Why a secular constitution is a mere triviality

Why a secular constitution is a mere triviality

Secular Turks should relax. Not because their president, prime minister and a whole bunch of ruling party commissars outright rejected Parliament Speaker İsmail Kahraman’s idea to draft a “religious” constitution so that the secular ethos of the charter goes away. Turkey will be the same Turkey with or without secular principles in its new constitution. 

Remember President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan speaking, then, as an opposition politician long before his party came to power? “A Muslim man cannot be secular,” he roared. “If the nation wants it [secularism] to go away it will go away,” he roared again. Simply by voting for him, his party and his prime minister 10 consecutive times since 2002 the Turks have, in all practicality, politically endorsed a man who declared his political ambition as “to raise devout [Muslim] generations” – when the charter contained powerful articles defending a secular regime and banning religion in politics. Those articles were made null and void by popular vote.

Mr. Erdoğan’s definition of secularism is simple and good enough: That the state should be at an equal distance to all religious faiths including no faith. That’s fine. But the trouble is, the state is NOT at an equal distance to all religious faith or no faith. What Turkey has gone through since 2002 is a de facto violation of constitutional principles often through the executive, including police powers of the state, its legislative majority and control over the judiciary. 

Now think for a moment. Journalists Hikmet Çetinkaya and Ceyda Karan, who were sentenced to two years in prison for reprinting the Charlie Hebdo cartoons… would they have been given a prison sentence had they reprinted any drawing or cartoon or article generally deemed blasphemous to either of the non-Muslim monotheistic religions, or atheism? Mr. Erdoğan’s “we-are-at-an-equal-distance-to-all-faith-or-no-faith” euphemism is not applicable in any law enforcement precedent with or without constitutional articles defending Turkey’s theoretical “secular regime.”

On more or less the same day as Mr. Erdoğan relieved the secular Turks with his pro-secular words, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) condemned Turkey for discriminating against members of the Alevi (Muslim) religious minority by failing to grant their places of worship the same status and advantages as those of other faiths (Sunni Muslim). How could a narrow, sectarian (pro-Sunni) political ideology infiltrated deep into the veins of the state administration be “at an equal distance to all faith or no faith” when it discriminates against Sunni but secular Muslims and millions of members of another Muslim sect it privately deems as heretics? 

But never mind. Constitutional protection in Turkey has always been a fairy tale before or after Mr. Erdoğan’s party came to power. 

Now imagine Turkey and read Article 5, for example, which promises “to ensure the welfare, peace and happiness of the individual and society [and] to strive for the removal of [obstacles] which restrict the fundamental rights and freedoms.” But don’t laugh too hard. 

Article 10 is one of the most amusing. “All individuals are equal before the law without any discrimination irrespective of language, race, color, sex, political opinion, philosophical belief, religion and sect or any such consideration.” 

Article 20 states that “everyone has the right to demand respect for his private and family life.” And Article 22 guarantees that “secrecy of communications is fundamental.”

When read in 2016, Article 24 is probably the funniest in the whole charter: “Everyone has the right to freedom of conscience, religious belief and conviction… No one shall be allowed to exploit or abuse religion or religious feelings… for the purpose of personal or political influence, or for even partially basing the fundamental, social, economic, political and legal order of the state on religious tenets.”

Don’t laugh, but Article 28 even claims “the press is free, and shall not be censored.”