Looking to the east: a different secularism than the West

Why Hagia Sophia, Turkey And The Charismatic Figure Of Erdogan Bristle With Resonances For India:

The Hagia Sophia reconversion ultimately points to the failure of the Kemalist project of top-down secularism. Much like the state secularism of nationalist authoritarian leaders in Egypt, Iran, Iraq etc had failed to lead to the secularisation of the wider society, it seems Turkey is no longer the exception it was long hoped to be. More fundamentally, the failing secularism of Turkey and India begs the question: is secularism even possible in non-Christian/non-Western societies? Without the Western experiences of Reformation and the Enlightenment, hard-fought victories as they were, can non-Western societies value the principles of freedom and secularism? Why is it that, unlike in the West where democratisation and secularism went hand in hand, greater democratisation has seemed to only bring religious chauvinism in India and Turkey?

Too often non-white intellectuals, in particular those from the Indian subcontinent and the Middle East, look only to Europe as their historical exemplars.

There is a legitimate argument that secularism in the Westphalian nation-state context, and using the model of the American republic, is the contingent outcome of the Reformation, and in particular Radical Protestant anti-state sentiment as well as Calvinist disenchantment with the world, and the sieve of the Enlightenment. But I don’t think this is what the author meant. Rather, I think the author is highlighting the importance of religious identity across the world.

In India and Islamic societies, your religion defines you in a very deep way. Religion and state have been deeply connected. The American and French models are objects of emulation but from a deeply alien tradition.

But these are not the only models and outcomes. China, Korea, and Japan are all societies where public religious identity is not nearly as important as it is in the Indian subcontinent and the world of Islam. I am not saying that people in East Asia are not religious or do not have supernatural beliefs. On the whole, they are less religious and more atheistic. But looking at religious affiliation numbers overstates this truth.

Rather, these are societies where religion does not dominate public political life because they have a particular history with organized religion which subordinates it to the political life of the society and nation.

Let me give three examples

– In the 9th century, the Tang dynasty expropriated property from Buddhist monasteries and defrocked monks and nuns. This is due to the fact that Buddhism was starting to become as powerful in China as the Catholic Church was to become in Europe.

– In the 15th century, the Joseon dynasty of Korea suppressed Buddhism in cities and drove the religion to the mountains. The percentage of Buddhists in Korea has actually increased in the 20th century for this reason.

– In the 16th century, Oda Nobunaga broke the power of Buddhist monasteries, in part by burning the down.

There is a history out there that is not European. Read some books.

47 thoughts on “Looking to the east: a different secularism than the West”

  1. i feel the cited author unnecessarily brings in modi, india etc. there was no need for this.

    1. Ataturk and Modi are poles apart. Very sad that Turkey is moving the Fundamental Rightist way. Erdogan is trying his utmost to undo what Ataturk and Inonu did to open up and modernise the country and put religion where it belongs….away from politics. Modi and Co are on reverse gear !

  2. https://scroll.in/article/967217/hagia-sophia-lacking-ideas-for-the-future-rulers-in-turkey-india-offer-comfort-in-idealised-pasts

    Hagia Sophia: Lacking ideas for the future, rulers in Turkey, India offer comfort in idealised pasts

    “The people who offer the namaz in Hagia Sophia next week as well as enthusiastic supporters of the Ayodhya ruling may regard the decision as allowing the shrine to make a justified switch back to those to whom it belongs. But where does this principle end?

    By the same logic that governs a lawful assignation of Hagia Sofia to mosquehood, do we let Pakistan get away with, should it want to, riding roughshod over the precious Harappan and Mohenjodaro heritage over which Indians have an equal civilisational claim? Should Buddhist viharas in Kanchipuram and Jain places of worship in Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Bihar (a state that draws its name from the word “vihar”) now be “handed back”? How much further can we dig to “restore” spaces to rightful owners and make that the centrepiece from which our ruling dispensations derive their authority?”

