Is your child a devout Muslim or a drug addict?
The cliché accusation against the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) Islamist policies over the past decade has been an illusionary scenario that the party aims to “make Turkey a second Iran.”
This column, since 2002, has repeatedly refuted that claim, instead, arguing that the AKP aimed to “make Turkey somewhere between what is today’s Turkey and what is today’s Egypt” in terms of visible – though not necessarily genuine – devoutness. Therefore, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s now officially proclaimed objective of “raising devout generations… which embrace our historic principles” is no surprise to this columnist.
In response to criticism, Mr. Erdoğan asked: “Should we, instead, raise homeless drug addicts?” Sadly, in the prime minister’s world, a non-devout child is a homeless drug addict. But never mind.
Mr. Erdoğan’s goal is problematic on two grounds. First, how should the prime minister describe devoutness? Is it simply “what I, the prime minister, understand of devoutness?” But would a lady who abstains from pork, does not wear a headscarf, prays five a day, fasts during Ramadan but drinks alcohol qualify? Or a man who does not drink alcohol but eats pork?
Would a Muslim who observes all dietary prohibitions, prays regularly, fasts, has visited Mecca 10 times but cheats, steals and does injustice to others qualify? Who is authorized to judge? Which mortal could have the license to measure other people’s devoutness? How would the Muslim-meter respond to a query that spots no pork but finds immodesty? No alcohol but injustice? Or vice versa?
And second, “raising generations that will embrace our historic principles” may be even more problematic. Which historic principles does Mr. Erdoğan want to raise generations to embrace? Military raids and the occupation of other nations’ lands? Making non-Muslims second-class citizens in occupied territories? Sultans with harems? Alcohol-drinking caliphs? Endless wars? Generations who wholeheartedly believe in the supremacy of the Sunni Muslim Turk?
How, if Mr. Erdoğan’s declared social engineering works, would the devout generations who embrace our historic principles treat the not-so-devout generations who judge our historic principles in all objectivity? It’s not so hard to guess… It is precisely for these reasons why secular Turks have viewed Mr. Erdoğan and his ideology with deep suspicion.
Mr. Erdoğan has every right, as a father, to raise devout children who embrace our historic principles. But he has no right in setting social policy so that every Turkish child is raised to become devout and nationalistically conservative.
As Cem Toker, chairman of the Liberal Party, said: “The prime minister is paid to rule the country, not people’s hearts and minds… It is not a concern for those who run the country to see who is devout and who is an atheist.”
Turkey has failed to succeed at doing what a small roadside restaurant in one of the inner Aegean towns has succeeded in doing. When I first entered the premises about five years ago, I noticed the “conservative” atmosphere like in most other similar restaurants in Anatolia. There were women with headscarves and men queuing up in front of the masjid to perform one of their five daily prayers.
Then, surprisingly, I noticed other guests, enjoying their beers and, occasionally, a shot of rakı, while conversing with the guests from the “more devout” tables, all in peace and loud laughter. Those “uneducated peasants” were not in the least bit interested in measuring each other’s devoutness. Perhaps Mr. Erdoğan and the main opposition leader, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, should go there for lunch – and for some lessons of importance.