—but a landmark of what?”
    The questions continue: “Democratization…or
    Islamization?” “Secular…or religious?” When Berger writes that the AKP is “pro-Western
    and pro-American in its foreign policy,” his question mark-like statement, “This
    may now be changing” is essentially asking “Is this now changing?”

    And he uses question marks again when he asks if the “general dissatisfaction with
    Erdogan’s increasingly authoritarian style of governing and with his
    inclination toward conservative interferences in private life” is part of “an
    agenda of Islamization?” Or was it for “religious
    freedom rather than Muslim morals”? Does
    Erdogan want to “become, as some feared, Ayatollah Khomeini,” or is it more
    probable that he “wants to become Suleiman the
    Magnificent.”

    My interpretation is that Berger sees Turkey as another example of the
    modernization dilemma experiment all must deal with. His question, “what is an acceptable model of development?” applies to all
    societies, including Turkey. As he
    wrote, “it would be very helpful if Turkey could yet serve as a model for
    others who want to somehow combine Islam and democracy. I think it is fair to
    say that the jury is still out on the prospects of the Turkish experiment.” The “jury is still out” suggests it is
    another question seeking data and evidence as well as ideas and insights.

    Key
    to the discussion is who was Suleiman. Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suleiman_the_Magnificent)
    says that Suleiman (also called The Lawgiver), who married a Christian, by the
    way, and “spread fear across Europe,” became “the leader of the Islamic world,”
    extended Islam into Europe, ,and “personally
    instituted major legislative changes relating to society, education, taxation,
    and criminal law. His canonical law (or the Kanuns) fixed the form of
    the empire for centuries after his death.”
    During his 16th century reign (inherited from his father and
    grandfather), he set the record for being “the longest-reigning Sultan and most
    powerful in the history of the Ottoman Empire.

    As Suleiman wrote, “Everyone aims at
    the same meaning, but many are the versions of the story.”

    Lusvardi and Moonkish offer us if not the
    yin and yang of interpretation certainly opposite ends of a spectrum.

    Lusvardi: readers of this blog “are fortunate to have an interpreter par excellence in Prof. Berger and this website in understanding the religious worldview and its implications in a modern and post-modernizing world.”

    Moonkish: “This is one of Berger’s weaker blog posts.

    I’m reminded of the story
    of the student who is said to have asked Berger in a graduate course at the
    beginning of a semester if it would be helpful to read his works (I know, pause
    to be stunned by that question). He is
    reported to have looked at her with an elfish grin, and said “eNORmously.”

    So for those on either end of this interpretive spectrum between
    Lusvardi and Moonkish, however we view their comments (“fortunate” for us or a
    “weaker post”), it would be helpful to read Berger’s October 9, 2013 post, Kemal
    Ataturk Is Alive And Well And Living In Madison, WI. http://blogs.the-american-interest.com/berger/2013/10/09/kemal-ataturk-is-alive-and-well-and-living-in-madison-wi/

    Lusvardi has noted before that he has read most of
    Berger’s books. He is another to learn
    from, as is Novak (neither of whom I know or have met). So I recommend to the readers of this blog
    that if they haven’t done so that they minimally read Berger’s Adventures of an Accidental Sociologist. Although I view his posts as “standalones,” it
    is still helpful for all of us to read his book. I sense he saw this coming from the subtitle
    of his book, a kind of “soft” invitation to listen as offered to the
    fundamentalists of both the left and the right, whether religious, political or
    ideologically left or right: How to Explain the World Without Becoming a
    Bore”. Berger is old school: go to the cross roads of keeping them awake
    and entertaining them and then take advantage of that to attempt to create an enabling
    atmosphere in which dialogue and learning can take place.

    Here, democracy is the topic. Moonkish correctly asks if Erdogan is a real
    democrat or faking it to get power (I could be cynical and ask “who doesn’t?”). Moonkish is understandably concerned about a
    statement of Erdogan when he was the radical mayor of Istanbul, “democracy
    is like a train. You take it where you have to go, and then you get off.” Berger raised the same question when he
    stated that “This may now be changing,”
    which is essentially agreeing with Moonkish’s concern, “Is this now
    changing?”

