The Turkish media (including Zaman and Anadolu Agency) carry accounts of a fascinating exchange yesterday in Chicago, at the Academy of Achievement. The panelists included former Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak, Bernard Lewis of Princeton University, Congresswoman Jane Harman (Democrat of California), and Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Chris Matthews of MSNBC moderated. The actor James Earl Jones gave a Golden Plate award to the prime minister.
Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his wife Emine.
Such a definition saddens not only the Muslims, but also those who believe in other religions. No religion permits terrorism. Therefore, it is very ugly to put the word Islam before terrorism. You may say religious terrorist but you can't say Islamic terrorist.
Reacting to the term, "moderate Islam," Erdoğan stated,
Turkey is not a country where moderate Islam prevails. This expression is wrong. The word Islam is uninflected, it is only Islam. If you say moderate Islam, then an alternative is created, and that is immoderate Islam. As a Muslim, I can't accept such a concept. Islam rejects extreme concepts. I am not an extreme Muslim. We are Muslims who have found a middle road.
When Matthews asked, "How do we define terror if we do not say terror is Islamic?" Erdoğan replied: "Terror is not a reason. However, can we endeavor to remove the reasons of terror? The U.S. entry into Baghdad does not solve the problem." Erdoğan also said that terrorism did not have any religion, language, race or country.
Comments: (1) Ironically, Erdoğan validates the anti-Islam crowd's view that there is only one kind of Islam, the Islamist variant. These two groups form a nice little alliance against we in the middle who argue that Islam is what Muslims make of it.
(2) Martin Kramer dismisses Erdoğan's comment about Islamic terrorism as "utter nonsense," which it is. And it is nonsense with a purpose; what Erdoğan said represents the standard verbal deception that Islamists routinely engage in, hiding their radical utopianism behind the integrity of the Islamic religion. (For a Western analogy, think of Communists who hid behind the label of socialist.)
(3) This performance amounts to yet another proof – if more is still needed – of Erdoğan's Islamist outlook. Only, it came out more clearly in Chicago than it usually does in Ankara. (June 14, 2004)
April 22, 2005 update: In a variant objection, Yiğit Alpoğan, head of Turkey's influential National Security Council (MGK), which has in one form or other for over eighty years represented the Turkish military's political interests, restated the government's dislike to the term "moderate Islam." He emphasizes instead the secular nature of the Turkish state. "Foreigners' messages that we are a moderate Islamic country and that as such we could be an example to other Muslim countries is a view that we dismiss and reject every time we hear it." The implications of Alpoğan's protest are diametrically opposite to those of Erdoğan. The Turkish Daily News note that moderate Islam is a term "detested by Turkish officials, particularly top military commanders, ever since the United States once used it to promote Turkey as a model to other Muslim countries in the Middle East."
April 26, 2005 update: Erdoğan today corrected Australia's Prime Minister John Howard and elaborated on his Chicago rebuke. Howard commented that "Countries where moderate Islam exists, as in Turkey and Indonesia, could help end terror," to which Erdoğan protested that
Moderate Islam is a term open for discussion. I would like to correct this. There is no need to place a new term before or after Islam. Islam means peace. Therefore, Islam refuses all radicalism. Islam is against all forms of fanaticism. According to Islamic teachings, the murder of one equals the murder of all globally. We do not need the term moderate Islam to explain the true spirit of Islam,' told Erdogan. … Terms like Islamic terror and Islam's terror are wrong. Such an attitude towards other religions is also wrong and unacceptable. No religion can tolerate terror. Just as we can not talk about Christian terrorism or Jewish terrorism, we can not talk about Islamic terror. Some terrorists may come up from certain Muslim, Christian or Jewish groups. Yet, we can not hold a whole religion responsible for the acts of a few individuals. This hurts honest and devoted people and is wrong. This is what the terrorists are striving for.
In response to this assault, Howard diplomatically clarified that by moderate Islam he actually meant real Islam.
Sep. 15, 2006 update: Malaysia's former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad echoes Erdoğan in stating that "There is no such thing as a moderate Muslim. We are fundamentalists in Malaysia. We follow the true teachings of the religion and the true teachings do not teach us to bomb and kill people without reason."
Feb. 25, 2006 update: Mohamad takes another crack at the same topic, telling Muslims that they should not defend themselves as moderate or liberal Muslims. This suggests they are only partial followers of Islamic teachings while other teachings are deemed extreme. "Islam is already a moderate religion ... there is no need for us to show that were are more liberal Muslims than others. We are Muslims...period." If some Muslims are extremists, it is not because of the teachings of Islam but due to a lack of understanding or to the religion being manipulated by irresponsible followers. "There is nothing extreme about Islam if we follow its teachings as contained in the Quran," he said.
May 15, 2007 update: Erdoğan responded to massive secularist marches on the streets of Turkey by arguing that religion and secularism are not in conflict. "It would be a mistake to pit secularism against Islam. I am a secularist, in the sense that I am defending a secular state." He also observed that the demonstrators carried banners "No to a military coup, no to Sharia law," and indicated that his government fully shares those views.
Aug. 21, 2007 update: Erdoğan on the term "moderate Islam," often used in the West to describe his AK Party: "These descriptions are very ugly, it is offensive and an insult to our religion. There is no moderate or immoderate Islam. Islam is Islam and that's it."
June 5, 2008 update: The Turkish army chief of staff, upholder of the Atatürkist tradition, agrees with Erdoğan. Yaşar Büyükanıt rejects any reference to "moderate Islam" concerning Turkey. "How do we define the U.S.? Shall we call it Christian? This is not possible. ... There are certain circles that want to add the title of 'moderate Islam' to the Republic of Turkey. The source of such a title does not come from within Turkey but foreign circles."
Apr. 6, 2009 update: Speaking on the "Alliance of Civilizations and Turkey's role" at the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies on April 2, Erdoğan again rejected the idea that Turkey represents moderate Islam. "It is unacceptable for us to agree with such a definition. Turkey has never been a country to represent such a concept. Moreover, Islam cannot be classified as moderate or not."
Aug. 31, 2014 update: Anjam Choudary, possibly the UK's most radical Islamist, had an exchange with Brian Stelter on CNN:
Choudary: There is no such thing as a radical or moderate form of Islam. You know, a woman is either pregnant or not pregnant. If you abide by Islam, and you follow what is in the Koran and the traditions of the prophet — then, quite frankly, you'd never find anything that I say which does not have Islamic basis.
Stelter: So many Muslims would reject what you just said, and say that you are warping your religion for terrible purposes.
Choudary: You'll find that those people who differ from me believe in secularism, freedom — maybe they're being paid by the government to say what they say.
Stelter: Now you're just making up stuff!
Choudary: No, that is not true all. I've been propagating Islam, and I've met most of the leaders of the Muslim community, so I know what's out there. If you go to Muslims who are actually practicing Islam…you'll find that they say the exact same thing as me. Because I'm not calling for leadership for individuals, I'm calling for leadership for Islam.
By the way, the interview ended when Stelter noted how Choudary had responded to the audio engineer's request to count to ten to check the sound level, "and you started to do that – but then you said 9/11, 7/7, 3/11. Is this all some sort of joke to you?" Chouday told Stelter to get "a sense of humor" and laugh at what was just a soundcheck.