Published Humanitas, Volume XIX, Nos. 1 and 2, 2006

“You know, I’ve had enough of big ideas.”

Whether due to Western-style schemes of “development,” Marxism, nationalism, secularism, or Islamism, the Islamic world has suffered its share of ideological activism. What these ideologies share is a “big idea,” or ideology, that purports to transform the Islamic world into a modern post-industrial economy, Marxist utopia, collection of nations, liberal democracy, and caliphate, respectively. Today, Muslims find themselves torn between some version of secularism that wishes to remove “irrational” Islam from public life, and an Islamism that wishes to direct the totalizing political control of Islam into all facets of public and private life. Things are more complicated in Iran, where one finds an unpopular clerical establishment confronted by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s millenarian faith in the return of the Twelfth Imam. In Turkey, a Turkish prosecutor, with the support of Islamists and secular nationalists, charged its top novelist, Orhan Pamuk, who later would win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2006, with defaming the Turkish nation for comments he made about Turkey’s historic mistreatment of Kurds and Armenians; the charges were subsequently dropped.

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