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.”