Monday, 15 December 2014

The Death of the Secular Islamic Polity

The death of secular nationalism across the Islamic world is a painful occurrence. It's not simply the rise of political Islam but also the weakness of secular (left wing?) intellectual thought which adds fuel to the fire. 

Perhaps it was the death of communism which left Muslim nationalists orphans in a world fueled by God-fearing capitalists. Perhaps it was the increasing gap between urbanized, westernized elites and mainstream populations in much of the Muslim world. (It could not have been easy for many Afghanis to accept local women parading around in miniskirts in 1970s Kabul when no more than the eyes of a 'traditional' rural Afghani woman show through her burqa while she is in public!) 

Female Kabul University students walk around campus in 1970s Afghanistan
To many, left wing nationalists such as Saddam Hussein or Hafez al-Assad were bestial tyrants ready to kill their own people given even the most trivial of excuses. Surely, Iraq and Syria were not model societies. However, neither were their counterpart right wing dictatorships found in many Latin American or developing countries. In many instances, capitalist, US supported strongmen were just as lethal to their own people as Soviet supported leaders. 

Nonetheless, the death of Islamic nationalists did not occur with the passing of these two brutal leaders. It is progressively taking place even as these words are being written.   

Of particular note are the two bastions of secularism found on either pole of the Islamic world: Turkey and Indonesia. Arguably, the two nations tasked with 'protecting' the Western and Eastern most physical and ideological borders of the Islamic world. 

Turkey: the birthplace of the first Muslim Republic in the world. A nation which banned headscarves for women and the fez headgear for men; a nation where one can sit in a bar nursing a glass of wine while watching (and listening) to people praying in a nearby mosque. 

After over a decade of rule by an Islamically inspired political party, today's Turkish state is intent on rolling back Ataturk's secular markers from Turkish society. 

A copy of the first Koran printed in the Turkish language after the formation of the secular Turkish Republic in 1923
And so with Indonesia: the most populous Muslim nation in the world. Hitherto a staunchly secular republic, now a fertile playground for the bearded brigade to attack public art and impose 'Islamic' moral standards at will. 

For Islamic modernists, the importance of secular societies lies in the enabling intellectual environment it fosters. A socially liberating ecosystem permits otherwise pious Muslims to question established archaic conventions, many of which are ripe for modernization. 

Islam is a dynamic belief structure. Hobbling it with strictures and 'out of bound' markers is destined to fail. The depth of Islamic intellectual strength will ultimately overcome these obstacles. The only question remains how many more lives must be lost in defeating the die-hard battling Muslim obscurantists.   
Imran is a business and management consultant. Through his work at Deodar Advisors and the Deodar Diagnostic, Imran improves profits of businesses operating in Singapore and the region. He can be reached at