“Radical Islam is the problem, moderate Islam is the solution” has been my watchword since 2002, meaning that Islam’s many problems will only be solved when Muslims leave Islamism, an attempt to regress to a medieval model, and favor a modern, moderate, and good-neighborly version of their faith.
Plenty of people disagree with this analysis but, until now, no one offered an alternate solution. Now, Murat Yetkin of the Hürriyet Daily News in Turkey has done so in a recent column, “Antithesis of radical Islam is not moderate Islam, it is secularism.”
He finds my solution old and discredited: “As radical Islamist movements started to emerge, politicians in the West . . . tried to recruit ‘moderates’,” building them up “without realizing or bothering to understand that they would become the new radicals.” Yetkin locates this pattern variously in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Egypt, Iraq, and Syria.
The real antithesis of radical Islam, he posits, is not moderate Islam, but rather “separating state affairs from religion.” Secularists, the West can rest assured, won’t turn against it. Calling for a revival of Atatürk’s secularism, Yetkin approves of a recent speech by Turkish opposition leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu urging Muslims to adopt secularism as “the antidote to terror.”
In reply, I start by noting that secularism has two quite different meanings:
‐ Separation of church and state: This kind of secularism, which Yetkin alludes to, is not “the antidote to terror” (think Communists) but it does offer a previous method to avoid religious conflicts. Indeed, secularism evolved out of the ferocity of religious wars in seventeenth-century Europe, providing a live-and-let-live haven from faith-inspired violence. What worked in Europe four centuries ago will work again in Muslim-majority countries today.
Yetkin is right to promote a secular order. I also do so by calling on Western governments always to work against Islamists, to cooperate warily with tyrants, and to exuberantly support liberals and secularists.
‐ Irreligiosity: Secularism also means rejecting faith — similar to agnosticism or atheism. Quietly, irreligiosity is spreading among Muslims; organizations of ex-Muslims, an unprecedented phenomenon, have appeared in twelve countries. One analysis finds that 25 percent of Arabic-speakers have become atheists.
But even if this (high) number is accurate, 75 percent of the population remains believing. Moderate Islam applies to them, offering sound ideas to replace the repugnant ones of Islamism. In this sense, Yetkin is wrong, for irreligiosity cannot fulfill the spiritual longings of most Muslims. Moderate Islam can. It therefore offers the main solution to radical Islam.
But I partially concede Yetkin’s point: Together, moderate Islam and secularism are the answer to radical Islam; so too is conversion to other religions. Nearly anything works that takes Muslims away from the Islamist mentality.