Liberating Islam
A concerned Muslim tries to do his part.


LOPEZ: What was your lesson from seeing your father in jail for writing? It might have made some young boys look for a different career.

AKYOL: I think it showed the eight-year-old me that there are tyrants in the world, and they can hurt your beloved ones for no reason. It also taught me, as I figured later, that secularism is no guarantee for freedom or democracy. (It was the all-secular Turkish military, after all, which imprisoned hundreds of thousands of Turks and tortured many of them.)

Here is another point: In the past decade, Americans have repeatedly heard the stories of ex-Muslims such as Ayaan Hirsi Ali, explaining how they, in their childhood, were oppressed by some ruthless cleric in a radical madrassa. My story reminds them that Muslim kids can be oppressed by some ruthless officer in a secular garrison as well. When people see both of these stories, perhaps, they might feel that the problem with tyranny is not a direct problem with Islam.

LOPEZ: Does it worry you that there is as much court action by the Turkish government against journalists as there is?

AKYOL: Yes, it does worry me. But I was more worried in the ’90s, when death squads, on the orders of Turkey’s overbearing generals, were assassinating journalists. What I mean is that press freedom has always been attacked in Turkey, and things are actually better now than they were before. This should not minimize today’s problems, but it should put them in context. The basic trouble is that we have illiberal laws about “insulting state officials” or “spreading terrorist propaganda,” and courts are often aggressive in executing them.

Moreover, the recent impression that whoever criticizes the AKP goes into jail is simply not true. A few journalists are in custody (wrongly in my view) for allegedly taking part in coup schemes, whereas most others are accused for pro-PKK propaganda, or membership in Marxist-Leninist terror groups.

LOPEZ: The murder last year of Catholic bishop Luigi Padovese doesn’t suggest everything is as peachy for Christians in Turkey as you paint it, does it?

AKYOL: No, it is not peachy at all. Not just Bishop Padovese, but also Fr. Andrea Santoro and three Protestant missionaries were brutally killed in Turkey in the past decade. But please note that these murders were committed by ultra-nationalists, not Islamists. (In Turkey, the Islamist movement has been largely peaceful, whereas violence has been a hallmark of Kurdish separatists, Turkish fascists, and the Communists.) It might be worthwhile to note that some of the people suspected of arranging the killing of the three missionaries in eastern Turkey were also the same people who are on trial for conspiring a military coup against the AKP.

LOPEZ: You write, “An effective way for Westerners to render Islamism and jihadism ineffective would be to convince the world’s Muslims that Islam as a religion is not under attack. An additional reassuring message would be that Muslims are also not targets of enmity, insult, or discrimination in the West — and that their mosques, minarets, and veils are not banned.” In a perfect world, there will be no enmity or insult, but we live here. So if we’re not extra nice to Muslims a bomb will explode — figuratively or literally?

AKYOL: Well, if you ask me, “Mustafa, what can we do to help calm down extremism among your co-religionists,” I will give you the suggestion that you just quoted. But this does not mean that those Muslims would be justified to attack you, no matter how unkind you might sound to them. That’s why, in my book, I say that in an ideal world, everybody would respect each others’ sacred values, but the world is not ideal, and Muslims will face offensive words or cartoons, yet they should still be calm and peaceful, as the Koran tells them.