Islamists versus Islamists

Islamists versus Islamists

Hilal Kaplan is a regular columnist for Yeni Şafak, a Turkish daily whose editorial line can be defined as “Islamist” in the broadest sense of the term. She is a pious Muslim, wears the Islamic headscarf and writes within an unmistakably religious worldview. For Turkey’s hardcore secularists, she is a typical “religious fundamentalist.”

However, there are others who dislike what the 30-year-old Kaplan writes, and one of them is daily Yeni Akit, a hardcore Islamist paper. A few Yeni Akit writers have criticized her as a propagandist for liberal views that are deviations from “true Islam.” She particularly enraged them, and similar-minded Islamists, by recently arguing against compulsory religion classes, a controversial aspect of Turkey’s public education system. In an interview on TV, she said these classes actually “make people cold toward religion,” for they come across as the imposition of religion rather than its free choice.

Last week, Yeni Akit launched another attack on Kaplan based on a photo of hers taken in a church, implying that she was in fact a crypto-Christian. The news story also noted that readers should know what kind of people really support interfaith dialogue, “which is the deception of the age.”

Kaplan, in return, said nobody had the right to question her Muslim faith. Moreover, various commentators defended Kaplan, including her own paper. The controversy still goes on, as Yeni Akit defends its right to “make news,” whereas others accuse the paper of “targeting” liberals, including liberal-leaning Islamists, with hateful rhetoric.

In fact, this is just one example of the tensions between the line of Yeni Akit and other public figures that are considered to be in Turkey’s Islamic camp. A few months ago, the paper launched a slander campaign targeting various intellectuals, including some self-declared Islamists, for joining meetings held by a think-tank that advocated negotiations with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a terrorist group (according to Yeni Akit, the PKK should only be bombed, not moderated).

These tensions within the Islamic camp exist, for this is indeed a very diverse part of society and is getting more diverse as Turkey modernizes and globalizes. Yeni Akit represents the most vulgar, bigoted, parochial, anti-Western, anti-Semitic and, in fact, anti-anything-other-than-the-Islamic face of Turkish Islam. Yeni Şafak represents a more moderate and colorful set of views, whereas daily Zaman probably represents the most temperate attitudes on most issues – with the exception of the “deep state,” about which Zaman is very alarmed.

This diversity is, of course, good news for Turkish democracy. Things would be much more concerning if religious conservatives, which make up almost half of society, were united in a single worldview, especially under the one represented by Yeni Akit. Moreover, the existence of Kaplan and like-minded people give hope that an Islamicly legitimate political liberalism can flourish in Turkey and help the country further liberalize.

Finally, if you ask me where the incumbent Justice and Development Party (AKP) stands, well, it is a combination of all these diverse and sometimes opposing political views. I would bet that both Kaplan and the bigots who slander her as “crypto-Christian” vote for the AKP and that their political lines influence the government somehow. The question of whose favor the balance will be tipped in in the long run is surely a fateful one, and I think we will see the ultimate answer in a decade or so.