    But “democracy” is a noun. What kind of democracy? The key is the adjective before it: whether democratic, authoritarian,
    dictatorial, administrative, Marxist, socialist, communist, or a combination of
    these. Jacques Barzon (From Dawn to Decadence, p. 689) suggests that
    we live in a “mixture of purposes and former isms,” that earlier would have
    been incompatible. He suggests the “sensible
    voter should call himself a Liberal Conservative Socialist” (I assume, as he
    applies these to “voter” that he is assuming a democracy, where voting is
    allowed). Let’s go further: without a democracy, you could not combine
    the best of these three while also jettisoning their worst.

    Capitalism comes as a pair, a twin set of capitalism
    AND (fill in the blank from above:
    democratic, authoritarian, dictatorial, administrative, Marxist,
    socialist, communist, or a combination of these). Capitalism is agnostic: doesn’t care whom it palls around with; it
    only knows that the adjective will determine how much return it can provide.

    Thus, capitalism exists on a spectrum from great
    capitalism to weak capitalism (i.e., the
    spectrum between which returns the most on investments). The worst form (returns the least on
    investments) is dictatorial/authoritarian capitalism. The empirical evidence is clear. Using the image of totem, pole, the USA is at
    the top, and the totalitarian regimes that have gone belly up (but with
    capitalist successors) are at the bottom (Stalin/Lenin to Putin who says “I’m a
    capitalist; Mao, until Deng threw out the little red book and brought in
    capitalism, although the current leaders are backpedaling; Fidel, whose brother
    Raul says he will bring back resorts and gambling and offer capitalist
    affinities, etc.). In between are those
    running socialist welfare programs on top of capitalist spines (such as in the
    Scandinavian countries and Europe/East and West), with some almost withering
    the capitalist spine away on their own (the so-called PIIGS (Portugal, Italy, Ireland,
    Greece, and Spain, to which some want to add Venezuela and other Latin American
    countries).

    Having been in discussions with both leftist and
    rightest groups, I agree with Berger that “useful conversation” is “impossible
    with political fundamentalists” at either end of the spectrum (AOAAS, p. 157). Compromise is anathema to fundamentalists of
    all stripes. The irony is that without
    compromise, there can be no democracy (which I hope becomes a learned wisdom
    soon in Washington, D.C., before more of the economy’s crockery is broken).

    Turkey’s change has come about through democratic elections. And yes, Hitler was also elected. Ataturk was wrong (empirically speaking) in
    attempting to create a totally secular society (the words “totally” and “never”
    and “always” are give always). Moonkish
    is rightly concerned about folks like the Muslim Brotherhood who attempt to
    create a total society of adherence to only one religion, as they are equally wrong
    (empirically speaking), as are those seeking either a putative future utopia
    (return of the Mahdi) or a resurrection of the past (whether trying to
    reestablish the Russian empire or the Ottoman Empire). Berger states (AOAAS, p. 138) that “Modernity
    does not necessarily secularize; it necessarily pluralizes.” Key to understanding that statement is that
    “pluralism undermines taken-for-granted religion
    but not religion as such” (his italics), as we now have the understanding that
    we can choose what we believe in, and this is the most terrifying aspect of
    modernity for fundamentalists, whether political or religious, that others can
    choose “not them”.

    Three of Berger’s books offer an approach, culled
    from his decades of research and publications of findings, including those of
    the center at Boston University that he founded (The Institute of Culture,
    Religion, and World Affairs):

    ·
    In Praise of Doubt: How to Have
    CONVICTIONS Without Becoming a Fanatic (2009, with Anton
    Zijderveld). Goal: a politics of moderation, where win win compromises
    and forward movement is possible.

    ·
    A Far Glory: The Quest for Faith In
    an Age of Credulity, 1992 (for those wanting to avoid both “the extremes
    of an oppressive and fanatical orthodoxy” and “equally dangerous relativism”).

    ·
    Between Relativism and Fundamentalism:
    religious resources for a middle position, 2010, a book he edited with his writing the introduction and a chapter.

    Thus the “enchanted gardens” (each viewed singularly
    by its adherents) of the past have been replaced by “a veritable emporium of such
    gardens, among which [we] must make a choice.” AOAAS, p. 136).

    The Great Choice Contest between capitalism and
    socialism of the 19th and 20th century was won by
    capitalism despite certain dead enders and others trying today to raise it from
    the dead (“zombie economics”?).

    [Continued in next comment]

  • Peter Jessen

    2nd of 2.

    Here is where Berger’s books will live on long after all of us have gone off to our putative rewards, whether real or in someone’s memory or contained in print or in digital docks.

