The Chirol Plan in Action

Two years ago, I discussed the spread of radical Islam by Saudia Arabia and proposed countering the well funded extremist influence with a more moderate and modern version of Islam, namely that of Turkey. Here’s a short version of what I said:

With countries like Saudi Arabia and Pakistan fostering and spreading radicalism through out their respective regions and the world, and Saudi Arabia having almost infinite resources to do so, radicalism can’t help but spread despite our best efforts in the War on Terror. Though occasions such as the Tsunami in Asia and the more recent earthquake in Pakistan have given the US opportunities to bolster its image in the Muslim world (though it would have responded with aid and asisstance anyway), they are merely bandaids which help in the short term and do little to counter future terrorism. A simple lesson from the news is that bad news sells. Similarly, the image of poor Pakistanis receiving medical care from US soldiers won’t last as long as images of dead Iraqis or tortured prisoners (or even silly cartoons!).

I also noted that the US, Europe and Turkey itself would all benefit in a variety of ways from an outreach program by Turkey. Among other things, it would soften and improve Turkey’s image in the West while extending its influence eastwards by promoting itself as a beacon of hope in such a troubled region. It would help Turkey take on a greater leadership role and give Muslims everywhere a taste of what their countries could be like. Turkey, it seems, was listening (or rather, beat me to it).

Praying in Pakistan has not been easy for Mesut Kacmaz, a Muslim teacher from Turkey. He tried the mosque near his house, but it had Israeli and Danish flags painted on the floor for people to step on. The mosque near where he works warned him never to return wearing a tie. Pakistanis everywhere assume he is not Muslim because he has no beard. “Kill, fight, shoot,” Mr. Kacmaz said. “This is a misinterpretation of Islam.”

But that view is common in Pakistan, a frontier land for the future of Islam, where schools, nourished by Saudi and American money dating back to the 1980s, have spread Islamic radicalism through the poorest parts of society. With a literacy rate of just 50 percent and a public school system near collapse, the country is particularly vulnerable.

Mr. Kacmaz is part of a group of Turkish educators who have come to this battleground with an entirely different vision of Islam. Theirs is moderate and flexible, comfortably coexisting with the West while remaining distinct from it. Like Muslim Peace Corps volunteers, they promote this approach in schools, which are now established in more than 80 countries, Muslim and Christian.

[...] The Turkish schools, which have expanded to seven cities in Pakistan since the first one opened a decade ago, cannot transform the country on their own. But they offer an alternative approach that could help reduce the influence of Islamic extremists.

They prescribe a strong Western curriculum, with courses, taught in English, from math and science to English literature and Shakespeare. They do not teach religion beyond the one class in Islamic studies that is required by the state. Unlike British-style private schools, however, they encourage Islam in their dormitories, where teachers set examples in lifestyle and prayer. “Whatever the West has of science, let our kids have it,” said Erkam Aytav, a Turk who works in the new schools. “But let our kids have their religion as well.”

Read the rest here at the NYT and read more about Fethullah Gülen, who started and runs this chain of schools at his website here.

About Chirol

Sir Ignatius Valentine Chirol (1852 - 1929) was a journalist, prolific author, world historian, and British diplomat. He began his career as a foreign correspondent and later became editor of the London Times. After two decades as a journalist he joined Her Majesty's Foreign Ministry as a diplomat and was subsequently knighted for his distinguished service as a foreign affairs advisor. Additionally, he wrote a dozen books on foreign affairs including The Far Eastern Question (1896), Serbia and the Serbs (1914), The End of the Ottoman Empire (1920) and The Egyptian Problem (1921). He is generally credited with popularizing "Middle East" in reference to the Arabian Peninsula with his book The Middle Eastern Question (1903). "Chirol" is a US citizen and graduate student studying Defense and Strategic Studies and government contractor. As with the historical Chirol, he has traveled to over two dozen countries and lived abroad for many years. Chirol speaks English and German fluently with basic knowledge of manyl of others.
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3 Responses to The Chirol Plan in Action

  1. The Fethullacilar Turkish schools in post-Soviet Central Asia are excellent. However, they are relatively few and end up catering to the elite. Still a decent model though, as the article said.

  2. Jing says:

    Spreading “moderate” Islam is simply a foolish idea dreamt up by well-wishers detached from reality. Any socio-political movement that even hints of being backed by the “Great Satan” is going to go nowhere in the middle east. Propping up moderate clerics against fundamentalist clerics is like asking sheep to fight wolves. There is a reason that radicals are strong; it is because they are driven, passionate, and hold moderates in contempt.

    I believe all religious revivalist movements eventually reach an apogee and then peter out. The reason that fundamentalist Islam survives for so long is that they have seized the organs of the state and continue to propogate themselves through state power. If there is anything that can be learned from history ever since Jacobin France is that Revolutions eventually eat their own. People eventually get tired of the myriad restrictions on everyday freedom. If you want to speed along the decline of Islamic fundamentalism, I would argue that the best way is to actually speed it along. People want Sharia? Allow them to have a taste of the harshest Sharia practices. Eventually they will reject such religiosity, but only as long as the democratic institutions remain in place where a Sharia government can be removed.

  3. Curzon says:

    Jing, you’re being aggressively dismissive of Turkey’s efforts. All radical movements are doomed without pragmatic solutions. Supporting an alternative such as Turkey, which has a track record, and which is a model ready for adoption by any government when the radicals fail, is to be encouraged. And this is far more effective than the US wasting money on sending Karen Hughes to engage in so-called public diplomacy in the Middle East.