Moderating backwardness?
"For everything in this world, for civilization, for life, for success, the truest guide is knowledge and science. To seek a guide other than knowledge and science is a mark of heedlessness, ignorance, and aberration."

-- Mustafa Kemal Ataturk

I have a question. Would Mustafa Kemal Ataturk be considered a moderate Muslim?

Or not a Muslim at all? He's been called an atheist, and in this biography he's called a "nominal Muslim" who accomplished great reforms, abolished the Caliphate, and brought Turkey into the 20th Century:

On October 29, 1923, mostly by Kemal’s engineering, the provisional government in Ankara created the official Republic of Turkey. Kemal immediately began his long-dreamed-of program of modernization. Against the resistance of conservative elements of the government, he implemented many reforms from his place of power as President. First of all, he abolished the Caliphate – the office of the head of the Muslim religion – as unfitting for a modern republic. He introduced a new alphabet, switching from an Arabic system to a Roman system. The legal system was completely reworked, giving full rights to all citizens and eliminating Islamic law. To modernize the culture, he forbade the wearing of the traditional Turkish hat, the fez, and did not allow women to cover their heads in Islamic fashion while in the Parliament building.
By recognizing the backwardness inherent in an Islamic government, did Ataturk become "un-Islamic"? [To say nothing of Nasser or Sadat, and the resultant malignant rise of Qutb....]

Was he right? Might Ataturk's secularization of the state account for Turkey's success? If it does, what are the implications? Is "moderate Islam" an individual thing or a government thing?

Or am I engaged in "Western arrogance" by daring to cite Ataturk's successful model?

(The answers aren't exactly staring at me.)

posted by Eric on 09.29.06 at 09:47 AM


I think Ataturk's most important reforms regarded the liberation of women. Requiring women to remove their hats in Parliament was small potatoes compared to his other reforms. Ataturk banned harems and polygamy and gave women educational opportunties equal to those of men. That was pretty daring stuff in the Muslim world in the 1920s.

Chocolatier   ·  September 29, 2006 2:38 PM

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