Turkey: The End of Secularism

September 2007 By Soner Cagaptay

This fall, I plan to teach a course on Turkish secularism at Georgetown University. The class was originally listed as current politics. But given the direction in which Turkey's headed, it could well become a history course instead. For after some 80 years, Turkish secularism is withering away.

In late July, the ruling Justice and Development Party (known in Turkish as the AKP) won 47 percent of the vote in parliamentary elections, strengthening its already commanding position. Now the AKP, a party with an Islamist pedigree, seems set to elect its foreign minister, Abdullah Gul, as president. Once marginal, Turkey's Islamists have become mainstream, and the consequences could prove enormous ...

The AKP is unlikely to end Turkish secularism overnight. Gradually, however, religion will assume a larger and larger place in the country's politics and society. Turkey will become a more Islamic society in its foreign-policy outlook and culture. Anti-Western sentiments will grow. Headscarves, religious education and the rejection of alcohol will become more common. The Turkey of old will slowly disappear, leaving in its place a profoundly different—and potentially much more unstable—nation.


Anonymous said...

The author does not give rational arguments as to why secularism will end. From what I have seen, "secularism" as described by the author and other secularists in Turkey is not very appealing anyway. Turkish secularism banned kurdish from being spoken, turkish secularism makes it ILLEGAL to "insult turkishness", turkish secularism is about the state brainwashing its citizens for 80 to love and respect Ataturk, even though he was a dictator.

Abandon Skip said...

Why will secularism end? That would be because of Islam's propensity to creep into all facets of life unless restrained by a fierce secularism. The Islamist government and president will slowly dissolve all that.

Maybe some elements of Kemalism look wacky today, but the naive West will soon be looking to the wisdom of Ataturk as their Muslim populations turn ever more radical.

So either you don't see Islam as a threat, or you are a Muslim?

Onur Oymen of the secularist Republican People’s Party: “You can’t have democracy without secularism. The notion of moderate Islam to check radical Islam is nonsense. This idea being promoted by certain countries should be abandoned.”

Abandon Skip said...

This is the sort of thing the Islamist government has been up to:

Islam taking root in Turkey's bureaucracy

"The little red prayer book was handed out in a public primary school here in western Turkey earlier this month ...

The party has not ordered changes, but sets examples through a growing network of observant teachers and public servants who have been hired since it came to power in 2002 ..."

There are more examples, and quotes that reveal their Islamist leanings. An Islamist party was booted out in 1997 by the army, so this time they are doing it slowly. But it is happening nonetheless. Now they have an Islamist president, only the army is left to complete the takeover.

Ataturk would be horrified

""Women are being advised to check with the imam if it is all right for them to have cosmetic surgery or get a divorce," she said.

"The Education Ministry is filled with people from religious backgrounds."

According to Necla Arat, a retired philosophy professor and another female champion of the CHP, young girls are even being left to drown at sea because male lifeguards are forbidden by the Islamic code from handling them in any rescue attempt.

"In some municipalities run by the AKP," she complained, "we have started to see 'women only' parks and 'women only' swimming pools." ...

Erdogan is reputed to have said that democracy was "like a train which you get off when you reach your destination""

Anonymous said...

"Islam's propensity to creep into all facets of life",...well how much religion people have in their lives/governments depends entirely on them. This notion of "defending secularism" is no more than a ruse, a trick by a small corp of upper class Turks that want to greedily hold on to their dominance.

The "wisdom" of Ataturk has not worked. If his system worked, 48% of Turks would not have voted for a Muslim party. You will never succeed in uprooting Islam from Muslim societies. The only way to stop radicalism is to encourage the foreward looking, wise, and pragmatic Muslims. Abdullah Gul and the AK party fit the bill.

I've never heard of reasonable people getting so paranoid about women wearing headscarves,...that shows how weak and illegimate Kemalism really is.

Abandon Skip said...

Whether or not there is an elite who just want power for it's own sake, the main issue is the hundreds of thousands, or millions, that took to the streets to defend secularism. These folk have nothing but fear as their motive: first comes the hijab, then comes sharia, the burqa, the violence, etc. They didn't rally for "a ruse". link

You favour unfettered democracy: whatever the people vote for, so be it. Behind that is your belief that liberalised Islam is harmless. Whereas you see no foundation for my paranoia, I see no foundation for your optimism.

Wherever Islam goes, it has the propensity to turn radical and violent. Why won't it happen in Turkey? I don't believe the moderate Muslims can control their radicals. That's why secularism must be proactively defended, not left to chance.

"It was Erdogan, after all, who said that the "minarets are our bayonets" and "the mosques our barracks" just a few years ago. He is smoother now -- but there is no evidence that either he, or his followers, have changed." source

Erdogan: "These descriptions are very ugly, it is offensive and an insult to our religion. There is no moderate or immoderate Islam. Islam is Islam and that’s it.” source

How can you trust this man who will abandon democracy when his train arrives at his destination? i.e. sharia law.

Why do women apostates like Turkish-born Arzu Toker warn: "She said she did not distinguish between Islam and fundamentalism. 'Islam is inherently radical,' she said." source

Why does Mina Ahadi in Germany say that "I don't think it's possible to modernize Islam"? (above)

Why does Maryam Namazie call for a ban on the hijab in the UK? source

Why does Wafa Sultan say "There is no way we can keep the Koran". source

Why are all these woman so negative about Islam? Why don't they share your optimism for Gul and AKP? Misplaced paranoia? Or it is that Islam really is inherently violent? The Koran, after all, is littered with calls for violence and hate.

