Secularism’s universality claim as a Western narrative - YASIN AKTAY

Secularism’s universality claim as a Western narrative

One of the most important characteristics describing the post-modern world is that great causes, stories, meta-narratives in which people would believe for the sake of which they would become mobilized in masses would become void. These meta-narratives, which played a major role in freedom, equality, socialism, enlightenment, justice, et cetera in the history of the 19th and 20th centuries, are going to end and people were going to be left with more local, more micro-level and extremely multiplied narratives.

This, of course, was not what the post-modernists idealized or desired; it was a determination of the situation. However, it must have come far too hastly even as a determination of the situation, because it does not seem that humanity’s history of adopting new idols for itself will end so easily. Meta-narratives are, after all, the natural results of the urge to build inherent virtual realities in human nature and encourage people to believe these. The history of humans making their own idols and finding people to believe in them does not end as long as humankind exists.

Western hegemony’s narrative of “bringing democracy” to the underdeveloped regions wailing under dictatorships for the sake of continuing its own narrative in more post-modern periods continued more effectively for some time. Was “democracy” not brought to Afghanistan and Iraq for the sake of this great narrative? No argument was made to persuade people into believing this great new narrative. In the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, the U.S. and its allies were able to convince people into believing any sort of narrative.

Let us accept that nobody adequately questioned how the U.S. and its allies that sowed the seeds of democracy in Iraq reaped terrorism in the very same country. Subsequently, the so-called “Islamic terrorism,” on which the U.S. and the entire Western alliance based their security narrative, kept emerging in places where they supposedly brought democracy and allowed them the legitimacy they needed to justify their own wars. Of course, it should also be recognized that this legitimacy or the plausibility of their great narrative is directly related to the power to establish an imposition.

One of the greatest narratives that indicate this physical force is perhaps the secularization narrative. Secularism is one of the West’s most important components with respect to which the current day world identifies itself and on which it bases its universality claims. While secularism is a concept that is associated with the West, it is also anti-Islam.

Hence, as progress is made in secularization as a universal value, the acceptance that the absolute victory of Western hegemony, in other words, modernism is approached step by step like a proposition ingrained in memories. In his well-known book titled, “Türkiye’de Çağdaşlaşma” (Modernization in Turkey), it is known that Niyazi Berkes confounds modernity with Westernization in the mental and institutional sense, and that in the same sense as secularization.

In response to this, all manifestations, reflections, symbols that recall Islam and bring it to the agenda are portrayed as an objection to secularization which claims universality, a temporary exception and a scandal.

According to Salman Sayyid’s analyses, there is another sub-discourse to which secularization discourses resort with respect to breaking this resistance, and that is to bring to the fore from within Islam, actions, thoughts and trends parallel with secularism similar to those from other cultures that can display similar resistances. Thus, though it belongs to the West in terms of its essence, it is the embracing of secularism’s universality claim.

Hence, even though it may be via the reprehension of some Muslims in the name of Muslims’ secularization, the discourses brought forth support these claims: universalizing secularism to the extent that it can manifest in Islam or among Muslims.

Yet, the most striking claim of secularism as one of the most powerful narratives of Western hegemony is the claim of universality. As efforts have been made to prove this universality claim by showing that it can exist in all corners of the world and in every culture, it is also presented as the final point in the line of evolution which all of humanity will eventually reach. Therefore, even Muslims, who appear today to be an obstacle standing in the way of this destined path of evolution, will eventually secularize.

Renowned philosopher Charles Taylor’s book, “A Secular Age”, which was published in 2007 and received the Templeton prize, in great loyalty to this narrative, attempts to show how they found the secular mind that is inherent in all cultures and faiths worldwide. As a matter of fact, Taylor may even be considered a religious Catholic who has devoted all his works to building a cultured, peaceful world. However, the universality narrative of this secularization for which he too served to spread with all his philosophical might becomes an example of the narratives that the post-modernists believe are ancient relics of the past.

Dealing with this narrative is an important step in the pursuit of the establishment of the Muslim subjectivity which Salman Sayyid attempted in “Recalling the Caliphate.”

Perhaps we can try to shatter this narrative with a few philosophical questions. For example, is the realization that the traces of secularization are embedded in the oldest times a sign of its universality or that it is an utmost archaic attitude?

Or does the fact that there are tendencies aimed at this thought or attitude in all of the world’s cultures show that it is a combination that pits individuals against others, preventing them from uniting rather than showing its universality? Let us move on from this.

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