    In his 1974 Pyramids of Sacrifice: Political Ethics and Social Change, he analyzes both capitalism and socialism, in an excellent and fair theoretical discourse. Especially read his chapter on the pyramid of human sacrifice and his chapter on the “calculus of meaning” and the “calculus of pain.”

    In his 1986 book, The Capitalist Revolution: 50 Propositions About Prosperity, Equality and Liberty. He declares capitalism the winning developmental model.

    His answer to his questions of “what is an acceptable model of development?” has huge consequences not only in this country but world wide, including domestic and foreign policy. As he states in AOAAS, p. 135, after writing The Capitalist Revolution (with other books and studies in between as well), he states, “I came down clearly on the side of capitalism as the only viable model of development.” But he also concludes that people are not going to give up their religion (or spirituality for those not liking “religion”), which is the secular program (impossible and thus doomed).

    Where Kamal Ataturk thought modernity and wealth and power could only be reached with capitalism without religion, especially Islam, i.e., a secular approach, Erdogan the same conclusion about capitalism on the economic side, but with religion, with Islam.

    Both are on the right track, as capitalism doesn’t care: it is agnostic. It doesn’t care whether you are religious or not, and if religious, which one, although it does have an affinity for what Berger calls “Anatolian Calvinism,” which the interior Turks (the “other” Turkey of Two Souls), those who are socially conservative and religious, are doing what some said was impossible, undergoing what some have called a “Quiet Islamic Reformation”, with business leaders attributing their economic success to their “protestant work ethic” (hence Berger’s term of the “so-called ‘Anatolian Calvinists,’ ” which are not unlike the Confucian Calvinists and Protestant Calvinists of all stripes which, thus, offer the better returns with their capitalism. See Islamic Calvinists. Change and Conservatism in Central Anatolia

    And is this not the struggle of Islam, trying to figure out how, in modernity, to have a home in “modernity?” Is not Erdogan wrestling with how to go forward with modernity and keep the power modernity offers him, while also trying to figure out how to do so without jettisoning Islam and the interior of Turkey? Does he go forward looking through the rear view mirror using the ninth century as his guide or take down the rear view mirror?

    What will get Islam to where it winds up going are what Lusvardi refers to as “carriers,” another Berger term that Berger explains in his 1973 Homeless Mind: Modernization and Consciousness,” written with 2 other sociologists, his wife and her brother). Indira Gandhi expressed the thought that she could do great things if it were not for democracy. Is this not the quandary in Washington, D.C., which choice, centralized command and executive orders vs. decentralized congressional, state, county, city and town decisions?

    I would recommend to them that they utilize the Analytic scheme suggested by Berger in Appendix 5 of A Future South Africa: Visions, Strategies, and Realities, that was used to bring South Africa out of apartheid and reconciling Blacks with Whites, rather than exploding a race war.

    That brings us back to the question of “Islamization in Turkey? As he wrote in his October 9 blog post, Berger sees the negative and secular views of religion in the USA as “an attitude toward public expressions of religious faith [that] is essentially Kemalist.” The secularists see their dream of centralized control blocked by religion. Secularism “is unlikely to do better in the United States, the most religious country in the Western world, unless a currently assertive secularism achieves results in the federal courts which it could never achieve through the democratic process,” which in my view, would mean we have defaulted to authoritarian capitalism.

    This relates directly to what Erdogan is trying to do in Turkey as well as the battle in China (turning away from Deng’s decentralization back to centralization) and in the U.S., with the battle being between those who would centralize decision making inside the Beltway and those who would return to the “old centers”, state capitals and city halls. Is it to be a more directly centralized command economy by the elite, or is it to be a decentralized decision making process? Put differently, how to reformulate social policy, as the existing policies are not working well?

    This would have been a good place to discuss why the word “exceptionalism” is used by and regarding the USA. There is, of course, a cultural context, which includes the religious. I’ll just say this, to pick it up another time: in 1980, Liberia had a higher standard of living for its people than China.

    Back to the Khomeini / Suleiman question, as it relates worldwide: who should be in charge, rulers who represent the people or rulers who present orders and rules to the people?

