Turkey, Pakistan Public Oppose Bigger Islam Role

Article excerpt

Byline: David R. Sands, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Turkey and Pakistan, two influential Muslim states, have seen massive public demonstrations in recent days in which huge crowds protested that Islam was playing too big a role in public affairs.

In Karachi, Pakistan's largest city, an estimated 100,000 people took to the streets Sunday to protest plans by an influential mosque to run a "Taliban-style" anti-vice campaign in the capital city of Islamabad.

A day earlier, some 500,000 Turks staged a rally in Ankara urging Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a former Islamist and head of the moderate Muslim ruling party, not to run for president, traditionally a secular and nonpartisan post.

The twin rallies come at a time of intense debate over the ability of moderate Muslims across the Islamic world to challenge more radical, anti-Western voices. The Bush administration has made a major push in its public diplomacy to encourage moderate Muslim voices across the greater Middle East.

"This weekend, for the first time in a long time, we've seen people power in action on the streets in Turkey," said Zeyno Baran, director of the Center for Eurasian Policy at the Hudson Institute and a specialist on Turkish politics.

Moderates in Turkey, an overwhelmingly Muslim country, had been "fairly passive" in the past in defending the country's institutions from religious forces, Ms. Baran said. They have relied on the country's staunchly secular military to defend the secular character of the country's laws and leading institutions.

While a number of leading Muslim figures have spoken out against Islamist militants and jihadist terror networks like al Qaeda, an extensive new study by the Rand Corp. released last month found that extremists have dominated the public debate in recent years.

"By and large, radicals .. have been successful in intimidating, marginalizing or silencing moderate Muslims - those who share the key dimensions of democratic culture - to varying degrees," the study found.

The Rand authors stated that radical forces not only use violence to cow more-moderate rivals, but they generally are better funded and organized, often with links to extremist forces in other Islamic countries.

"This asymmetry in resources and organization explains why radicals, a small minority in almost all Muslim countries, have influence disproportionate to their numbers," the authors stated. …