MUSTAFA AKYOL > Which Turks are the nuttiest?

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Anyone who follows Turkish politics and society long enough will realize that there are four basic categories of people in this country: conservatives, Kemalists, Turkish nationalists and Kurdish nationalists. Or, the standard voters of the Justice and Development Party (AKP), Republican People’s Party (CHP), Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), respectively.

Until about a decade ago, the dominant group among these four was the Kemalists -- the self-proclaimed followers of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, modern Turkey’s founder. They had a very strict understanding of secularism, which aimed to erase all traditional religion from the public square.

However, with the unstoppable rise of the AKP, Tayyip Erdoğan’s party, and all the social forces aligned with it, there has been a silent and slow-motion revolution: The Kemalists have gradually lost all their “citadels” (in their own words), such as the military and judiciary. Meanwhile the conservatives, who have always had more voting power, have acquired full political power. The state, it could even be said, passed from one camp to another.

But was this bad news for Turkey? Did the country move away from its “secular” (i.e., liberal, democratic, progressive) foundations, and head toward an “Islamist” (i.e., dark, ugly and scary) future?

That was certainly the way some saw it. But I disagreed, and have devoted a lot of time and effort in this column to arguing that:

1) “Secularism” is overrated. Yes, it is a good idea when it implies a separation of religion and state, as in the United States. But merely being “secular” does not make a political actor democratic, liberal or open-minded. In fact, most dictators and fascists in our part of the world are secular.

2) “Islamism” might not always be the bogeyman that it is believed to be. Especially in Turkey, where “Islamists” have evolved into “conservatives,” they have at times proven relatively more liberal than the secularists. The AKP decade is full of many examples of that.

Now, the reason why I am telling you all this is not just to offer some basic Turkey 101-type information. It is also to put my response to a criticism I recently received from Burak Bekdil, my column neighbor and “sparring partner,” in perspective.

In his piece titled, “Nutty professors -- here and there,” Mr. Bekdil basically argued that there are “nutty” (illiberal, paranoid, bigoted) figures among both secularists and conservatives, but it is the latter that matters now, because they are in power. He also implied that I was overlooking that bitter fact.

Unfortunately, Mr. Bekdil’s alleged evidence supporting this argument was factually wrong – the AKP government does not have a problem with the term “ecumenical” in the name of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, as Erdoğan said openly two years ago. But his main point, that there are “nutty” figures in all of Turkey’s camps, including the conservatives, was certainly right.

However, my intention has never been to score points in a competition to determine “which Turks are the nuttiest?” What I try to do in this column at times, rather, is to trace the ideological roots of Turkey’s political problems. And I find quite a few of these roots within Kemalism, which imposed a monist straitjacket on Ottoman plurality – an obsession with “unity” that even some of the so-called “neo-Ottoman” conservatives still share.

If you would like to see a current example, please just look at how the Supreme Court of Appeals rejected the recent Alevi demand for non-Sunni houses of worship, which I fully support: They did it by referring not to the Quran, nor the Sunna, but to the “Revolutionary Laws” of Atatürk.


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Hasan Kutlay

7/31/2012 5:30:38 PM

What Akyol did was presenting an 'extremist' Kemalist and then implicitly trying to make clear that Kemalists are the sort of people like the example. I can do that too: presenting an extremist islamist and implicitly showing that islamists are like that. It's called stereotyping. Isn't Akyol that constantly explaining that not all islamist are extremists and that there's too much stereotyping going on on the basis of bad islamist examples? He is doing the same thing.

mara mcglothin

7/30/2012 4:39:43 PM

Spot on JOHANNA DEW your response to MR SOMALIA. Once again Mr AKYOL is trying to explain all the positives about the AKP and he reminds me of how Erdogan talked about Assad just a few month ago. While Kemalism is NOT the boogeyman your preach, Erdogan is no Noel Baba either. From what I understand from history was the Ottomans fell because they were simple too comfortable in the palace with their women and no longer the need to conquer others. Ataturk did what he had to do.

Johanna Dew

7/30/2012 10:17:50 AM

@Amish in the USA get also their wishes fulfilled, doesn't make that the state legislation is less secular. Jewish state? Yes as long as you can inherit the Muslim religion, they see the already secular Jewish state as protection from Muslim sharia non-secular legislation. A handful of Ultra-orthodox haredim near Jerusalem (not even 1000) are not the state of Israel!!


7/29/2012 11:01:36 PM

Israel, which insists on being recogized as a Jewish state certainly has no claim to being secular. Their Heradim gets subsidy from state to just study holy books and harass Palestinians. Theocracy comes in many different forms.

Johanna Dew

7/29/2012 1:22:18 PM

@ferdican. Don't shoot..but Israel is based upon secular law juridical system. I studied int.law. Turkey was never and is still not secular. The largest budget of the state of Turkey is for Religion dictoriat. In a secular state the government facilitates not provides religious services etc. Turkey had its cult system soon to be replaced by another one.

Rimon Tree

7/29/2012 1:10:08 PM

@ Ferdican what are you talking about? Please be more carefull with your statements, where do you get them from? Israel is a theocracy? My friend, like Turkey Israel has got a majority with a special religion, but everybody can choose to have whatever religion he wants or none at all and there is absolutely NO sanctions for NOT being Jewish! I can assure you that more than half fo the Israelis are non-believers and absolutely secular exactly like most Christians are today!

Ferdican Tayfur

7/29/2012 12:42:56 PM

It is a pity to see people comment here without knowing basic terms of theories of state. Opposite of secular is literaly theocracy to religion but it is not theocracy as a law term! For example Germany, Sweden, Holland t secular but not theocratic either. Iran, Israel are theocratic. Our country is secular and who can say that it gurantees human rights? I wish we didn't have a secular system but freedom like in Sweden. Secularism didn't bring this country freedom but used to supress some people

The Prisoner

7/29/2012 11:56:24 AM

@sid solo, I know what you mean. The HDN is like lion with no teeth in recent months! Any constructive critique of M. Akyol is always censored because he may take his bat and ball home (hopefully to Iran).

stella maris

7/29/2012 11:52:01 AM

@Johanna I could not agree more with you! The famous German philosopher I. Kant said: The freedom of everybody must be compatible with the freedom of everyone else. He called that "principle of generalisation." Many people confuse freedom with the lack of limits and self-discipline, that's a big problem, not to be solved by imposing whatever ideology, but only by education to that mature state of mind. To my sorrow Turkey is not on the right way!

Hasan Kutlay

7/29/2012 10:20:11 AM

Sue coon, it was the ottoman empire that in the 19th century began to undertake top down european reforms and also secular reforms in education, jurisprudence and administration (the othodox pious that time were not happy at all with these reforms). the AKP in their first democratization period took european style reforms. When the ottomans and akp do it it's good, when ataturk did it then it's bad. Dubble standards here.
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