    In light of the statistic that this administration has run up more debt that all of his predecessors together, the “what kind of development model” is raised close to home, particularly when proponents of the current model inside the beltway claims to be for the working people and the poor and advocate doing so by redistribution of wealth and resources from the wealthy 1% to the poor and middle class. But the data (may I also use “evidence”) suggests the opposite, especially with so-called clean energy, health care, environmental rules, and their multitude of subsidies, that, as one commentator put it in the Washington Post November 17, that Wall Street and Washington have created “a very efficient machine for the upward distribution of wealth and income.”

    Even though we have few real would-be Khomeinis in this country, what about would-be Suleimans? How do todays liberals and conservatives see liberty and equity? In the 1950s, for liberal Isaiah Berlin and, in our time, the conservative Roger Kimball, liberty has a higher value than equity. Given the ideologies abounding, will change come from constitutional government or proletarian dictatorship? As I.L. Horowitz pointed out (“The Indifference of Intelligence to Ideology,” Society, Jan-Feb 2003), both Berlin and Kimball savored constitutional government and condemned proletarian dictatorship. Both wrestled with the nineteenth century writers who fell to either end of the absolutism – relativism spectrum. I write this in light of Berger’s urging us to develop a politics of moderation that would have to recognize “compromise” not as a deal with the devil but as a tool for working toward peaceful resolutions bringing high level “calculus of meaning” and low level “calculus of pain,” in a politics of moderation. Berger also has a piece entitled “The Culture of Liberty: An Agenda” (35th Anniversary Issue of Society, Jan-Feb 1998).

    And as we are still close to Reformation Sunday, a word about personal conscience and public consensus. Luther was for conscience, not councils. Our question today concerns those who prefer the choosing of liberty as the mechanism and others that prefer the mechanism of imposed equity. Reformers still abound with their own visions. In a Reformation presentation I showed a pile of books from those offering their own Reformations: seeking equity via redistribution by the elite (who knew best, and who would keep control) to those they deemed worthy of receiving and how much (and thus some would not receive). I had the pamphlets of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin, Trotsky, Hitler, Mao, Gadhafi, and, for modern fun, Alinsky (the latter as I had debated him in my home in 1970). They didn’t get the analogy of the Bible, the Book of Concord, the Declaration, Constitution, etc., and the reality of what has stood the test of time and what has instead cost 10s of millions of lives with their experiments that lacked any calculus of meaning or calculus of pain. As was said in the 30′s by liberals and progressives, if it costs 30 million lives to create the socialist utopia in Russia, so be it.

    Many liberals (read especially urban and gown communities) take U.S. “Democracy” to mean “secularization or marginalization of religious groups or individuals,.” But they would be in both the minority viewpoint and be wrong. It is one of 9 myths Andrew Greely exposed back in 2001, based on survey data. He ended his piece with 7 predictions that he said would show that religion in America in 30 years would be similar to what it was in 2001 (i.e.. not going away). Then he notes he made the same predictions in 1968, 30 years earlier. They held. He said they would hold again (in Society, March/April 2001, p. 37).

    When LBJ characterized the Great Society as seeking not just the “equality of opportunity,” but also the “equality of result,” he unleashed the progressive beast that believes man is perfectible (there is a book, “The Perfectibility of Man;” a related progressive book from the 70s, “Who Lives?” suggests that the old and infirm should be done away with, a clear plank in the health care plan of George Bernard Shaw, who said ask them what is there value now in their continuing to live, and if they can’t express one, put them away, but humanely, using gas (as Hitler “humanely did” a couple of decades later).

    The “equality of result” line is another example of how speech writers can slip in changes with catastrophic consequences when the speech’s readers is unable to tell the difference from a poetic or beautiful phrase and a wrenching policy change.

    As Horowitz asks, “how do we tease out the parameters of a livable democratic society?,” including obtaining “data as well as ideas, evidence as well as insight.” How, if one comes from either the unyielding dogmatism of the fundamentalist or the Jell-O foundation of wishy-washy anything goes relativism?

    Horowitz gives us a chilling statement regarding Saint-Simon, for whom “the totalitarian temptation comes into full force. Liberty is disguised as utopia, with Saint-Simon himself as the sole savior and instructor capable, nay destined and chosen, to solve all human evil. … He waits for his absolute despot to institutionalize his classless and clueless world.”

    But all is in flux. As , Michael Crichton stated, there can never be equilibrium, no matter how much man tries to impose. He gave an excellent example, the well-meaning bureaucratic attempts to tune Yellowstone Park’s ecosystem that led instead to , untold destruction

    In what he called “a cascade of ego and error.” The problem had its genesis when Theodore Roosevelt visited Yellowstone in 1903 hoping ”our people should see to it that this rich heritage is preserved for their children and their children’s children forever, with its majestic beauty all unmarred.” Yellowstone reads like Obamacare and just as destructive.

