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Iconoclastic commentator Ann Coulter once made headlines by suggesting that “(America) should invade (Islamic) countries, kill their leaders and convert the people to Christianity.”
Her idea – if it was really an idea – was promptly laughed out of court, as well as being branded an example of a corresponding American ‘fundamentalism’ by the apologist Left. I can’t really argue with that response. If an operation such as Coulter proposed were in any way feasible (or affordable) it would surely be the most worthwhile and benevolent action by a nation in human history. Sadly, it isn’t feasible, nor is it affordable.
Despite that, the idea that a Muslim country can be de-Islamised is not political science-fiction. There are isolated examples which may allow for it, owing to unique historic factors and local ethnic aspirations. I am frequently presented with the idea that Iran (Persia), Egypt, and Syria all have ancient identities which precede the Islamisation of their territories by Abu Bakr and his marauding armies, and for which they might be willing (if presented with the right amount of Western encouragement) to trade their rotten Islamic present. How might this be achieved?
The most notable case of a country attempting to rid itself of the strictures of Islamic doctrine is that of Turkey in the time of Ataturk. Although rarely explicit, Ataturk had little affection for the Islamic religion (or at least its social application) and his bold, sweeping reforms severely curtailed the faith in Turkish society. Ataturk (and his supporters) wanted a secular, Westernised Turkey; one that would bare little to no resemblance to the Ottoman Empire – with all its fanaticism and slovenly Eastern habits. The reforms so implemented were successful and would go on to secularise and partially Europeanise the Republic for over 60 years, before being rapidly reversed by the AKP party of Tacip Erdogan, a self-confessed Islamist and dedicated Sunni.
Turkey’s experiment with modernity was destined to fail all along. Despite their genuine desire to Westernise, the Turks remained overwhelmingly Muslim in allegiance, having Islamic funerals for the dead, Islamic rituals for the young and a large Crescent despoiling the national flag. Turkey did not de-Islamise because there was never an intention of de-Islamising.
A comparable experiment in Westernisation took place in Iran before the revolution. Backed by American and British leaders and inspired by the example of Ataturk, the authoritarian ‘Shah’ Reza Pahlavi enacted massive social reforms aimed at liberalising and modernising Persian society. In the urban elites this was a roaring success. Young middle and upper class urbanites fully adopted the freedoms of the modern world, celebrating the diminishment of Islamic authority. The descendants of these people are now largely living in the West, having fled the country after the Islamic uprising of 1979.
Why did that uprising occur? For many reasons, but one of the most essential is that a nation is not its elite. Working and lower-middle class Iranians (especially those from impoverished backgrounds) were not ready for such rapid change. When the rabble-rousing populists of revolution appeared, they thus found a sizable number of henchmen willing to topple the ‘arrogant’ pro-Western elite. The rest is history.
These days, the Iranian diaspora (descendants of the Iranian upper classes) assures the West that the next attempt at Westernisation will succeed. They may be right, they may be wrong. It will be a while before we can know one way or the other.
In Egypt, Lebanon, Tunisia, Syria and Algeria, the middle and upper classes are also secular. They too dream of civilising their respective countries; that is, bring the general population up to their own level of personal development. Yet as with Iran, the majority of Egyptians (excepting Christians), Lebanese (excepting Christians), Tunisians and Syrians are uneducated, jobless, illiterate, and supremely devout in their attachment to Islamic consolations. The elite can wish away the days and months, but nothing will change without a long, difficult and expensive process of public education and social reform.
De-Islamisation (of countries, societies, races) is not an impossible prospect. It may happen at some point in the future. But at the moment it is simply utopian, and as likely as the elimination of tradition from any nation, Islamic or otherwise.