Conference Discusses Islam's Role In Democracy
Published: Sunday, March 18, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 18:01
Boston College hosted an all-day conference to take a close look at the role Turkey and Islam play in democracy. The conference, called “Islam and Democracy: A Closer Look at the Turkish Model,” consisted of three panel discussions and a keynote address by Scott Alexander, the director of the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago.
The first panel of the day focused on the relationship between politics and Islam in Turkey and featured insights from Berna Turam of Northeastern University and Ahmet Kuru of San Diego State University.
The second panel, with Jonathan Laurence, an associate professor at BC’s political science department, and Ahmet Yukleyen, an assistant professor of Leadership Studies at the University of Richmond, discussed the political and religious situation of Islamic Turks living in Europe. The panel highlighted the various cultural facets of issues related to Muslims living abroad, such as the Turkish government’s desire to continue to regulate citizens and foreign government’s struggles to assimilate Muslim immigrants. Laurence characterized this as the conflicts between Europeanization and maintaining Turkishness.
“There has been a paradigm shift within Turkish strategy,” Laurence said. “Instead of focusing on remittance or terrorism, it’s shifted to something more optimistic.”
He discussed the various ways in which the Turkish government has recently been working with other governments to reach out to its citizens living abroad, such as programs to train imams and send them to Islamic communities in need of a religious leader.
Despite this, the Turkish and European governments still struggle to represent and assimilate Turkish Muslims.
“It’s not about whether Islam in Europe and modernity are compatible,” Yukleyen said. “It’s more than that.”
According to him, the localization of Islam in Europe depends on which multicultural policies countries adopt, social activism in regards to communication and establishment of “neighborly relations,” and bridging and outreach between Muslims and other citizens.
“Young leadership is emerging,” Yukleyen said. “They want to be recognized as new leaders. Through activism, their understanding of Islam is adapting to democracy.”
Scott Alexander, director of the Catholic Theological Union, gave the keynote address. He focused on the varying Islamic reforms in Turkey and the ways in which these reforms are renewing people’s perception of the faith.
In the last panel of the day, Omer Taspinar, director of the Brookings Institution and National War College’s Turkey Project, and Joshua Walker, assistant professor at the Harvard Kennedy School’s International and Cross-Cultural Leadership Studies program, discussed Turkey’s impact on the Arab Spring.
The conference, which was part of the Islamic Civilizations and Society’s Distinguished Lecture Series, was hosted by The Islamic Civilizations and Societies program and Boise Center for Religion and American Public Life, both from BC, as well as a number of off-campus organizations, including the Peace Islands Institute, The Turkish Cultural Center Boston, and the Kokkalis Program at Harvard Kennedy School of Government.