Erdoğan fuels ‘secret agenda’ debate

Erdoğan fuels ‘secret agenda’ debate

An issue held against the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) by those who are uneasy about its Islamist roots is that it has a “secret Islamic agenda” it will activate once the environment is ripe. Government officials have always denied this vehemently, of course, saying they should be seen simply as just another conservative party.

But it was Prime Minister Erdoğan himself who has fueled the “secret agenda” debate now. He did this with a speech to party members in Parliament last week, where he indicated that as a conservative party they wanted to raise not just conservative but also religious generations in Turkey. His remarks received rapturous applause from AKP deputies, but the response from secular quarters was hardly surprising. 

For them Erdoğan had let the proverbial cat out of the bag with remarks that amounted to a “confession.” “What if I don’t want my kid to be conservative and religious?” decried well-known columnists like Hasan Cemal and Can Dundar. Undoubtedly Erdoğan also provided fodder for the anti-Islamic European right wing with these remarks. 

Behind the consternation was the fact that Erdoğan appeared to be suggesting the desired conservative and religious generations should be raised by means of the state apparatus in general and the education system in particular. 

Erdoğan’s remarks also contradict what he said in Cairo last year, where he told a local network that individuals did not have to be secular but states had to be so in order to stand equidistantly to all beliefs. As it turned out, Erdoğan did not stand behind those remarks, perhaps because of the anger they caused among Egyptian Islamists and their Turkish counterparts. 

Admittedly, he did also say last week during his speech to his party group that they also wanted “democratic generations” in Turkey. That sounds good, of course, but the whole question hinges on what is understood from “democracy” in the modern context. From the perspective of contemporary political philosophy it is clear that democracy does not mean the “hegemony of the majority.” 

Real democracy in this day and age is the system where the rights of those who are not included in the majority are protected and guaranteed legally. That secularism must form the basis of such a democracy is therefore unquestionable if all beliefs are to feel equally free. 

Erdoğan’s remark about “democratic generations” must therefore be taken with a pinch of salt, especially given the fact that remarks and deeds emanating from the AKP of late point to an understanding of democracy as “absolute majority rule.” Erdoğan’s authoritarian tendencies, which have started to manifest themselves more prominently over time, are also fueling concern in this respect. 

Ironically, Erdoğan issued an official statement on Monday on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the adoption of secularism in Turkey. He lauded this event and talked about the importance of the secular system for a modern Turkey. But “proforma” statements like this hardly count in Turkey where grandiose utterances can be made without conviction. 

Having said all this, it must be underlined that what will ensure Erdoğan’s “vision” is not realized in the end is the heterogonous nature of the Turkey. Given the regional, ethnic and sectarian diversity in the country, and the fact that millions of people have subscribed to secular lifestyles from even before the republic was established, it is clear neither religious nor political uniformity can be imposed on the country anymore, if the desire is social peace and stability, whether it is the Kemalists or the Islamists who try to do this.

Turkey, religion, Islam, Islamism, AKP, Tayyip Erdogan