For this trip I brought along reading that might give me some acquaintance with Turkey and its culture and history. This meant including a novel by the Nobel Prize author, Orhan Pamuk, who has set most of his stories in Turkey or the Ottoman Empire. I also brought along a book about Turkey’s political predecessor, the Ottoman Empire, just to get an overview of that regime. And because I wanted to consider the character of contemporary Islam, and because I have wanted to read the book for some time, I included in my bags Azar Nafisi’s Reading Lolita in Tehran. I trust any readers of Turkish descent will not take offense that somehow I have equated Turkey with Iran. I brought along Nafisi precisely to see the difference between Turkey, a secular state that is demographically Muslim, and Iran, a republic ruled by Muslims. (In this sense, the U.S. is closer to Turkey than to Iran — a secular state that is demographically Christian.)
While reading these books I can’t help but notice parallels between political Islam and those Reformed Protestants who most emphasize the antithesis – to the point where it goes all the way down to every square inch. Pamuk’s novel, Snow, is all about the tension and sometimes conflict between radical Muslims who hate the West (i.e. Europe) for its its secularity and therefore its rejection of God. The following is an exchange from the novel between a Turkish official and a proponent of political Islam:
. . . because I happen to be a free man who can do as he pleases, I sometimes end up getting on a bus and traveling to the other end of Turkey to track down the perpetrator, wherever he is, and have it out with him face-to-face. So please, sir, answer my question. What’s more important, a decree from Ankara or a decree from God?
– This discussion is going nowhere, son. What hotel are you staying at?
– What, are you thinking of turning me int to the police? Don’t be afraid of me, sir. I don’t belong to any religious organizations. I despise terrorism. I believe in the love of God and the free exchange of ideas. That’s why I never end a free exchange of ideas by hitting anyone, even though I have a quick temper. Al I want is for you to answer this question. So please excuse me, sir, but when you think about the cruel way you treated those poor girls in front of your institute – when you remember that these girls were only obeying the word of God as set out so clearly in the Confederate Tribe and Heavenly Light chapters of the Holy Koran – doesn’t your conscience trouble you at all?
– My son, the Koran also says that thieves should have their hands chopped off, but the state doesn’t do that. Why aren’t you opposing this?
– That’s an excellent answer, sir. Allow me to kiss your hand. But how can you equate the hand of a thief with the honor of our women? According to statistics released by the American Black Muslim professor, Marvin King, the incidence of rape in Islamic countries where women cover themselves is so low as to be nonexistent and harassment is virtually unheard of. This is because a woman who has covered herself is making a statement. Through her choice of clothing, she is saying, Don’t harass me. So please, sir, do you really want to push our covered women to the margins of society by denying them the right to an education? If we continue to worship women who take off their head scarves (and just about everything else too), don’t we run the risk of degrading them as we have seen so many women in Europe degraded in the wake of the sexual revolution? And if we succeed in degrading our women, aren’t we also running the risk of – pardon my language – turning ourselves into pimps?
Of course, radical American Calvinists who detest what the West does to male and female relations and roles, don’t advocate that women wear scarves. But they do insist on female subordination to men, and some also speak favorably of Old Testament penalties being carried over to places like sixteenth-century Geneva. Why I have had exchanges in the blogosphere that resemble this one. A theonomist brings up the death penalty for adultery. I respond by mentioning that the state does not outlaw blasphemy and idolatry, a situation that works well for theonomist’s Roman Catholic or Mormon neighbors. But rather than trying to kiss my hand, this theonomist interprets my response as a form of infidelity, as if I don’t love the Lord.
Thankfully, political Christianity in the United States has imbibed enough of the West and its differentiation between religion and politics not to try to enforce their religious convictions with physical violence or political treason. The worst they do is defame other Christians and excoriate certain public officials — always in the name of God and his law.
As welcome as the pacifism of political Christianity in the United States is, I do wonder if the Calvinists who hate secularism and its cultural consequences ever ponder their resemblances to political Islam. (Not to wind up the neo-Calvinists too much, but have they ever considered how intoleranttheir views of the French Revolution and political liberalism are.) Of course, Islam is not wrong simply because of its political embodiments like those in Iran. It could be that Christians should imitate regimes like Iran with imprisonment and execution of political dissidents and intolerance of deviations from orthodox practices. But since Jesus and his apostles left no traces of the political profile exhibited either by Joshua, David, or Mohammad, it could be that Christians pining for a regime that enforces their faith and practice is actually an alien notion among Christ’s followers. To prove the point, just imagine the Baptist Republic of South Carolina where Presbyterians are forced to dunk their adolescent children and Episcopalian men are required to wear white patent leather shoes.