Culture differences matter (even within Islam)

By Razib Khan | February 15, 2011 12:27 pm

I’ve been keeping track of events in the Arab world only from a distance. There’s been a lot of excitement on twitter and Facebook. Since I’m not an unalloyed enthusiast for democracy I’ve not joined in in the exultation. But I’m very concerned at what I perceive are unrealistic assumptions and false correspondences. This is a big issue because the public is very ignorant of world history and geography. For example, I was listening to a radio show where Roger Cohen was a guest. Cohen covers the Middle East, so he is familiar with many of the issues to a much greater depth than is feasible for the “Average Joe.” In response to a caller who was an ethnic Egyptian American and a Coptic Christian who was concerned about possible persecution of religious minorities Cohen pointed to Turkey, which is ruled by Islamists, and has “many” Christians. His tone was of dismissal and frustration. And that was that.

Let’s look more closely. About 5-10% of Egyptians are Christian, with most estimates being closer to 10 than 5. In contrast, the non-Muslim minority in Turkey numbers at mostfew percent, with ~1% often given as a “round number.” This low fraction of non-Muslims in modern Turkey is a product of 20th century events. First, the genocide against Armenians cleared out eastern Anatolia. Second, the population exchange between Greece and Turkey in the 1920s resulted in each nation removing most of its religious minorities. Of the religious minorities which remain in Turkey, they have been subject to sporadic attacks from radicals (often Turkish nationalists, not Islamists). But from a cultural-historical perspective one of the most revealing issues has been the long-running strangulation of the institution of the Ecumenical Patriarch of the Eastern Orthodox Church by the Turkish republic.

But that’s not the big issue. Rather, it may be that Turkey is a particularly tolerant society in the Muslim Middle East when it comes to religious freedom, and so not a good model for what might play out in Egypt (and has played out in Iraq). This matters because people regularly speak of “secular Egyptians,” “secular Turks,” “Turkish Islamists,” and “Egyptian Islamists,” as if there’s a common currency in the modifiers. That is, a secular Egyptian is equivalent to a secular Turk, and Islamists in Egypt are equivalent to Islamists in Turkey (who have been in power via democratic means for much of the past 10 years). Let’s look at the Pew Global Attitudes report, which I’ve referenced before. In particular, three questions which are clear and specific. Should adulterers be stoned? Should robbers be whipped, or their hands amputated? Should apostates from Islam be subject to the death penalty?

On the x-axis you see the proportion who accept that adulterers should be stoned. On the y-axis you see the responses to amputation and apostasy. The red points are the proportion who agree with the death penalty for apostates, and the navy points those who believe in whipping or amputation for robbers.

As you can see, there’s a strong correlation between attitudes on these questions. The correlation is 0.97, 0.97, and 0.92, on the national level. So these three questions seem to be tapping on a “are you willing to get medieval!” sentiment in these societies. Compare Turkey to Egypt. They’re in totally different regions of the scatter plot. There is simply no comparison between these societies on these issues, despite both being Muslim and Middle Eastern.

5% of Turks agree with the death plenty for leaving Islam (converting to another religion from Islam, or leaving it, is legal in Turkey, though there is still some social pressure against it). 84% of Egyptians accept the death penalty for apostates. About 30-40% of Turks has been voting for the Islamist party in Turkey over the past 10 years. If you allocate all 5% who agree with the death penalty for Muslim apostates to the Islamists, and take the low bound figure of 30% who are voting for Islamists, at most 1/6th of Turkish Islamists agree with the death penalty for leaving Islam.

Now let’s compare that to Egypt. What proportion of Egyptians consider themselves “secular”?  Because of the lack of real elections we can only infer. 38% of Turks agree with the contention that Islam’s role in politics is positive according to Pew Global Attitudes. That’s pretty much in line with how much of the vote the AKP, the Turkish Islamists, win. In contrast, 85% of Egyptians view Islam’s role in politics as positive. Because the Muslim Brotherhood is the primary opposition channel in Egyptian society, de jure proscribed, but de facto tolerated, much of the 85% may not be Islamists as such. While the split in terms of favorable views of Hamas is straight down the middle in Egypt, in Turkey 10% favor Hamas, 70% oppose, and the balance have no opinion. Again, allocating all the pro-Hamas sentiment to Turkish Islamists, and taking the low bound 30% value (which I think is reasonable, as not everyone voting for the Islamist party is an Islamist in Turkey), a far lower proportion of Turkish Islamists have favorable views of Hamas than Egyptians as a whole.

The overall point I’m trying to make here is that it is very misleading for commentators to make an analogy between Turkish Islamists and the Muslim Brotherhood. The two may both be Islamists, but that is just a term, whose utility and connotations are strongly locally contingent. Barack Obama and Pat Robertson are both Christians, but that means very different things. Additionally, I would suggest that to be secular in Egypt may correlate with greater illiberalism toward deviance from the putative religious orthodoxy than to be an Islamist in Turkey! This article in The New York Times points to the complexity, In One Slice of a New Egypt, Few Are Focusing on Religion:

Egypt is deeply devout, and imposing labels often does more to confuse than illuminate. Amal Salih, who joined the protests against her parents’ wishes, dons an orange scarf over her head but calls herself secular. “Egypt is religious, regrettably,” she said. Mr. Mitwalli wears a beard but calls himself liberal, “within the confines of religion.” A driver, Osama Ramadan, despises the Muslim Brotherhood but has jury-rigged his car to blare a prayer when he turns on the ignition.