    Lusvardi accurately points out another insight from Weber that takes a while to sink in, that bureaucratic personalities are not suitable for politics, as they follow the rules (or worse, make them up and demand the rest of us follow them). Thus, for Weber excellent administrative officials could only be poor and irresponsible politicians (as they would compromise and enter into give and take). But bureaucrats follow rules by higher ups, ignoring the consequences. Likewise, religious personalities who followed an ethic of absolutism or secularists who followed an ethic of relativism both are unable to meet the responsibilities of politics.

    Nancy Pelosi heralded the difference when she said we wouldn’t know what was in Obamacare until it was passed, exposing how bureaucrats are told to make it happen no matter what, no matter the orders, including the trainwreck that is unfolding.

    The Watchman asks when. Bob Dylan’s “the times they are a changin” are words usually incorrectly evoked, as they leave out his dimension of time. To the question, how fast the pace of change, Berger advises the old Roman saying, “make haste slowly.” Bob Dylan expressed it this way:

    The slow ones now will later be fast

    And the first ones now will later be last.

    For the times they are a-changin.”

  • Gary Novak

    Peter Jessen raises the question of why we read Berger’s blog. I think Monkish shows us how not to read Berger. Monkish’s complaint about the weakness of this post comes down to this: Berger is a wishy-washy contemplator of curiosities rather than a partisan advocate of Righteousness. Monkish faults Berger for not mentioning a particular Erdogan citation of an anti-Semitic author. But Monkish fails to mention that Berger does mention Erdogan’s increasingly strident anti-Israeli rhetoric and does mention the retention of laws which permit the jailing of journalists on dubious grounds. But where Monkish treats such “data points” as litmus tests, Berger adds nuance: perhaps Erdogan is partly appealing to the “Arab street,” and allowing women to wear scarves (70% in favor) hardly shows that Erdogan is ready to get off the train of democracy. Meanwhile, there IS something curious about head scarves and tight-fitting T-shirts at the same wedding!

    So, we read Berger because he does what he claims to do: write about religion and other curiosities. One can try to achieve balance by reading contrasting hit pieces on Real Clear Politics (“Obama is the Messiah,” “Obama is the Anti-Christ”), but it is refreshing to read an author who can acknowledge some validity in contrasting positions. That need not lead to the blandness that energized readers sometimes find in Berger (“Why aren’t you more robustly Evangelical?”). Insights and direction do emerge from the “free association” of curiosity contemplation. Monkish refers to Berger’s “deep (and somewhat irrational) hostility to Kemalism.” I see Berger’s hostility to Kemalism as one of the deeply rational fruits of his contemplation. Jessen notes that Berger clearly comes down on the side of capitalism and against “doomed and impossible” secularism. (I’ve previously noted the “roaring lion” decisiveness of our student of curiosities when it comes to capital punishment.) Free association works if we have the patience to make haste slowly. Berger and Bob Dylan? Now there’s a curiosity.

  • Peter Jessen

    Novak reminds us of the significance and rolel of curiosity, the desire to know more about something that seems strange, or out of place, or a mystery or a simple question of whether what appears to be coincidences really are (police procedurals are all built on curiosity, putting two and two together, of often proclaiming, “I don’t believe in coincidences”).

    Lusvardi strengthens the definition of democracy by reminding us that it is about pluralization, which means the inclusion of all sides, winners and losers of elections, and those who thank God for winning and those who thank themselves.

    Two aspects of Berger’s post’s style that I like is that they are usually about something he has recently read, often since the last post, as he includes a mental dialogue between two events or two pieces he has read, just as the procedurals do.

    He doesn’t always like what he sees, but he is “value free” in his judgements, avoiding ideological bias and avoiding implying what is not there to fit his own preferences (as many do on this 50th anniversary of JFK, whose biographers were far liberal while JFK was conservative.

    Indeed, a JFK’s state campaign chairman later told me he felt JFK would not be re-elected as he was doing such a bad job. As we learn more, we find out that his assassination was an act from the left, not the right as it has long been portrayed, not to mention that “Camelot” was used after the assassination, not before.

