Modernization, Democracy, and Islam

By Shireen T. Hunter; Huma Malik | Go to book overview
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A Secular Democracy in the Muslim
World: The Turkish Model

Binnaz Toprak

The question is often asked whether Turkey as a secular democracy can be a model for other Muslim states. The Turkish example raises the question of why Turkey has partially succeeded in establishing a functioning democracy while other Muslim states have so far failed. The answers to these questions have policy relevance for all parties interested in modernization and democratization in the Muslim world.

The Turkish experience is of interest because it challenges the view that the structural changes and historical processes that contributed to modernity and democracy in the West and elsewhere are not relevant to Muslim countries, and that in the case of Muslims, these should be replaced by the "explanatory" variable of culture. The possibility that the Turkish experience can be repeated in other Muslim countries can be meaningfully analyzed only if one goes beyond reductionist theories, as exemplified by Samuel Huntington's thesis on the clash of civilizations.1 Indeed, recent research contradicts Huntington's thesis that the dividing line between Islamic and Western publics is about attitudes toward democracy. Evidence from surveys covering more than 80 percent of the world's population shows that the majority of Muslims throughout the globe support democratic forms of government. Exceptions are found in attitudes toward gender equality and sexual liberalization,2 topics of major importance. (See Chapter 7 by Valentine Moghadam in this volume.) Despite these findings, the culturalist thesis has dominated discussions on the resistance to democratization in Muslim societies.

The thesis of this chapter is that development and democratization depend on a combination of historical processes and the choices made by political actors. The Turkish road to modernity evolved from initial attempts at modernization also taken by other Muslim countries. However, Turkey later took a different


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