Here’s a must-read (and it’s relatively short, too) by Robert Spencer on the topic of Muslim secularism.
We often speak of the need for moderate Muslims. And it’s undoubtedly true that some Muslims are indeed moderate. But as Spencer points out, that is no guarantee against a repressive Muslim theocracy such as that in Iran which, once imposed (even if this is initially done democratically), is very difficult to reverse.
Ataturk of Turkey was aware of the dilemma back in the 1920′s and 1930′s, when he instituted a number of exceedingly important reforms there that made it far less likely that the country would ever come under the sway of a repressive Muslim theocracy. And, although there is currently a threat of theocrats taking over in Turkey, so far Ataturk’s institutional reforms have held the line against it.
This was done, as Spencer points out, not by making Turkey a “moderate Muslim” country, but by adopting a nearly Western-style separation of church and state—in other words, secularism. And secularism isn’t really a traditional Muslim concept at all, it is an affront to it. That is why Ataturk represented a huge break with Muslim tradition, and why a similar break is so difficult for other Muslim countries.
[F]or peaceful Muslims to prevail over the proponents of jihad and Sharia, they must be prepared not just to ignore, but to reject explicitly, the elements of Sharia that are at variance with accepted norms of human rights and with government that does not establish a state religion.
This is a huge leap. It’s also the underlying reason that democracy, in and of itself, will not necessarily save or even help the Muslim world. I have always tried to be explicit about that by using the term liberal democracy—that is, democracy with protection of human rights, including separation of church and state—to refer to the goals for government in that part of the world and elsewhere. And encouraging liberal democracy is a far more difficult and lengthy proposition than instituting pure democracy, which unfortunately is no bar to tyranny.