    1. Neither Pakistan nor India has civilization rights on Harappa and Mohenjo Daro, that civilization is dead thousand of years ago. If anything, the Aryans did the finishing touch. So stop being an idiot.

      1. Harappa and Mohenjadaro are on Pakistani territory. That makes them Pakistani. Hindutvadis have to learn to deal with this.

    2. Also, why go as far back as the Indus Valley Civilization? If “rightful claim” is decided by the religion of the creators than please let me know when Hindu Hriday Samrat plans to hand the Taj Mahal over to the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. After all, it is a sumpreme example of Indo-Islamic culture and has nothing whatsoever to do with Hinduism. It is literally a tomb for a Muslim queen.

      1. /Hindu Hriday Samrat/
        Only you have been building this straw man called hhs and gleefully shoot it down. No one here uses the term.

        1. “No one here uses this term”.

          Oh please this is what the man’s supporters have been calling him for years. Why are you offended when I use his proper title? Do you believe he is not the “Emperor of Hindu hearts”?

          1. /Do you believe he is not the “Emperor of Hindu hearts”?/
            Of course. There’s no such emperor, outside your Islamist echo chambers. Don’t setup straw man argument. Apart from you, no one here has used the term.

          2. It’s not “Islamists” who invented the term. It’s the man’s own supporters who call him by it.

            The point at contention is not that “no one here” has used it (yet) but that people who subcribe to Hindutva believe that that is his title.

            I’m sure Modi ji will be greatly hurt that you don’t think he’s Hindu Hriday Samrat! You’re a really confused Hindutvadi.

  3. The best part about Muslim journos in India is that they will use Muslim iniquities to tar Hindus and then ask them for concessions.

    Asim Ali’s (or any other standard template of secular-shaming) flaw lies in the omissions that fail to ask for the same “secularism” in the now Muslim-majority ex-state like Kashmir. The cross of secularism has to be borne by Hindus.

    A big part of the blame also lies with Hindus. They grandly deluded themselves for a long time that India was always secular. It never was. It was institutionally non-sectarian in the tradition of Adi Sankara. Now non-sectarianism and secularism are as far removed from each other as can be.

    Modern Hindus do not appreciate the power of non-sectarianism as they have never lived in an era where if you worshipped Shiva in a caste of Vaishnavites, then it was good bye to the whole familial support structure.

    This whole difference between secularism and non-sectarianism was lost to grandiloquent Nehruvian thinkers until they had to translate secularism to Hindi and other languages. The first word that came to mind was “Panthnirpekshtha”, which literally means “sect-neutral”. A king was supposed to act sect-neutral in his everyday dealings – which has indeed been the case for many millenia now.

    Now the Nehruvians, in their deracinated enlightenment, felt this word was odd (rightly so) and so created a new word for secularism – Dharmanirpekshtha. Now this meant Dharma-neutral. The cultural tone-deafness of this term is so fucking right through the roof, that they adopted it instantly. This is how secularism was sold to the masses. As time went on, this word caught a life of its own.

    Hindus have never been secular in the way it is being asked for by Indian muslims. Hindu/Jaina/Sikh/Buddhist rulers, thinkers and laymen have been protecting and upholding Dharma in the subcontinent for the longest time possible by doing whatever it takes and whatever it means. If this means denying exclusivist religions, then its shouldn’t be forestalled to force-fit some alien context.

    India’s youngest MP distils it thus,”Hindutva is the kinetic response of Hinduism to Abrahamic exclusion”

    1. We all know religious extremism is a problem in Pakistan thanks for General Zia’s Islamization. I totally stand with Khawaja Sahab.

      But you people really need to move beyond trolling Pakistan. Your own country is a Hindu majoritarian shithole.

      1. /problem in Pakistan thanks for General Zia’s Islamization/
        Zia is another red herring thrown by Pakistani “liberals ” to hide their own complicity and acquiescence in fundementalim . Zia is a logical step from Jinnah, both of them used Islam in Danger for political ends in their own ways.

