Metin Camcigil, Former President of ASA

The following excerpts from a paper presented by the President at the 25th Energy Conference organized by the Global Foundation, Inc. on “Addressing Vulnerabilities: Science & Technology in Secure Energy Systems” in October 2002 in Washington DC are reproduced with his permission because of their relevance to the topic discussed in this issue.

“The antithesis of individual liberty, as the history abundantly taught us, is traditionalism, which gradually evolves into a dogmatic radicalism. Traditionalism against liberty has been encountered over the centuries of progress within the compound of Christendom, through the agonizing period of Reformation and Enlightenment. Nevertheless, peace was finally found in the tolerance achieved through the Victorian compromise. This compromise was, and still is, simply the coexistence of Church and public sovereignty, in other words the co-existence of traditionalism and modernity. This otherwise called tolerance served well to avoid obscurantism and violence, and to open the way to progress and modernity in the West. Although a complete superiority of civil order over the religious order was not achieved, this formula enabled the masses to think for themselves and revolt against the king, not against the religion, when they thought he misused his religious authority. William Ebenstein of Princeton allegorically wrote in Introduction to Political Philosophy “With the head of Charles I, the doctrine of the divine rights of kings rolled to the ground. His fate warned all rulers that political authority is closer to the earth and the people than to God and heaven”. But as Thomas Jefferson rightly reminded us, “In every country and in every age, the priest has been hostile to liberty. He is always in alliance with the despot, abetting his abuses in return for protection to his own”. The peace found in compromise in the Christian culture did not necessarily mean an inter-cultural tolerance. Traditionalism having been brought under control in the Christian world the antithesis of individual liberty had to grow elsewhere. Jewish philosophy does in fact favor individualism. Buddhism, Confucianism and other Eastern beliefs while traditionalist are open to tolerance. Islamic philosophy was the only one apt to provide the antithetic forces to individualism.

Islam did not have the benefit of the same reformation experience, as the West did. In the social order of Islam political authority is the same as the religious authority. Being divine it is supreme, it is unchallengeable. People cannot possibly be discontent with religion, thus with authority. In the absence of individual liberty, a self-analysis, course correction, or regeneration does not occur. Furthermore, there is no clergy in Islam, there was no accumulation of theological wisdom and reformation. Deprived of progress, Muslims found themselves in economic despair in the midst of a prospering world. The society necessarily became antagonistic to progressive and modernizing foreign cultures.”

“The real enemy of our liberty is unequivocally the state of mind, the ideology of Islamic fundamentalists. I find S. Huntington wrong, who writes in his famous Clash of Civilizations “The underlying problem for the West is not Islamic fundamentalism. It is Islam”. He equates civilizations with cultures. Although he later agrees that civilization is “singular”, he still believes that cultures clash. Whereas there is sufficient evidence in history that cultures interact, they cross-fertilize may it be through armed conflict. It is the interaction of cultures that evolves into a universal contemporary civilization. Basically religions, which are the prominent part of cultures, do not cross-fertilize, because their puritans and fundamentalists cause human suffering.”

“The beginning of the modern day radicalization of Islam goes back to early last century, to the demise of the Ottoman Empire together with its earthly leader the Sultan and its spiritual leader the Caliph. The Muslim world, having unexpectedly lost leadership, was unprepared to lead itself; it fell into the hands of colonial powers. Turkey’s success over colonialism, sultanate and Caliphate should have motivated the Arabs also to challenge their leaders and Europe. Instead they sought comfort in British colonial administration. This was a golden opportunity for Britain to promote modernization. But, as Francois Georgeon reports in his essay titled Kemalisme et Monde Musulman, after the 1908 constitution was declared by the Ottomans Britain of Magna Carta launched a propaganda campaign in Arab lands and other Muslim countries to the effect that constitutional rule was a Jewish and Masonic practice and it would not be religiously acceptable. Britain did not want liberty in the oil rich lands; she wanted to colonize them and to exploit their riches. Thus, she bears a heavy responsibility for the creation of Arabic fundamentalism. The inability of Arabs to reform reform and the consequent humiliation gave way to fundamentalism. A dogmatic teaching of fundamentalism took roots in the course of the last century during which the rest of the world was preoccupied with wars against other antithetic ideologies, namely National Socialism and communism. Once these political and economic ideologies were eliminated by the end of the last century the playing field became vacant for another ideology: the radical Islam as a religious ideology. That is why not the establishment of the state of Israel or the ensuing Palestinian struggle after the collapse of Nazism, but the 1991 Gulf War after the demise of communism in 1989 brought to surface the violence of Islamic fundamentalists.

It is important to mention also that not only the traditionalism of Islam versus the modernity of Christianity, also the missionary and evangelical policies of the Church and, as identified by Pasquino, religious bias of governments led some Muslims to turn to the puritan basics of their religion. As recently as during the Serb atrocities in the Balkans British Prime Minister Major in a letter dated May 2, 1993 to his Minister of State Hogg outlined the British policy over Bosnia “in the best interest of a stable Europe in the future, whose value system is and must remain based on Christian Civilization and ethic” and claimed that this view was felt in other European and North American governments. Helmuth Khol’s statement that European Union is a Christian club is also still fresh in memories. It would be wiser for Europe to base its unity on economic, political and other realities than on medieval beliefs. But we need not look far. Political speeches in the U.S. are interspersed with subtle or direct references to the scripture, policies are based on the beliefs of the politicians, public funds are allocated to religious organizations, including Islamic organizations. Under this ruling, four hundred Koranic schools in the US may be eligible for assistance to teach hostility against infidels. Why should we allow Muslims in the US to teach fanatic ideology, including intolerance of infidels, if Arab countries do not allow us to require rational education in their countries?

