The War Within Islam

Much hinges on which interpretation of the faith will prevail.

By + More

A potential flashpoint: headscarves for women, traditional Muslim garb. They've long been banned from public life, including government offices and universities. Secularists say they are a political, not religious, symbol. There are worries that if the restrictions are lifted, it would place pressure on all women to adopt the headscarf. Islamists say it's a matter of personal freedom. Erdogan has so far sidestepped the issue.

Robins believes the military wants to leave politics to civilians. Turkey's desire to join the EU is a powerful incentive, he says, to keep the democratic process on track. But, he adds, it's still not certain that the EU has the means to anchor Turkey's secularism in place of the military.

Turkish elites are uncomfortable with their country's status as an example of Islamic democracy and with the pressures that designation brings. Notes Sayari: "They say, 'You don't call France or Norway Christian democracies. It's an unnecessary adjective. We are a democracy.' "


Nearly 240 million people, 88 percent of whom are Muslim, live in the archipelago of 17,000 islands that is Indonesia. The country is home to more Muslims than any other nation in the world. Though Indonesia is considered a viable democracy, the Pew survey found that only 41 percent of Indonesians believe in democracy. And virulent anti-Americanism is widespread. So there is no shortage of Indonesians who want to create an Islamic state. Most, so far, want a peaceful transition, but the appeal of radicalism is growing.

The religious Justice and Prosperity Party is part of the ruling coalition. Its long-term goal is an Islamic state, peacefully created. "But that is not the platform they run on. They run on a clean-government platform," explains Schulze, who is based at the London School of Economics.

At the other extreme is Jemaah Islamiyah, a terrorist group with al Qaeda links that envisions an Islamic state encompassing Indonesia, Malaysia, and the southern Philippines. JI was responsible for the October 2002 Bali bombing that killed more than 200. It exploits conflicts between Muslims and Christians in the Moluccas, mainly as a recruitment tool and to provide cover for training. Schulze calls JI "a definite threat" but not an overwhelming one. The government "is fairly stable." Indonesia also faces some violent separatist movements, the largest in Aceh, a Sumatran province that's home to 4.5 million devout Muslims.

Since 1998, Schulze says, there have been several rounds of generally "free and fair" elections, and police and military reforms have been enacted. "Indonesia is not a fully established democracy. But it is a success story. It is an example that democracy and Islam can coexist."


While Islamic terrorists have been subdued in Egypt, this country of 76 million people was long a hotbed of radicalism. President Anwar Sadat, who made peace with Israel, was assassinated by extremists in 1981. The paramilitary group the Muslim Brotherhood—which spawned such terrorist organizations as Hamas and Islamic Jihad—emerged from Egypt in 1928. It still exists but has moderated its tactics and renounced violence. Egypt's last major terrorist incident was the 1997 massacre of foreign tourists in Luxor. A resulting government crackdown and cease-fire have "eased the atmosphere very much," says Bahgat Korany, director of Middle East studies at the American University in Cairo.

But the poverty, unemployment, and illiteracy that often breed militancy have not gone away, and the government is repressive. Moreover, Korany says, radicalism is also winning converts among members of the middle class, mainly because they feel U.S. policies in the Mideast and the war on terrorism have humiliated Muslims. "They watch TV, and they are bound to be frustrated and resentful, and able to jump to radicalism easily." That said, Korany insists most Egyptians reject "bin Ladenism," though they may "admire" the al Qaeda chief for bloodying the nose of the United States. Muhammad A. S. Abdel Haleem, a professor of Islamic studies at the University of London, agrees: "Nothing like Osama bin Laden can happen in Egypt."