        1. “Zia is a logical step from Jinnah”– this is a distorted reading of Pakistani history. For you Hindutvadis there can be no good Pakistani leader (seriously can you name one person you would prefer to lead Pakistan?)

          Qauid-e-Azam was a constitutional secularist as the August 11 speech shows (though it can be argued that it was too little too late). General Zia on the other hand brought in sharia law. Many of Pakistan’s problems today are a direct result of General Zia’s ideology.

          1. “seriously can you name one person you would prefer to lead Pakistan”

            I would say Nawaz Shariff. He reached out for talks, when he didn;t need to. Almost all other leaders who did, were coaxed by their circumstances ( Bhutto post 71, Benazir-in her exile, Mushraff-war on terror) . I think if not peace, he wanted some sort of modus operandi with India, which would have a made a workable relationship.

          2. Even Nawaz Sharif would never have given up on Occupied Kashmir. Especially since he is Kashmiri-Punjabi.

            But we are agreed on the Sharifs. I think the whole country should be handed over to the Sharif Dynasty. Mariam Nawaz for Pakistani PM!

  4. There’s no comparison between Erdogan and Modi. Erdogan is a far more skilled political operator than Modi and whatever changes in Turkey can be traced to his adroitness. Erdogan has deranged the power of military, made coups especially against civilian gov’t a thing of past ,crushed civilian opposition by calling them Gulenists , purged gov’t, bureaucracy, academics of anyone suspected of opposition, jailed thousands of people. To some extant the system he has built is unstable as it all depends on him.
    Compared to his skilful authoritarianism, Modi is an innocent. Modi is just the tip of Hindutva with all their organisation and experience over several decades.

  5. Better comparison to Erdogan would be Jinnah, as the change they brought depended on their personalities and was unstable after them

    1. Qauid-e-Azam modeled himself on Ataturk. Erodogan like Modi is intent on undoing the contributions of the founder of his respective modern state.

      1. Qauid-e-Azam modeled himself on Ataturk.

        This is a ridiculous claim, given the facts (that are known to all). Perhaps you can offer a citation where Jinnah compared himself to Ataturk?

        A better comparison for Jinnah would be his contemporary David Ben Gurion (or Jabotinsky, or any of the other Zionists), who also wanted to split an existing country based on religion.

        1. There was no “existing country”. Why do you people not get it through your heads that “India” is a social construction and only existed post August 15, 1947. Pakistan seceded from the BRITISH Indian Empire. This is not rocket science.

          On Quaid-e-Azam and Ataturk:

          “Throughout Jinnah’s pronouncements in the 1930s as the leader of the Muslim League, we find references to Kemalist Turkey as the example for the Muslims of India to follow. Speaking to a gathering Jinnah expressed the wish to be like Mustafa Kemal but that unlike the leader of the Turks he had no army and that his only weapons were logic and reason. Upon the latter’s death Jinnah eulogised him as the greatest man of the age by following whose example there was no reason the Muslims of India should remain in a quagmire. Jinnah told Civil and Military Gazette on 11 November 1938:

          “He was the greatest Muslaman in the modern Islamic World and I am sure that the entire Musalman world will deeply mourn his passing away. It is impossible to express adequately in a press interview one’s appreciation of his remarkable and varied services, as the builder and the maker of Modern Turkey and an example to the rest of the world, especially to the Musalman States in the Far East. The remarkable way in which he rescued and built up his people against all odds, has no parallel in the history of the world. He must have derived the greatest sense of satisfaction that he fully accomplished his mission during his life-time and left his people and his country consolidated, united and a powerful nation. In him, not only the Musalmans but the whole world have lost one of the greatest men that ever lived“. (Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the Nation’s voice, towards consolidation, Speeches and Statements 1935-1940, Page 306)”


          So my claim is not ridiculous. You people just clearly know less about Quaid-e-Azam than you think you do.

