Secularism has become the hallmark not only of our political order but also of the rationality, tolerance and humanity of modern man. Today it stands for all that distinguishes reason from fanaticism, enlightened governance from theocratic terror, civilisation from barbarity. Those not bemused by the ideological hype of our times, however, are apt to conceive of secularism as the cult of Mammon, the regime of the global market that kneels before neither God nor Caesar. We need not forget that the initial sign of the secularist will-to-power was its fervour ‘to rob God to pay Caesar’, to confiscate church property and transfer it to the crown. Later, this project required the rejection of all forms of authority, whether institutional and material or metaphysical and mental, that would confine politics to the realm of instrumentality and legitimise, or merely tolerate, the state because of its pursuit of ultimate goals. The political regime, or the state, secularists now insisted, must be sovereign, and statecraft regulated only by the constraints of power and history. Ironically, all visions of historical order informed by the God-Caesar imagery and the institutional set-up that formalised it appear dated and defunct today. For, despite the centrality of the ‘war on terror’ for Pax Americana, the cunning of history has rendered both God and Caesar redundant for the constitution of the globalised raj that we all are subjects of. Though the church was defeated and the state did enjoy a short period of hegemony, today the church has no vision of politics and the state does not exercise self-rule: its sovereignty has been drastically curtailed by the forces of global capitalism. Both God and Caesar, to continue our metaphor, have been outflanked by Mammon.
Books mentioned in this review
Turkey, Islam, Nationalism, and Modernity. Carter Vaughn Findley. Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2010. pp. 527.
Passive Revolution: Absorbing the Islamic Challenge to Capitalism. Cihan Tugal. Stanford University Press, 2009. pp. 320.
Globalization and Islamism: Beyond Fundamentalism. Nevzat Soguk. Row-man & Littlefield Publishers, 2010. pp. 246.
Secularism and State Policies toward Religion:The United States, France, and Turkey. Ahmet T. Kuru. Cambridge University Press, 2009. pp. 334.
The New Cultural Climate in Turkey: Living in a Shop Window. Nurdan Gurbilek. Zed Books, London, 2011. pp 128.
The Long Divergence: How Islamic Law Held Back the Middle East. Timur Kuran. Princeton University Press, 2010. pp. 424. IS.