We can dig deeper to ascertain exactly how religious Egyptians say they are.

The figure to the left is from the World Values Survey. It was asked in the mid-to-late 2000s. I have shown you both percentages and counts. No one in the Egyptian sample admitted to being an atheist (this is not uncommon in Muslim countries). If you’re curious, over 10% of the Egyptian sample had a university degree, and they had the same proportion who identified as a “religious person” as those without any formal education. In contrast, the 10% of Turks who had a university degree in the sample were far less religious than those without a formal education, 60% vs. 96%.

What is the point of these comparisons? There’s a lot of stress and worry about the Muslim Brotherhood in the United States. Some of this is because of their specific historical associations with Hamas, as well as the history of Islamist radicalism in Egypt (Al-Qaeda is in large part an institutional outgrowth of Egyptian radical movements). But the fixation on the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood misses the bigger picture that secular and Islamist mean very different things in different Muslim nations. The narrative seems to be that political religious movements are problematic because they introduce the cancer of illiberalism into a pristine social environment. But that is just not so. Rather, the nature of religious political movements is to a large extent reflective of trends in the broader society, and is subject to restraints imposed by ostensibly secular citizens. The Turkish Islamists have marketed themselves as Muslim versions of European Christian Democrats. Though this is somewhat of a stretch (the Islamists have introduced illiberal laws here and there), that is because of the greater illiberalism and conservatism of Turkish society vis-a-vis European nations. Consider Turkish attitudes toward evolution:

– 7% agree that evolution is certainly true
– 15% agree that it is probably true
– 7% agree that it is probably false
– 54% agree that it could not be possibly true
– 25% have never though of the issue before

There’s no necessary connection between liberal social attitudes and acceptance of evolution, but the correlation seems rather robust within and across societies. Turks are much more accepting of evolution than any Muslim nation without a history of Communism, but, they are more Creationist than any Western nation (including the USA).

Where does this leave us? Democratic nations have different characteristics. For much of Japan’s modern history it has been dominated by one political party. It has been a de facto one party state. In contrast, Italy has been subject to fractious shifts between multitudinous coalitions. After the fall of Communism the Czech Republic has transformed itself into a conventional liberal democracy, as it was before World War II, while Russia has morphed into a hybrid authoritarian-democratic state (similar to Iran or Venezuela). We can expect a democratic Egypt to be different from a democratic Tunisia, at least over the short term, because of broad socio-cultural differences. And the gap between Turkey, a non-Arab Muslim nation with a foot in Europe, and Egypt, is even greater. Because of the general ignorance of the American public commentators have been leaning on analogies to communicate the potential arc of possibilities. I believe that many of the analogies are misleading, and entail a deeper understanding of the terms and relations embedded within those analogies than actually exists. Additionally, I also believe that some commentators have been caught up in the democratic fever, and consciously have skewed their analogies in a particular direction. I can not believe that Roger Cohen is not aware of the difficult situation of religious minorities in Turkey. But the American audience caught between a bipolar perception of secular liberal democrats and the totalitarian Taliban may not be able to comprehend the nuance within the Turkish case, and so Cohen elided essential features.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: International Affairs, Religion
  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    communicating complexity by analogy to more familiar history. the puritans famously fled english due to constraints on their practice of protestantism by a “high church” element in the anglican church. they sought religious freedom. but, they imposed religious tests and bans within their own colony. they sought freedom for themselves, not freedom generally.

  • dan

    try explaining this to the SWPL crowd and they’ll say “it has nothing to do with religion.” yeah! religion has nothing to do with religion, got it. seriously, though, if you tell them this and show them the polls it makes no difference because they’re just as “religious” about being “worldly” and “different” as egyptians are about mohammed. i don’t think it even occurs to them that they’re rooting for people who have the exact opposite values as they do because they a) don’t expose themselves to posts like this one b) think all humans are inherently good

  • John Emerson

    This is good and timely enough for wider circulation. In general you like to stay away from politics and current events, but I think that there are few or no publications of any type in the US which have published anything better than this. It’s more readable than what you’d see in an academic journal, and less impressionistic than almost all journalism.

  • Erik

    Objection: Referring to “5% of Turks” and “85% of Egyptians” is misleading when the Pew survey asked only Muslims in those countries.

  • Hugh

    I agree with John Emerson – a superb post. Why don’t political scientists actually attempt to understand the societies they’re talking about by looking at what their populations think?

  • http://www.ourfoundingtruth.blogspot.com oft

    [this comment was not smart, so i redacted it]

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    Objection: Referring to “5% of Turks” and “85% of Egyptians” is misleading when the Pew survey asked only Muslims in those countries.

    99% of turks are muslims. the lowest figure for muslim proportions in egypt are 10%. you have some ground to say it’s misleading in the latter case, but it’s retarded to say it’s misleading in the first case. don’t argue that it’s not retarded in the first case either.

  • dan

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/02/15/lara-logan-suffered-bruta_n_823677.html

    R, you might now want to do an update on sexual assaults/opinions on them in the middle east because it’s now relevant

  • farhana

    So is there any hope that some freedom and some regard for consensus-based political system, will ultimately lead to some regard for diversity? And diversity means some respect for dissent?

    Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arab, etc are tribal societies. (Pakistan is not, but because of Islam, its somewhat influenced by Islam’s tribal (Bedouini) culture). But shouldn’t we hope that even a non-functional democracy will help these societies evolve better than a monarchy? Sure, I agree extremists might want to enjoy freedom to cut hands and feet of theives, but would that be the only freedom to think of?

    I guess I want to say, irrespective of how worst the human rigths (individual rights) awareness Egyptians or Pakistanis have, we have something to rejoice and hope for, when ppl ask for their say in the state affairs thru democracy.

  • Baris

    “99% of turks are muslims” ?? Not really…They are labelled as Muslims in their birth certificates. One should also ask if they are practicing Muslims or if they have ever read Qoran or have done anything major in their lives directed by Islam. Being a Muslim in Turkey comes “default” by being born in the country.

  • http://washparkprophet.blogspot.com ohwilleke

    Excellent points Razib.

    I’d suggest, however, that there hasn’t necessarily been a big disconnect between Mubarak’s pronouncements of law and those that a democratic regimes replacing him might institute on issues with a strong religious flavor. I don’t think that Egyptian are eager to follow in the footsteps of Saudi Arabia and the Taliban either. Dissatisfaction with Mubarak seems to be more focused on corruption, kelptocracy, inefficiency in government, and suppression of all political discussion by totalitarian means. Some of the support for Islamist movements seems rooted in the belief that Islamists have something akin to respect for the rule of law, as opposed to arbitrary dictates of dicators.

    The global attitudes report may also be influenced by the fact that it is talking about questions that have a clear “orthodox” answer. In the same way, asking a Christian about points upon which Christian doctrine is very clear may not reveal much about attitudes about points where there is a less doctrinally prescribed answer. For example, it isn’t clear how Egyptians would feel about a law imposing a full hajib on women, prohibiting women from driving cars, or banning the ownership of pets, as is the case in Saudi Arabia, or prohibiting education for girls as is the case in places where the Taliban rule.

    The other “secular” force that may be quite analogous between Egypt and regimes in places like Turkey and Algeria is that while Mubarak is surrending his post as supreme leader, the military does not appear to be surrendering its primacy as ultimate political arbiter in Egypt, a role that militaries in Turkey and Algeria have tried to use to prevent Islamist movements from changing the basis of the state from being a secular state to, for example, an Iranian style theocracy in which Islamic factions are permanent winners.

  • Moshe Rudner

    I agree with John and Hugh except that I think pointing this out to the public will only relieve the particularity of their ignorance regarding the opinion gap between Egypt and Turkey and will do nothing to cure them of the fact that they think on only the most superficial of levels about almost every issue of public policy. Heather MacDonald has been banging away about relative dangers to life and limb since forever now (a lone sniper in DC is less worthy of your concern than your weight or driving commute) to no discernable effect. Methinks people need to be educated in HOW to think more clearly than in the particulars of WHAT to think.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arab, etc are tribal societies. (Pakistan is not, but because of Islam, its somewhat influenced by Islam’s tribal (Bedouini) culture).

    is egypt tribal? i did not know that. as for pakistan, pathans have tribes, do they not?

    But shouldn’t we hope that even a non-functional democracy will help these societies evolve better than a monarchy?

    who said we shouldn’t? and don’t confuse monarchy with autocracy. northern europe has many monarchies which are liberal and democratic. i’m american and have a sentimental and natural attachment to our peculiar experiment, but canada and australia still have queens and they’re not hellholes.

    Sure, I agree extremists might want to enjoy freedom to cut hands and feet of theives, but would that be the only freedom to think of?

    if you think the majority of a society are “extremists,” i guess you can call them that. but it looks to me that those sentiments are in the mainstream of egyptian public opinion.

    I guess I want to say, irrespective of how worst the human rigths (individual rights) awareness Egyptians or Pakistanis have, we have something to rejoice and hope for, when ppl ask for their say in the state affairs thru democracy.

    ? you seem to confuse democracy with liberalism. rwanda has not had true democracy since the genocide. the world looks the other way. i don’t personally care if the arabs get democracy, but i wouldn’t be surprised if in 25 years most of the world’s copts live in europe, just as most of the world’s iraqi christians live abroad now.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    I don’t think that Egyptian are eager to follow in the footsteps of Saudi Arabia and the Taliban either.

    look, you need to get it into your head that not all islamists are saudis or the taliban. that sort of dichotomous thinking is what i’m trying to push back against. the iranian mullocracy was appalled by the barbarism of the taliban. that doesn’t mean that the mullocracy are not islamist.

    i didn’t say anything about saudi arabia and taliban for a reason. don’t impute, it just wastes our time.

    The global attitudes report may also be influenced by the fact that it is talking about questions that have a clear “orthodox” answer. In the same way, asking a Christian about points upon which Christian doctrine is very clear may not reveal much about attitudes about points where there is a less doctrinally prescribed answer

    my point in the post was that turks are not into killing apostates, islamist or not. egyptians are. or at least they’ll give lip service. you can then declare that turks are not orthodox, and the egyptians are, though i don’t think you’re the pope of muslims to declare this or that orthodox. in any case, i do agree that one should be careful about taking avowals of belief at face value. but this is clearly telling us something about the difference between turkish and egyptian culture when you see that 85% of egyptians assent to killing apostates, while only 5% of turks do.