          1. Why do you people not get it through your heads that “India” is a social construction and only existed post August 15, 1947.

            British India was a country. There was a reason India got its own Olympic team like Canada and Australia and the UK did before 15th August 1947. There was a reason India got its own separate UN General Assembly seat and was not subsumed under a “British Empire” membership.

            In any case, what is a country but a “social construct” (in your words) backed by an army?

            Pakistan today is also no more than a social construct, according to your own logic. If the Balochis are able get enough resources to secede from Pakistan, they will talk about Pakistan the same way you are talking about British India.

            On Jinnah and Ataturk: there’s nothing I see in that speech about Jinnah wanting to emulate Ataturk in any specific way. There’s a lot of anodyne praise for the guy as a great Musulman doing great things for Musulmans and providing great inspirations for Musulmans worldwide.

            Let me be clear: I’m not trying to re-litigate Partition. Muslims of India wanted a separate country. They got it. I still hope they can make something good out of it rather than follow the horrible trajectory we have seen since 1947. But don’t make disingenuous claims about Jinnah being some sort of statesman who did something idealistic and had a plan to follow through. All indications are to the opposite.

            Like Trump’s victory was a surprise to the man and he had no real plan for how he wanted to go about the Presidency, Jinnah’s victory was kind of a surprise to him too and he had no idea where and how to take Pakistan. He got his country by continuous rabble rousing and religion-baiting of the worst kind, and which ultimately led to the most horrific mass murders this country has ever seen (and likely will see). It was a power grab and a land grab; there was no idealism to it. They guy actually used to be secular until the 1920s but all that had disappeared by the late 1930s.

          2. It’s a matter of historical accuracy. Pakistan couldn’t have seceded from “India” because “India” didn’t exist. “India” and Pakistan were created at the exact same moment. Before that the entire thing was the BRITISH Indian Empire. Refusing to accept this fact is the height of stupidity.

            “Balochi” is incorrect. The word is BALOCH. Again, you clearly out of your depth. Also, I never said Pakistan isn’t a social consturct. ALL nations are social constructs.

            I’m not going to discuss Partition with someone who has clearly bought the Indian nationalist narrative hook line and sinker. But Quaid-e-Azam stated in no uncertain terms that the Muslims of British India should take inspiration from Kemalism. 30 seconds on Google would have shown you that.

            The August 11 Speech is extremely secular. There would have been no Pakistan if INC had been willing to compromise with ML.

        2. @Numious

          On Jinnah = Ataturk
          Mah life, Mah narrative!

          Funny the acrobatics the ‘Pakistani Nehruvian secularists'(lol! the irony!) have to do to make their arch enemy Jinnah look secular. Pakistani automobiles and factories must be running on weed for such ‘high’ ideas to be spewed so regularly. A good read from the evergreen Dr Ishtiaq Ahmed:

          The details of the agreement reached on 24 November 1945 in the NWFP legislative Assembly between Jinnah, who was accompanied by Liaqat Ali Khan, and Pir Sahib Manki Sharif and other pirs are given by Israj Khan and Toheeda Begum in their article, ‘Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah and PirAbulHasanat of Manki Sharif’ published by the Social Science Journal of Peshawar University.

          Every law in Pakistan will be in consistency with Islamic Sharia and not repugnant to Quran and Sunnah.

          Each Bill which concern with Islamic Sharia will be presented to the President of Jamiat-ul-Asifa to check, only after the endorsement by its President will present the Bill to the constituent Assembly for further proceedings.

          Member of the Muslim League will present each and every stipulate of the Jamiat-ul-Asifain the Assembly and will try for its acceptance.

          Concerning the question that what type of Constitution Pakistan will be? Jinnah remarked in his speech:

          “..let me clear that Muslim believes in one God, one Prophet, Holy Quran and Islamic principles are the Constitution which we inherited from our Holy Prophet (PBUH) thirteen centuries before, so there will be nothing but only Quranic principles will be our Constitution. In order to achieve our goal you should vote in favour of Muslim League candidates. Regarding legislation I will say that when you elect your representatives to the Parliament they make laws in conformity of the Quran and Sunnah” ( Abysn Journal of the Social Science Vol 4 no 2).”


