Reading, Watching #5
Muslimness without Islam, the İnce interview
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Towards a Muslimness without Islam (İslamsız Müslümanlığa Doğru), by Volkan Ertit
This is an essay by Volkan Ertit, an academic who studies secularism in Turkey.
A bit about Ertit: he made a splash about a decade ago when he argued that contrary to popular opinion, Turkey wasn’t becoming more religious, it was becoming more secular. Ertit argued that the perception of increasing Islamic piety was based on a faulty understanding of secularism and religion. Yes, politics might be charged up with Islamic symbolism, he argued, but the lifestyles underpinning it were more worldly than ever before. Clerics were now driving around in German cars and investing in luxury housing. Even religious practice, like fasting and daily prayer, was no longer solely justified on religious grounds (God wants you to do it) but secular grounds (it’s good for your physical or mental health). Here are his books (Turkish) and his Academia page, (where he has some English language articles).
In this essay, Ertit is reviewing a book entitled Remaining a Muslim in the Digital Age, by Nazife Şişman, “one of the intellectuals of the Islamic world.” Ertit expresses astonishment at how secular the book is (and by extension, how right his long-held argument has been). Apparently, Şişman’s main sources are “names like Zygmunt Bauman, George Ritzer, Michel Foucault, Jean Baudrillard, [and] Zeynep Tüfekçi.” It sounds like she takes their theoretical frameworks, looks at social media addiction and privacy concerns, advises some standard digital hygiene, slaps on some Islamic vocabulary and symbolism, and that’s it.
Although the book claims to “explain how to become a Muslim,” if the title of the book was changed to “Becoming a Christian/Muslim in the Digital Age,” it could be published verbatim with only 5-6 paragraphs removed or changed. Because an Alevi, atheist, Shaman, Christian, deist, etc. who is not a Sunni Muslim, just like Şişman, may be disturbed by the lifestyle criticized in the book.
It goes to show you that Islamists are increasingly finding it difficult to define their distinctiveness.
It made me think of the below excerpt from an interview with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. This is from one of a group of right-wing journalists who sat down with Orbán for a long discussion, mostly about the culture war in the West today:
"The best hope today is the Orthodox," he [Orbán] said. "They are not arguing, but believing. We [Protestants and Catholics] are arguing all the time."
Orbán went on to call Orthodox Christians "the most important reserve" for Christians in the West to regain their religious footing. (Later, I asked the prime minister, "Did you know that I'm Orthodox?" His eyes widened. "You are? I thought you were Catholic!")
It struck me because you could see that religious denominations for these people aren’t really about a more or less genuinely held doctrinal differences. They’re about a brand one takes on. Orthodox Christianity is tough, (like Islam, Orbán might suggest), while Protestants and Catholics are wishy-washy liberals. The doctrinal differences aren’t worth taking all that seriously. That’s also why all the Eastern European diplomats in Ankara are so impressed by Erdoğan.
Muharrem İnce on Teke Tek with Fatih Altaylı
This was a long interview with dark horse presidential candidate Muharrem İnce, who’s becoming increasingly important in the election.
A few words about the man before I jump into the interview.
İnce is a longtime CHP MP and challenged Kılıçdaroğlu multiple times for the chairmanship. Kılıçdaroğlu kept beating him because he has a strong grip on the party, but probably recognized that İnce was the superior retail politician. In 2018, he put İnce up as the CHP’s presidential candidate. İnce got 30.6% to Erdoğan’s 52.6%, which ended things in the first round. What people remember about that night is İnce’s collapse. He had promised that he wouldn’t rest until he made sure that the count was conducted fairly, but that night, he mysteriously disappeared. The only message the public got from him was a text he sent to a journalist saying “the man has won.” The talk at the time was that once he realized that he had lost, İnce hit the rakı bottle. This was in line with his reputation for boozing and womanizing, so it made it look like the whole presidential campaign was just an act.
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