    For example, it isn’t clear how Egyptians would feel about a law imposing a full hajib on women, prohibiting women from driving cars, or banning the ownership of pets, as is the case in Saudi Arabia, or prohibiting education for girls as is the case in places where the Taliban rule.

    the majority of egyptians believe that the law should enforce gender segregation at work. it’s in the above survey. and again, stop talking about saudi arabia and the taliban. that’s like saying that sweden represents all western states when it comes to attitudes toward gender egalitarianism. it’s an extreme case.

    The other “secular” force that may be quite analogous between Egypt and regimes in places like Turkey and Algeria is that while Mubarak is surrending his post as supreme leader, the military does not appear to be surrendering its primacy as ultimate political arbiter in Egypt

    i don’t think they’re quite analogous. algeria is also relatively secular compared to egypt (you can see in the WVS). but yeah, anything could happen. want to take monetary bets? :-)

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    anything major in their lives directed by Islam

    what the fuck does that mean?

  • Clark

    Razib (13), wouldn’t you say that in Europe the monarchies that are liberal are monarchies without any real power and only persuasive influence? Consider Canada. In theory the Queen could have vetoed bills but it would be a scandal if it happened. And I believe even that influence has been removed. (Don’t quote me on that – my knowledge of recent events in my homeland is spotty) Contrast this with the middle east where monarchies tend to have a lot more power. Or is this part and parcel of what you mean by liberal?

    I think what’s confusing to many is that liberal and secular tend to have a common meaning in the west. As you point out quite well, in the middle east they simply don’t. Consider Jordan for instance. Would things get better or worse with more democracy? I suspect the country would become less liberal in many ways. Egypt is trickier because the leader was in many ways less benevolent. (Not that there aren’t tons of legitimate gripes with the government of Jordan – just that I’m pretty skeptical democracy would make things better there)

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    Razib (13), wouldn’t you say that in Europe the monarchies that are liberal are monarchies without any real power and only persuasive influence? Consider Canada. In theory the Queen could have vetoed bills but it would be a scandal if it happened. And I believe even that influence has been removed. (Don’t quote me on that – my knowledge of recent events in my homeland is spotty) Contrast this with the middle east where monarchies tend to have a lot more power. Or is this part and parcel of what you mean by liberal?

    yes. but the powerlessness of the monarch evolved over time. also, populist illiberalism wasn’t uncommon in europe:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gordon_Riots

    the motivation for toleration was both practical and principled. such deep sectarian divides were less of an issue for the cosmopolitan elites by this point that the masses (or perhaps more accurately, the middle classes?).

  • http://www.accidentalblogger.typepad.com Ruchira

    Razib, thanks for pointing out the errors of “one size fits all” characterization of cultures people know nothing about. That is why we get tripped up in our foreign policy again and again. I should point out that almost everyone in the world is caught up in false stereotypes of other cultures, but the ignorance of US policy makers and think-tanks matter more because we put way more money (and arms) where our prejudicial mouth is.

    I am very curious to see how Egypt plays out. I am not buying into the Facebook face of the revolution despite the eagerness to define it thus by the western media. There were just too many people involved here beyond the techies who sent out the initial smoke signals. Roger Cohen may have disappointed you by his dismissive pigeon-holing of Egypt. But some of the blather that is emanating on this front would be hilarious for its ignorance if it were not so scary for the same reason. Karl Rove was trying to smooth the ruffled feathers of right wing nuts by claiming that Egyptians may not go the Islamist way because they are descendants of Ramses and Cleopatra, both seemingly western figures in the minds of louts like Rove because of the Hollywood movies he has seen.

    The first really unsettling news from Tahrir Square – the culprits were protesters, not Mubarak’s thugs.

  • onur

    AKP (currently governing party in Turkey) is not an Islamist (=partially or fully Sharia supporter) party, it is really sort of like European Christian Democrats. If AKP was Islamist, I would never think of voting for AKP as an atheist Turk; but today it is the first party I am planning to vote for in the coming election (I voted for AKP before).

    I fully agree with Baris’ comment. I am an atheist Turk, but I am labelled as Muslim in my id card like the overwhelming majority of atheist citizens of Turkey. To change my religion label in my id card I have to resort to a court, but I don’t care how I am labelled in a stupid id card and so don’t resort to a court.

    Alevi citizens of Turkey too are labelled as Muslim in their id cards, but they are in practice members of a completely separate religion (and a much more liberal religion) from Islam.

  • onur

    Also AKP is a political party that is actively struggling for the EU membership of Turkey. There is no way for a political party to be pro-EU membership and at the same time Islamist.

  • onur

    Being a Muslim in Turkey comes “default” by being born in the country.

    Except for the members of Christian and Jewish minority groups of Turkey (which are officially recognized) of course, who are less than 1% of the population of Turkey today.

  • onur

    AKP defines itself as conservative democrat and as a Turkish (here the word “Turkish” isn’t in ethnic sense, but only meaning “citizen of Turkey”) version of European Christian Democrats but without making reference to any religion or ethnic group. So AKP is fully open to Alevis, atheists, Christians and Jews (AKP has one Alevi MP in the parliament) and all ethnic groups of Turkey (there are many Kurdish MPs, including ministers, of AKP).

  • onur

    Grammatical correction: but only meaning “citizen of Turkey”

    but is only in the meaning of “citizen of Turkey”

  • onur

    In Turkey only opponents of AKP would define AKP as an Islamist party and usually to disparage AKP.