          1. The fact that you even have issues with Pervez Hoodbhoy who is considered “anti-Pakistan” by most Pakistanis shows that for you no Pakistani will ever be good enough. You are nothing but an anti-Pakistan troll.

            Seriously Razib should make a weekly “Anti-Pakistan” thread for you all to rant. I won’t even bother dignifying that thread with a response.

        3. Jinnah was nowhere near Gurion. It is not right to say Gurion divided a country, At the end of UN mandate, Britain simply gave up the keys. There was a period of jurisdictional vacuum in Palestine, Ben Gurion seized the opportunity to proclaim Israel.

          Jinnah’s creation was shoddy both in concept and execution, no wonder he called it motheaten.

          1. David Ben Gurion is responsible for allowing the Deir Yassin massacre. But you Hindutvadis love the Zionists. Anti-Muslim hatred is the uniting factor.

          2. /Deir Yassin massacre/
            Deir Yassin massacre was a tea party compared to 47/48 partition massacres, that was Jinnah ‘s contribution.

      2. Jinnah was unfit even to tie Ataturk’s laces.

        Should I go into all the points of A’s greatness?

        1. And your Modi is unworthy to even be discussed in the same breath as Ataturk.

          You Hindutvadis are becoming more and more ridiculous by the day.

  6. India is the benchmark for religious tolerance in the world, both legally and socially. I cant think of any other world leader, Western/Islamic/Asian making a speech honoring the canonization of a saint of a religious minority. And remember Modi is the most right leaning leader in India.


    If anyone seriously wants to contest this, please provide statistics that show that Indian minorities are poorer, suffer higher murder rates and are incarcerated at higher rates than Indian Hindus.

    Arguments which quote some agency or some media organization (usually white, Western) refuting this are at their heart, arguments of power, not of logic or data.

    1. Two words: BABRI MASJID.

      After your “Secular” state allowed a violent Hindu mob to destroy a historic minority place of worship, you Hindu Indians have no moral credibility left to lecture anyone about Indian tolerance.

      And I remember when you took great offense to being labeled a soft Hindutvadi. But with bullshit like this I was clearly being generous.

    2. Also, Muslims were been lynched for eating beef in your country.

      Are you high? Or are you just seriously disingenuous about your India?

  7. Underehelming post which neither tries to understand the causes or the phenomenon at play in all of these countries, rather just voices its opinion as to what the end result the author wishes to see.
    None of the east asian examples given here have had centuries worth of explicit religious wars fought inside them.
    There, thats the answer.
    Thank you

  8. “Without data, you’re just another person with an opinion.”
    ― W. Edwards Deming

    1. Cute,

      After Babri you Hindu Indians should have died of shame. You have no right even to speak about any other country.

      Never discuss Pakistan again. Hindutvadi. Go to hell.

      1. Shame? No. Glory? Yes.

        The RJB Movement was before my time, but I’m very impressed when I read of how a movement came up from the streets to storm the national stage, and marched into police gunfire in defense of a cause they held dear. Definitely one of the great underdog successes of history.

        1. Only a fascist troll like you would take delight in a violent mob destroying a masjid. Disgusting scum.

          1. Lots of mobs destroying relics of the past…so we’re just dickering over price then.

          2. Unlike you, I have never referred to any mob violence as a moment of “glory”.

  9. Kabir, it is interesting to see your rage. A few days ago, you were downplaying the conversion of Hagia Sophia from a museum into a mosque and even told one (presumably Christian) commentator that he should be “grateful” that moslems didn’t destroy it altogether.

    Now you’re exploding with rage as Hindus recapture their long lost posessions, stolen/destroyed/converted by moslems in the previous centuries. Mask off, as they say.

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