The West has to recognize the subtle distinction that it is not the Christian principles that led it to success but conversely it is the liberation of the individual’s mind from religious traditionalism, and the public rather than religious sovereignty that put the people on the path to progress. It is the conquest of the people over theocratic oppression and the victory of science over dogma that made the Western transformation possible.”

“The believers of Islamic democracy overlook the fact that Islam being the sole political power cannot accept the supremacy of civil authority, nor sharing it like in the Victorian compromise. Although the modest Victorian compromise served well in the West, there is not a shred of evidence that it can succeed in the Muslim culture. Once a religion based party comes to power by democratic election there is no incentive for it to observe the principle of separation of powers, the secularism. A change in the political system without changing the principles of Islam will not change the supremacy of religion in public affairs. It appears that the coexistence of religious authority with civil authority in a Muslim society simply creates dualism instead of tolerance and compromise; religion still stands in the way of individual liberty and progress. The failed modernization experience of the Ottoman Empire throughout the 19th century is the perfect example. Although some civil laws were enacted Sharia remained supreme over civil laws. There was no victory of civil authority, and not even a compromise between the civil and religious authority. There was no triumph of rational thinking and of humanistic education over religious teaching. The lesson to be drawn from this history is that unless Islam can go through a fundamental reformation and accept the supremacy of civil authority, freedom of thought, democracy and equality of genders will remain a rainbow for Muslims. Democracy and absolutism of Islamic philosophy cannot co-exist. As it currently stands Islamic philosophy did not go beyond the 16th century Machiavellian or 17th century Hobbesian theories that there is no equality among people, there is always a condition of war in which the stronger will survive.

Having identified the antagonist of our individual liberties as being the Islamic fundamentalist ideology taught in Koran schools, our counter offensive must not target Islam, but the education system in Islamic countries. The question, therefore, should not be whether Islam can embrace modernization and democracy, but whether Muslims can embrace liberty and sovereignty as individuals. Whether they can change their state of mind for their own progress and prosperity. The answer to that question lies in replacing the religious teaching with a rational education system. In other words, reformation of minds is easier than and is a necessary element for a reformation of religion.

Men make wars to settle differences that they create, women make and raise children for tomorrow’s wars, but children can be taught to make peace. We have to address the intellect of young Muslims (the term intellect is used here to mean the ability to reason and to make a rational judgment). Teaching religion as a dogma must cease. If religion is allowed to teach perpetuation of old differences, and to develop a static instead of a dynamic mind, it has no educational value. The great British philosopher Jeremy Bentham, who quit Oxford because of “strong clerical influence that prevailed at both Oxford and Cambridge” and founded the University of London wrote “Religion also hurts society, because it creates animosity against unbelievers and dissenters and subsidizes a standing army of ‘wonder-workers’, the clergy, who deprave the intellect” (Ebenstein). Dogma creates ideology and radicalism. Humanistic education and science liberates the mind from superstitions. An ideology could be conquered by opening up the human mind to free and rational thinking.”

“We may, therefore formulate a policy as a counter force to Islamic fundamentalism as follows: not cultures or religions, but the intellect and science make the civilization; and, civilization is the common heritage of mankind; it is universal in which all participate. The singularity of civilization will bring peace, provided that all people are given the chance to secular education and rational thinking. We need the courage to put this powerful political philosophy to use, and to open a political front and a political offensive in the war against religious fundamentalism, in addition to the military offensive already launched. The enforcement of this principle will necessarily be by instructive rather than by destructive military methods. More specifically, the target must be religious schools that teach, raise and train fundamentalist militants. This offensive would require all nations to adopt a compulsory rational education as a human right with the objective of reaching the social, intellectual and economic level of the common contemporary civilization. Education based solely on religious teaching should be banned, including four hundred Koran schools in the US. This counter offensive could be enforced as a human right by an international treaty and under sanction of denial of any economic relation with any country that does not institute a compulsory rational education as the only official educational system.”

“Now we come to the question of whether a compulsory rational education can really change the tide in Islamic countries. The short answer is a definite YES, because we have a laboratory test and a clear example of its success in not too distant history. Early in the last century, in Turkey, religious schools were closed and rational education was made a compulsory and the only educational system. Among many other reforms that radically changed that nation the educational reform alone was responsible for a complete transition from theocracy to democracy and modernity. The man who led the country to that radical transformation, Kemal Atatürk, made abundantly clear that the ultimate purpose of the change was for the country to participate in the contemporary civilization. He strongly believed that civilization was universal, it was the duty of all nations to contribute to the contemporary civilization; therefore rational education and science were essential. Atatürk’s recent biographer, Andrew Mango, wrote, “True, rationalism had been advocated by some of Atatürk’s predecessors. But few shared his absolute belief in the primacy of rational scientific knowledge, as developed in the West”.