  • http://lorenzo-thinkingoutaloud.blogspot.com/ Lorenzo from Oz

    Great post. Does vividly illustrate the point that the logic of belief is not necessarily the logic of believers.

    Attaturk’s attempt to create a predominant Turkish identity seems to have “taken” at deep level. Lebanon is a cosmopolitan society in both the ‘ethnically mixed’ (the Sunni and Shia practically count as different ethnicities and each group is probably still outnumbered by the Christians, though not their combined numbers) and the ‘lots of outside connections and influences’ sense.

    I am a little surprised Indonesia rates as high as it does, but it is caught between the pure-religion-reformist urge which is strongest in Aceh and the modernist-push which is strongest in Java, with a large dash of traditional eclecticism. Nigeria is a battleground society between Islam and an expanding African Christianity. But, in both societies, there are significant non-Muslim identities or cultural influences.

    Pakistan has little national identity beyond Islam and being Islamic-not-India: it seems increasingly a pathology rather than a polity. Jordan and Egypt are both overwhelmingly Sunni Arab countries, so prone to that we-Arabs-are-the-real-Muslims thing. (Even though most Muslims are not Arabs and, excepting Pakistan, the Arab countries are generally much the most dysfunctional part of Islam.)

    As for the tribal element, that is a distraction. It varies a great deal even within countries. It is a significant factor in Jordan and Iraq: as I understand it, it is pretty marginal in Egypt.

  • onur

    Ataturk’s attempt to create a predominant Turkish identity seems to have “taken” at deep level.

    Actually it isn’t so deep because of its recentness. In Turkey many so-called “ethnic Turks” are aware that their “Turkish” identity is a novelty of the republic era, but use it anyway due to the lack of alternative (Muslim identity isn’t as strong as in the past because of secularization and modernization and it confusingly covers non-Turkish-speaking Muslims of Turkey and, worse still, of the whole world), and this situation gives the wrong impression that the “Turkish” identity has taken at deep level.

  • dave chamberlin

    The well deserved praise given to Razib on this analysis and that it directly contradicts the feel good reporting on Egypt by the main stream media raises a greater point. Maybe it is only two percent of the news consuming public that desires honest to god scientific methodology used in reporting on world news but that is still one hell of a lot of people. The use of graphs and (gasp) math is supposed to be the kiss of death in book sales and audience share but that didn’t stop math nerd Nate Silver from moving from obscure blogger to featured writer at the New York Times. I am not aware of anybody using public opinion polls, graphs and only then giving measured opinions based on hard facts in world events. Nate Silver does this for US politics and it would be appreciated if others would take up this approach in reporting on the world at large.

  • GCL

    AKP of Turkey is made up of disparate groups which includes Islamists who have strong influence-influence only- over the policies of the party. In addition, Turkey after the military coup of 1960 became ever more an introvert and 1974 invasion Cyprus turned on defensiveness in their psychology and thus they missed important progressive political and social change that took place in North America and Western Europe in the 1970s and 1980s-the group that they felt Turkey belonged and wanted to belong.
    The commercial and industrial elite that grew (up) in Anatolia are just opening their eyes and minds at what is going on in the rest of the world. Yet they are an intelligent lot and quick learners (they have the genes of Asia Minor civilizations). This elite is more bewildered by and drawn to the riches and “culture” oil rich sheikdoms and kingdoms and strongly rooted in their religion. And support and vote for AKP.
    When Alevis-different from Arab Alewites-and Kurds start tossing their political weight around then real Islamists, Conservatives, etc. will emerge. In a few years the voice Islamists’ and Conservative voices will weaken in Turkey but will not dissapear.

  • onur

    AKP of Turkey is made up of disparate groups which includes Islamists who have strong influence-influence only- over the policies of the party.

    Even if there are some Islamists among AKP members, we cannot say that they have strong influence over the policies of AKP as the policies of AKP aren’t Islamist.

  • Vince

    Interesting article. But I am not sure what the point is! If the point of the article is “things can get worse”, well, of course things can always get worse.

    If the point of article is, as it appears it is, some people are so primitive that they deserve brutal dictators, that is incorrect. It confuses cause with effect.

    You have to ask why some people are so primitive? Often the answer is that their history of opppression, colonialism, and brutal dictators are the CAUSE of their primitive state, not the result of it.

    Turkey looks more “civilized” than Egypt, because it did not suffer any oppressive colonialism and brutal dictators. And that is because it did not have any valuable natural resources, and it was lucky to emerge independent and victorious from its post WW1 struggle. Story was very different in the rest of the Middle East.

    Conversely, if America had lost its independence war, and remained a colony, and especially if Britain had managed to impose some brutal dictators on America, now there would be many “crazed” “Christian” suicide bombers, attacking and killing innocent British civilians, and we would still be executing homosexuals, and burning witches at the stake!

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    Interesting article. But I am not sure what the point is! If the point of the article is “things can get worse”, well, of course things can always get worse.

    if you aren’t sure, DON’T IMPUTE THE POINT TO ME! my outline was not prescriptive. i’m disputing the nature of the description.