    We don’t have 50 years to get straight what will happen as a result of situations like the Turkish experiment, for, as Berger reminds us, “Much hangs on its success, far beyond its borders.”

    Berger brings his unique way of putting two and two curiosities together in ways that we get insights, and even answers, into questions that concern us. And certainly a major concern is the old “Quo Vadis?” question, this time applied to Islam.

    Hence Berger ends with more of Novak’s roars of the lion, one a roar to make sure we don’t mistake what is going on in Turkey has settled anything, yet, that it is indeed an experiment, as seen in Berger’s next to last sentence, “I think it is fair to say that the jury is still out on the prospects of the Turkish experiment.”

    And then there is the even larger roar, spoken softly so we don’t cover our ears and miss the significance: “Much hangs on its success, far beyond its borders.”

    Thomas P.M. Barnett has constructed a map of the world, subtitled War and Peace in

    the 21st Century Map, in which he draws a kind of wandering oblong circle (4 minute video on YouTube here).

    Outside the circle is what he calls “the functioning core” (moving West to East: Old West, North America, Western Europe, Russia, India, China, (i.e., industrialized Asia), Australia, which contains two thirds of humanity and 90% of the world’s GDP.

    Inside this larger circle is a smaller circle (albeit stretching across the globe), what Barnett calls the “non-integrating gap” (or what we might call those still struggling with modernity with “homeless minds”). Moving east to west, it includes Indonesia, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, the Middle East, Africa, and the north and northwest portions of South America. Note Barnett’s descriptors: equatoriallycentric, fewer rules, violence (“disconnectedness defines danger”), one-third of humanity, 10% of the world’s GDP.”

    Barnett’s question is ours too: how will the violence inside the circle be shrunk: with more or with less violence? And here is where Berger’s comment comes in handy, that “Much hangs on its success, far beyond its borders.” For Berger, “it” refers to Erdogan’s experiment. I suggest “it” be expanded to include the success of a Reformation in greater Islam.

    This all reminds me of the 1951 Joan Crawford film my brother was watching today on TCM, Goodbye, My Fancy, with Joan playing a Congresswoman who had a fling with the college President when they were in college (he a professor, she a student). There are two inter-related conflicts of this romantic comedy, one being whether to tell the secret or not that she stayed out all night as a student with the now President). The more interesting one is whether the President will change his mind about not allowing a film of the Congresswoman brought for screening, a film about the dangers of restricting intellectual freedom. The President doesn’t want to expose students to the realities of the real world. Will Islam allow the “film” of modernity to be shown to its young people without censorship and without arrests.

    Is there a way without continued or increased violence? Barnett suggests this circle of violence will be shrunk dramatically over the next 20 years peacefully. Although he allows for some violence he otherwise sees violence shrinking, resolving peacefully.

    I’m not so sure. I remember being in futurist meetings in Washington, D.C., in the 70′s, regarding wars of the future. In one, Herman
    Kahn talked to us about “thinking the unthinkable,” how to strategize surviving nuclear war.

    Yet what about the other Kahn, A.Q. Kahn, the Pakistani nuclear scientist / nuclear arms trafficker, called the father of the Islamic bomb, who has enabled spreading nuclear weapons technology around the globe? Kahn’s goal is right out of our “wild west” and what was called the equalizer, the Colt .45 pistol. Kahn wants Islamic nations to be “equal” with the modern colt, the nuclear bomb.

    What I outlined in my posts yesterday is that Berger offers a framework for bringing about “equalizing” processes to achieving the reduction of violence peaceably. My sense is that his framework would enable such “equalizing” to take place without nuclear proliferation if adopted and implemented jointly by both sides.

    It is worth repeating: how Islam responds to various versions of the “Turkish experiment,” of how it responds to “Anatolian Calvinism,” will influence its actions that will impact “far beyond its borders.” How will it change the definition of how we define how “the times they are a-changin”?

    A 21st century Islamic Reformation may come by the digital nailing of 95 theses, of liberty posts, but not on Mosque doors, but on millions of Internet sites, with the nails being hammered by young men and women holding the 21st century hammers of the Internet, social media, YouTube, blogs, etc., not to mention the latest, Snapchat, an app that allows a photo messaging application that records videos, adds text and drawings, and send them to a controlled list of recipients, which then only lasts 1-10 seconds before being automatically deleted from recipients’ screens and from the Snapchat server. Think of the nightmare for censors. “Far beyond its borders” indeed.