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MUSTAFA AKYOL

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MUSTAFA AKYOL > Toward a post-Kemalist CHP?

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Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) gave an interesting dinner the other day. It was an “iftar,” or a fast-breaking feast, and the guests were some of the most prominent Islamic theologians and intellectuals. Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the CHP leader who hosted the event, which is apparently a first in the history of his party, emphasized his respect for religion. He praised believers as “those who have love for humanity in their hearts,” and noted that his party is against banning headscarves on university campuses.

It is fair enough to say that these were big steps for the CHP, because for decades the party has been the citadel of hardcore secularism, which despised any religious theme in the public square. Until only a few years ago, for example, the CHP was a staunch defender of the headscarf ban in universities. Similarly, an iftar dinner by a political party would be criticized, if not ridiculed, by the CHP elite as “exploitation of religion” – a peculiar Turkish political term, invented to appear respectful of religion while actively persecuting it. 

The contrast between that traditional CHP and the “new” one in the making was stressed best by Ali Bulaç, a prominent Islamist writer and one of the guests that night. “This iftar looks like the one Erbakan gave at the Prime Ministry 15 years ago,” Bulaç jokingly said, referring to one of the controversies that led to Turkey’s “post-modern coup” against the Islamist-leaning government of the late Necmettin Erbakan. The CHP, at the time, was enraged by that an “iftar was held for the bearded;” now it was doing the same thing.

This, of course, should be regarded as good news, for two separate reasons.

First, it shows that Turkey’s anti-religious obsession and the paranoia that has characterized Turkey’s self-styled secularism is on the decline. The secular elite has realized that not all covered women or bearded men yearn for an “Islamic Republic of Turkey,” and nothing would change in the universities without the headscarf ban. The wiser among them even realize that the softening of secularism is likely to make this principle stronger, for secularism that is respectful to religious freedom is more likely to be accepted by the religious people who constitute a big part of Turkish society.

Secondly, moving away from its ideological trenches is likely to make the CHP a more popular party that can appeal to mainstream society. And that would be very good, for some of our current problems come from the fact that the incumbent Justice and Development Party (AKP) is too popular and thus too self-confident. A stronger rival might make the AKP more modest and sober.

Such a transition in the CHP, which has been going on since Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu became its leader two years ago, will certainly amount to an ideological shift from its traditional ideology, i.e., Kemalism. The party, of course, would never become a hotbed of anti-Kemalists, but it can well turn into a post-Kemalist party by staying respectful to the Atatürk Revolution, but also understanding that the world has changed and thus old party line has to change as well. 

In fact, the CHP was able to have such a post-Kemalist phase in the ‘70s, under the leadership of the late Bülent Ecevit. No wonder it was the only time in its 90-year-long history that “Atatürk’s party” came to power through a democratic vote. If Kılıçdaroğlu can do that again, he will be putting a stamp on history. And he would find me, among many, as a sympathizer.

August/18/2012

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Köksüz Kosmopolit

8/20/2012 3:46:29 PM

As for the larger point, I would be perfectly happy to see the State leave Religion in peace. Indeed I'd prefer it: religion is part of the private sphere, in which people should enjoy as much liberty as possible. I ask only that Religion return the favor by leaving the State, and non-religious people, in peace. Even if I do not share it I can respect the faith of religious people willing to live in a pluralist democracy. But when they try to create a theocratic state, they become the enemy.

Köksüz Kosmopolit

8/20/2012 3:36:56 PM

Why shouldn't Kılıçdaroğlu, an Alevi, host an iftar? Barack Obama is a Christian yet hosts several each year, both for American Muslim guests and for foreign diplomats.

dogan kemal ileri

8/19/2012 9:00:17 PM

I don't know who Mr Bulac is but Johanna Dew sure had a few words in store for him.Judging by the level of invectives flying around Miz Dew must be a literary critic par exellance.

Red Tail

8/19/2012 6:11:03 PM

The best probably would be if politics and religion are separate. Let people deal with their religion in private, and then let politics be dealt with in a democratic way. The state only has to interfere wih religion if A) we see extremism or B) if freedom of religion (and not to be religious) is threatening minorities. Apart from those occasions the state does not have to be involved in religion at all. Religious education should mainly aim at supporting inter faith understanding and respect.

Can Oz

8/19/2012 6:28:43 AM

Mustafa Kemal was against political dogma. His party became dogmatic. Kilicdaroğlu is returning Kemalism to what it should have been.

kismet76 marissa

8/18/2012 9:06:14 PM

RE: my previous post. Hurriyet Daily News July 28, 2012 for comments about Alevi's NOT FASTING RAMADAN FAST. Ali Balkız, former head of the Alevi-Bektaşi Federation, also slammed the organizers of the dinner as false and sinister. “The AKP created ‘fake Alevis’ so they could put them on stage and create an illusion of support. We do not fast at this time of the year; this is a sin for us, and we do not show off our fasts at luxury hotels,” Balkız told the Daily News. Now Mr Balikiz??????

kismet76 marissa

8/18/2012 8:56:10 PM

Confused so bear with me. Recently I read Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu or some senior Alevi person say "it is a sin for Alevis to fast the Ramadan fast". Ramadan fasting is NOT part of the Alevi religion. My word! A 360 degree opportunistic turn now by the CHP leader. He is now hosting an iftar dinner!!!. Now opportunism on the part of politicians I understand since speaking with forked tongues is the nature of the poltical beast, but sacrificing FUNDAMENTAL RELIGIOUS BELIEFS, can only be termed HYPOCRISY

Roger Harding

8/18/2012 7:35:24 PM

I am all for religous freedom. The problem however is these two groups: 1. Religous extremists 2. Politicians who inevitably will exploit religion to grab power Once these two groups gain the upper hand, you will have major problems protecting small individual freedoms that make Turkey stand out and modern. Already, people cannot go to a music festival in the summer in Istanbul, buy a cold beer, kick-back and relax without Turkey's pious PM's and his highly vocal gang's approval.

Aryeh Rapaport

8/18/2012 3:35:28 PM

Every country changes if we like it or not for it constantly faces new challenges & opportunities. Im happy CHP is becoming less anti, more understanding. it shows of positive democratic change. Its clear her stand until now did not benefit her; AKP and other parties have a lot more seats then her.

Turk down under

8/18/2012 10:05:16 AM

Obviously the CHP is listening to its electorates. Can somebody please tell me though -How can any Turk, call themselves anti-Kemalist? They wouldn't be calling themselves anything but maybe Italians or French had it not been for AtaTurk. of course bringing antiquated laws up to present day needs is paramount but Anti Kemalist? it doesn't make sense to me
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