  • GCL

    The point is that there are many differences between Turkey and Egypt, not only the ones you took into consideration.
    Let’s go back a few years to the Iranian upheaval. Iran’s bourgeoise sent their children abroad to be educated in 1970s (or even before), transferred some money out and a significant number left the country in the 1980s. There is now a very large Iranian diaspora which is well educated, financially comfortable and integrated with their adopted lands but continue to be in touch with their motherland.
    Egyptian bourgeoise did something similar in 1990s. Moreover, they were able to go backwards and forwards between Egypt and USA and Europe. Iranian and Egyptian bourgeoisie and the diaspora did not miss media and communication revolution that started in the West late 1980s. American University and foreign schools functioned in Egypt. We saw the results of modern and forward thinking during the recent developments in Egypt. In addition, Islamists of North Africa took refuge in Western countries and not in Iran. They lived with the developments in the West. They are no fools.
    1980s military junta in Turkey interfered and put road blocks in all walks of life in Turkey that even now very small proportion of Turkish bourgeoisie is aware of the changes(progress) that took place in the West between 1980s and 2000. They have the financial wherewithal yet not the mentality to learn and adapt to the changes took place in the club that they wish to become a member. Whereas the Egyptian and Iranian wealthy and educated bourgeoisie can travel comfortably between two mentalities.
    A large proportion of Turkish diaspora in Europe is working class and live in their very comfortable ghettos, living in Europe as if they were in Asia Minor. Their children are trying to break out and some are successful. However, Turkish diaspora still is not as well ensconsed in their adopted lands as the Iranian and Egyptian diasporas (I have in mind the significant number of Iranians and Egyptians working for top Western universities, foundations and even financial institutions). Iranian diaspora is ready to assist Iran in many ways and the same with the Egyptians.
    There is a huge disconnect between the Turkish diaspora and Turkey. In addition, Turkey’s traditional distrust of non-moslem foreigners is still part and parcel of the national psyche.
    This is also apparent in AKP in a different way: it doesn’t trust anyone, any organization in the country that is not thoroughly tied to AKPs roots and traditions.

  • http://entitledtoanopinion.wordpress.com TGGP

    Vince, Germany was under a dictatorship, as was Japan. Spain and Portugal remained under dictatorships for even longer, as did Greece. China and Vietnam have maintained the continuity of their communist regimes while moderating the insanity. None of those countries are full of suicide bombers, or feature execution of homosexuals and witches. I would also add that Canada & Australia never fought wars of independence against Britain. Scotland was defeated in its attempts at independence and experienced the “Scottish Enlightenment” under English rule.

    Turkey was independent because a competent military ensured it would be. Turkey occupies what was once the heart of the Byzantine empire, highly valuable territory.

  • onur

    In addition, Turkey’s traditional distrust of non-moslem foreigners is still part and parcel of the national psyche.

    That “traditional” distrust is the result of the calamities that befell many Muslims of the Balkans, Asia Minor, the Armenian Highlands, the Caucasus and Crimea in the 19th and especially the early 20th centuries because of the occupations of various Ottoman territories by various Christian European states and the ensuing mass-migrations and massacres. But that has to change if Turkey wants to progress and is already changing thanks to the extroverted policies – especially the foreign policies – of AKP.

  • onur

    This is also apparent in AKP in a different way: it doesn’t trust anyone, any organization in the country that is not thoroughly tied to AKPs roots and traditions.

    On what basis do you make such a claim?

  • Wade Nichols

    Often the answer is that their history of opppression, colonialism, and brutal dictators are the CAUSE of their primitive state, not the result of it.

    Some the world’s richest countries are former colonies: United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia.

    Turkey looks more “civilized” than Egypt, because it did not suffer any oppressive colonialism and brutal dictators.

    These countries have either never been colonies, or haven’t been so for that long: Ethiopia, Liberia, Tibet and Nepal.

    How “civilized” are they?

    And that is because it did not have any valuable natural resources, and it was lucky to emerge independent and victorious from its post WW1 struggle.

    Hong Kong, Great Britain, Japan, and Singapore don’t have any natural resources to speak of, how do you explain them?

    Interesting article. But I am not sure what the point is!

    Interesting comments. But I am not sure what the point is!

    Indeed.

  • onur

    GCL:In addition, Turkey’s traditional distrust of non-moslem foreigners is still part and parcel of the national psyche.

    Onur:That “traditional” distrust is the result of the calamities that befell many Muslims of the Balkans, Asia Minor, the Armenian Highlands, the Caucasus and Crimea in the 19th and especially the early 20th centuries because of the occupations of various Ottoman territories by various Christian European states and the ensuing mass-migrations and massacres. But that has to change if Turkey wants to progress and is already changing thanks to the extroverted policies – especially the foreign policies – of AKP.

    That “traditional” distrust was also actually injected into the public mind by the newly-emerged nationalist military-bureaucratic elite during the republic era. This is also changing thanks to the ANAP governments of the 80s and the AKP governments of the last decade.

  • onur

    Policies of AKP are destroying the military-bureaucratic elite and strengthening the democracy and human rights in Turkey in addition to the economic progress.