Could it have something to do with Islam being proven to be the most warlike religion? source

Sure the AKP has managed the economy better. But intelligent people still fly planes into buildings. Look at their history ...

AKP predecessor Erbakan said the other day:

“Our people have protected our values for centuries. Why should we [Muslims] that have built countless civilizations, leave our essence and identity in order to imitate the stinking, fossilized, rotten West? Our people are rejecting this and are step by step returning to their real selves." source

This is typical of the hate in Islam. Or the Fethullah Gulen influence in AKP:

"You must move in the arteries of the system, without anyone noticing your existence, until you reach all the power centers… until the conditions are ripe, they [the followers] must continue like this. If they do something prematurely, the world will crush our heads, and Muslims will suffer everywhere, like in the tragedies in Algeria, like in 1982 [in] Syria… like in the yearly disasters and tragedies in Egypt. The time is not yet right. You must wait for the time when you are complete, and conditions are ripe, until we can shoulder the entire world and carry it… You must wait until such time as you have gotten all the state power, until you have brought to your side all the power of the constitutional institutions in Turkey… Until that time, any step taken would be too early - like breaking an egg without waiting the full 40 days for it to hatch. It would be like killing the chick inside. The work to be done is [in] confronting the world. Now, I have expressed my feelings and thoughts to you all - in confidence… trusting your loyalty and sensitivity to secrecy. I know that when you leave here - [just] as you discard your empty juice boxes, you must discard the thoughts and feelings expressed here." source

I don't believe the moderates can control the radicals. Smiling Gul won't be there forever. Time marches on and so does Islam. Unfortunately it turns radical. So I don't share your optimism. If I was a secular Turk I would be very worried.

Look at the MEMRI blog and tell me there is not reason to be worried about the AKP: source

Kemalism failed not because of it ideas, but because the Turks lost their resolve to enforce it. And the Islamists outbred the secularists:

"If Kemalism is on the ropes, it is not because the Kemalists have been too ruthless, but because they have not been nearly ruthless enough. They did not push, relentlessly, their program after the first few decades, and some of those who followed were content to pocket the benefits of Kemalism without systematically trying to change the minds of the masses -- and the masses remained largely unaffected." source

"Ataturk’s modern secular Turkey has simply been outbred by fiercely Islamic Turkey." source

Anonymous said...

Well at this point I should tell you that I am indeed Muslim. And your descriptions of Islam disgust me, because I know they are not true. You can list a thousand names of people criticizing Islam, and I will give you an equally lengthy list criticizing Christianity and Judaism. Your inability to separate the religion from its practitioners betrays your bias. No sensible person would blame Christianity for the inquisition, or the witch hunts, nor judaism for the various violent verses in the old testament. But some how it always comes back to Islam. Fear breeds anger, and anger breeds hatred. Lets admit that the long standing criticisms of Islam are no more than a byproduct of an irrational fear of it.

There are almost 2 billion muslims in the world, if you insist on trying to uproot their practices and minimize their spiritual lives,...I promise you it will not work and will only bring more pain to all humans, muslims or not.

Abandon Skip said...

It's not about hate. As I say on my blog, I respect the beauty of each within it's own kind. There is nothing more important than ones own culture. I don't blame people for being born into a culture, or identifying with one.

But your reaction is typical of Islam's inability to handle criticism. The equivalence argument with Christainity in today's circumstances is far fetched.

"Your inability to separate the religion from its practitioners". This is the problem with Islam. "And your descriptions of Islam disgust me, because I know they are not true.". This is the problem with the Koran. Whereas you take one view of your faith, another looks at the same book and takes a different view.

So when smiling Gul stands up and says "trust me, I'm the good type of Muslim". Well, sorry, Islam's reputation necessitates more than a smile and "trust me, she'll be right".

If Muslims want to be trusted today they will need to come up with a radically different sales pitch. That's why people like Sultan say "There is no way we can keep the Koran". They know the faith has to be taken to a place where it can't be hijacked or misinterpreted.

Despite the intentions of many good Muslims, the faith is open to interpretation. Some even say that moderate Muslims are moderate because they only take Islam in small doses, and the radicals are actually true to their faith.

The problem secular folk have with Muslims is there is no way for us to tell who, or how many, in your faith are going to turn on us. And the radicals are quoting from the scriptures to justify their violence and hate.

So until moderate Muslims come up with some guarantee, our prevailing view is "a bridge to moderate Islam is a road to hell".

Neither secular folk, nor moderate Muslims want this fight. But if there is to be any progress, moderate Muslims will have to reinvent their faith so that it is private, secular and peaceful. I don't know if that is possible.

Anonymous said...

I think you are taking a simplistic look at things. I pray 5 times a day, I fast during ramadan, and i don't drink alcohol. I also despise Osama bin Laden, I get annoyed by how Muslims react when the Pope says something or some childish cartoonist draws a picture. I live my life according to what the Prophet told us. Be good to your neighbors, love your brother, and worship God. I don't apologize for my beliefs. At the same time, I refuse to accept that because I am a religious Muslim, I somehow cannot function in today's society. You are in effect, telling me that I AM the enemy. That I AM whats wrong with this world. I cannot accept that, and other Muslims will not accept that.

It seems to me that you have a very one dimensional and cartoonish image of Muslims. Either we are not religious and therefore OK but weak compared to the religious, or religious and therefore automatically dogmatic and violent. Some of the best people the world has to offer are religous Muslims like myself. If you don't close your eyes and keep an open mind, you might find that out one day. I hope you do, one day. All the best.