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Islamic revolutions in Egypt and Turkey

Tuesday 8 February 2011, by Orhan Kemal Cengiz

Yesterday I quoted John F. Kennedy’s famous words, “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable,” and I claimed that if there is a “radical Islamic” takeover in Egypt, the West is to blame for this because they have supported and turned a blind eye to an extremely repressive and brutal regime that has the potential to turn any opposition into a “radical” movement. The course of events has not yet been completed in Egypt.

Political Islam has always been an important element for both Egypt and Turkey. We do not know exactly what the coming days will bring to Egypt, but we can analyze what happened in the Turkish context.

I do not know exactly what Kennedy had in mind when he said “peaceful revolution,” but I guess he more or less meant the same thing as Italian-Marxist philosopher Antonio Gramsci’s “passive revolution” concept. I think both Kennedy and Gramsci indicated a similar social phenomenon, namely absorption of “radical” opposition through a peaceful process.

Here, I would like to give the floor to Mr. Cihan Tuğal, who is the writer of “Passive Revolution: Absorbing the Islamic Challenge to Capitalism” (Stanford University Press, 2009) which uses the concept of “passive revolution” to understand and analyze how “radical Islam” turned into a “moderate social force” within Turkish society after the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) came to power. Let us lend an ear to Mr. Tuğal:

“In this book, I use the Gramscian concept of ‘passive revolution’ to study this process of absorption. Passive revolution is one of the convoluted, and sometimes unintended, ways by which the dominant sectors establish willing consent (‘hegemony’) for their rule. Different from classic revolutions (as in the French, Russian, and Chinese cases) where an emergent dominant class attempts to sweep away the old dominant classes and their institutions through mass mobilization, in a passive revolution popular sectors are mobilized with revolutionary discourses and strategies only to reinforce existing patterns of domination. I contend that moderate Islam is the culmination of a long process of passive revolution as a result of which erstwhile radicals and their followers are brought into the fold of neoliberalism, secularism, and Western domination. …

“During five years of AKP rule, Islamist street action came to an end. The ratio of people who said they want an Islamic state decreased from around 20 percent throughout the 1990s to 9 percent in 2006.”

My guess is if we had similar surveys today, most probably we would see even much lower numbers. However, as Mr. Tuğal indicates, how much this “passive revolution” will deepen depends on many other factors. He at that point indicates something, which I believe helps us to understand the future of the Muslim world and Turkey. I personally always believed that if Islamic rule comes to Turkey this could only happen after a bloody takeover by the military.

Mr. Tuğal reaches the same conclusion through his field research in the Sultanbeyli district of İstanbul in which he had observed the change in attitude of radical Islamists. Let us continue to read Mr. Tuğal: “So, does the AKP’s success mean that Islamic radicalism is dead after the passive revolution? Not really. Earlier, Yasin was introduced as an ‘ex- radical.’ Yet, my interactions with him on other occasions raised doubts. A couple of times, when the military cornered the AKP government, he shared his misgivings with me: ‘In the 1980s, Sayyid Qutb’s writings had convinced us that nothing could be done via the political party. Then with the AKP, we saw that this was wrong. But now, I again started to think that Qutb might have been right.’ Several days after this conversation, when the storm abated, Yasin was again assured of the AKP’s path.”

Sayyid Qutb is an Egyptian and an iconic figure for the Muslim Brotherhood movement. Any pressure, any deviation from democracy simply justifies Mr. Qutb’s method. So maybe we should rephrase Kennedy’s words: Those who make passive revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable. Oppressive regimes in the Middle East just delay the meeting between the Muslim world and democracy. Who should we blame if we see “radical” regime changes in the Middle East?

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Source : TdZ, 04 February 2011

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