  • GCL

    Ottoman Empire was composed of occupied territories. The Empire was polyglot, just like the Hapsburg and Russian empires. The difference was that Hapsburgs had their own hub, the Dukedom of Austria (approximately the current Rep. of Austria) and the Russians the Principality of Muscovy, from whence they expanded. The rise of nationalism (and its younger brother racism later) after the Napoleonic wars caused havoc in the three empires. The local Christians in the Balkan part of the Ottoman Empire gradually started hating their Moslem overlord for its mismanagement and ruthlessness. The First World War brought about an abrupt end to the Hapsburg and Ottoman empires. The Russian one really dissolved at the end of the Cold War!
    The Ottoman upper class called themselves “Ottoman”. Turk meant “Moslem” for all the non-Moslem subjects of the Empire and the Europeans. The Arabs also referred to the Ottomans as Turks and disliked them as much as the Christians did in the Balkans.
    Starting in mid-1800s to late 1980s, a large number of the Moslem poulation-originally most of them were Christians- from the Ottoman territories lost in Europe, either voluntarily or involuntarily, came to Asia Minor. A trek that took over hundred years. They brought back their own concept of religion-much looser than the one practices in the heart of the Empire-and settled in western Turkey. Hence there is a difference between the conservatives of eastern Turkey and those in the west where most of those who came from European part of the Empire settled.
    Turkish “Mezzogiorno” is Eastern Turkey. A large number inhabitants of eastern Turkey have been moving to western Turkey for jobs, etc. Once they move to the west within a few years they are not as conservative as they were in the East. That goes for their religious outlook too.
    AKP is made up of many groups but its base still remains religious. Base groups as a rule exercise more influence on the policies of the party because they are the only dependable group when it comes to getting votes. All political parties once they become party of government have love and hate relationship with their base.
    AKP is also a particularly an “arriviste” party (and that is OK). They see their older, more entrenched, educated, sophisticated “fellow travelers” as competitors and AKP wants to establish its own “establishment”. That is why they do not trust and cooperate with anyone from conservative “ancien regime”(s).
    Although I agree somewhat with Razib Khan, I do not believe that being conservative and religious are as related to each other as it may be in other Moslem lands. At best comparison-with many, many asterisks-between Turkey, Iran and Egypt can be made. But not with the rest of the Moslem countries.

  • onur

    AKP is made up of many groups but its base still remains religious.

    Yes, “religious” is the appropriate word, but not “Islamist”; they are very different things.

  • onur

    AKP is also a particularly an “arriviste” party (and that is OK). They see their older, more entrenched, educated, sophisticated “fellow travelers” as competitors and AKP wants to establish its own “establishment”. That is why they do not trust and cooperate with anyone from conservative “ancien regime”(s).

    That ancien regime is an obstacle to progress in Turkey today, so AKP is doing the right thing by not cooperating with anyone from the ancien regime.

  • GCL

    I think we are moving away from the core subject.
    We are not discussing what AKP is and is not. That is subject of another discussion.
    Cultural and other differences among the Moslem countries are immense, insurmountable in the short-term.
    It is better to compare Egypt with other Arab countries.
    Iran and Turkey are separate. And let us not forget that Iran or Persia is not only polyglot but also it has been more or less within its current borders for thousands of years (must be doing something right!)and was much less open to influences from the West.
    Asia Minor on the other hand is smack in the middle of two continents, on the Silk road, begat many cultures, religions and civilizations and had many, many relationships that it has lived and went through. It has not been spared from outside influence. And thus Asia Minor, Anatoly (Anatolia) or Turkish culture has a different character if not unique.

  • http://entitledtoanopinion.wordpress.com TGGP

    onur, I was not aware of that history of mass-migrations and massacres, except for the population exchange with Greece. Usually history discussions get to WW1 and point out that, surprisingly enough, the Ottoman empire still existed.

    GCL, much of the Russian empire was dismantled with the treaty of Brest-Litovsk. Some of it was regained shortly afterward, but it mostly took WW2 to undo those losses.

  • onur

    onur, I was not aware of that history of mass-migrations and massacres, except for the population exchange with Greece.

    Yes, mass-migrations (other than the population exchange between Greece and Turkey) and massacres happened in both (Muslim and Christian) sides. Here is a map by an American historian showing the extents, directions and years of Muslim and Christian forced displacements between the years 1770 and 1923:

    http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_tIy-068xs3Q/TS4FrG-_BwI/AAAAAAAABbw/SYcsRBNuTEs/s1600/anadolu_gocleri2.jpg

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  • http://entitledtoanopinion.wordpress.com TGGP

    Thanks for the map, onur. Is the blogpost it came from in English? Or is there some other source discussing that history?

  • onur

    Is the blogpost it came from in English?

    No, it isn’t in English, it is in Turkish. It was posted by a fairly objective (so much so that he often gets into disputes with Turkish nationalists) Turkish blogger. He posted that map of an American historian without commenting.

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  • cuneyt

    the bottom line is, even though people are not very religious in Turkey, we still see Islam as a unifying factor vis-a-vis Kurds etc. The collapse of our empire because of nationalistic ideas of balkan people, arabs etc compelled us to regard islam as a way to stay together with Kurds and other ethnic groups. i am not saying that islam is weak in Turkey. But i have been to Arab countries, and compared to their brand of Islam, ours is a personal faith issue. you pray, fine, you do not, it is also fine. our islam is closer to buddhism than arabic islam.

    one thing distinguishes us from other people. we think our shortcomings, our misfortunes are only because of our deeds. i am living a poor life, and it is my mistake. i can do a better job, get rich, get happy without blaming others.

    when somebody talks about muslims in turkey, take it with a grain of salt. we are muslims by birth, humans by conscious and trying to make the world more beautiful than it was when we were born. and yes, like every country, we have crack heads

  • onur

    Yes, Islam is the primary unifying factor between the various ethnicities of Turkey. But in the long term there is a need for another primary unifying factor as 1) due to secularization more and more people are putting Islam in a low position in their order of priority or completely abandoning Islam, 2) Alevis have no religious common ground with Sunnis in practice, I am not even mentioning Christians and Jews as they are both very small and almost invisible minorities in Turkey.

    Turkish nationalism certainly cannot be an alternative to Islam as the primary unifying factor, as Kurds strongly object to that, and so do an ever increasing number of ethnicities.

    My proposal is this: Already most of non-Turks of Turkey know and speak Turkish today (most of them as a second language), this opportunity, if used wisely, can be an agent to generate strong bonds between ethnic groups. If we create the social and economic conditions in which people from different ethnic groups interact much more, this can be a good alternative to Islam as the primary unifying factor.

    I have an atheist Kurdish friend coming from an Alevi background, and I am an atheist Turk coming from a Sunni background. He votes for the Kurdish party and I vote for AKP. Nevertheless, we are good friends and, more importantly, agree in a lot of areas.

  • onur

    our islam is closer to buddhism than arabic islam.

    You mean eclecticism? No people can surpass Westerners in terms of eclecticism. Westeners are highly eclectic in their practice of religion, be that Christianity (especially Protestantism), Western varieties of Buddhism or any other religion.

  • onur

    You mean eclecticism? No people can surpass Westerners in terms of eclecticism…

    You can also call it “flexibility” if you wish.

  • GCL

    Many parties in the West have symbolic religious names such as Christian Democrat, Christian Social Union, etc. (Only very recently Swedish treasury stopped collecting dues for the Lutheran Church. Britain’s Rex or Regina is still the Head of the Church of England). However, these parties have very loose connection with the Church as do church-based universities. This took a long time to happen. For example, IV (Ivy) league universities in the USA Columbia, Harvard, Princeton and Yale are no longer associated with the Episcopelians. Many non-believers are tenured professors in Catholic universities in Europe. (Let us not forget that a Pope in the late 1800 took an axe to all the genitalia of a large number marble statues in the Vatican!)
    Will or can (mainstream)Islam ever treat worldly affairs at arms distance and tolerate those who do not necessarily think like them? This question still begs an answer or two and in this connexion I believe next ten or so years are crucial.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    This took a long time to happen. For example, IV (Ivy) league universities in the USA Columbia, Harvard, Princeton and Yale are no longer associated with the Episcopelians.

    stick to what you know. princeton, yale, and harvard were originally calvinist (princeton and yale were founded as a traditional calvinist institutions to counter harvard’s drift toward heterodoxy).

    No people can surpass Westerners in terms of eclecticism.

    this is false. you don’t know enough about eastern cultures to judge. i know this because we’ve discussed at length your ignorance of the history of eastern cultures.

  • onur

    this is false. you don’t know enough about eastern cultures to judge. i know this because we’ve discussed at length your ignorance of the history of eastern cultures.

    Razib, I know enough about the traditional Eastern (=East Asia, Indochina and India) religious eclecticism and syncretism. But if you read my lines carefully, I say “Westeners are highly eclectic in their practice of religion, be that Christianity (especially Protestantism), Western varieties of Buddhism or any other religion“, so I am also comparing the Western practice of Buddhism and Hinduism with the Buddhism and Hinduism practices of traditionally Buddhist and Hindu nations respectively and not just counting the Western practice of Christianity when I say “Western”.

    As for Christianity, I know that Christianity, by its very nature, is less flexible than both Buddhism and Hinduism, but I make my religion comparisons in a relative sense thus taking into account inherent differences between religions.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    Razib, I know enough about the traditional Eastern (=East Asia, Indochina and India) religious eclecticism and syncretism

    perhaps. but you know a lot less than me, so i’m in a better place to judge. i think you’re wrong.

    so I am also comparing the Western practice of Buddhism and Hinduism with the Buddhism and Hinduism practices of traditionally Buddhist and Hindu nations respectively and not just counting the Western practice of Christianity when I say “Western”.

    this is an argument you can make. i still do not think it is persuasive. in other words, i still think you’re wrong. though i will grant that it is not false on the face of it as my perception of your argument earlier was.

  • onur

    Secularization and Westernization have had a very big impact in the formation of the current “Turkish Islam”. Before the secularizing and Westernizing policies of Ataturk (who was an atheist BTW), Muslim religious orders (tariqas) ruled supreme in Anatolia down to the villages. Madrasas were the only educational institutions in most places (again including villages). Imams, sheikhs and faqihs were not only highly respected but were also highly influential in the administration of villages and neighborhoods. So if Turkey hadn’t been secularized and so much Westernized, we could now be much more similar to Arabs in our religious practice (as we were during the Ottoman times) than we are today.

  • onur

    By “Arab” I don’t mean just Arabians but Arabs in general (BTW, I don’t regard Arabic-speaking Christians and Jews as Arabs).

  • onur

    Iran, too, if it hadn’t been secularized and much Westernized during the 20th century shah rules, would now be more similar to Arab countries in its practice of Islam, as was the case prior to the secularization.

  • onur

    BTW, I am not a Kemalist nor an adherent of Ataturk. I am against many of his policies, but I don’t demonize him (that would be childish) and I never refrain from giving him his due when he really deserves it. My thoughts about him wouldn’t be any different if I was a Kurd.

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Gene Expression

This blog is about evolution, genetics, genomics and their interstices. Please beware that comments are aggressively moderated. Uncivil or churlish comments will likely get you banned immediately, so make any contribution count!

About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at http://www.razib.com

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