An Islamic voice against Erdoğan

An Islamic voice against Erdoğan

Turkey is a very divided nation these days, in the face of the public protests that began in Taksim’s Gezi Park and spread across the whole country. Yet everybody knows that the park is just a symbol and the real issue is the governing party and especially its leader. The real dividing line, in other words, is whether you support or oppose Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

It is also true that this division roughly overlaps with the secular-religious divide in Turkish society. Most Erdoğan supporters are religious conservatives who have found more rights, prosperity and pride under his rule. On the other hand, most anti-Erdoğan groups are secular, and they find his assertive moral conservatism repulsive.

However, there are also voices that defy such a simple religious-vs.-secular divide. One of them is that of the “anti-capitalist Muslims,” a left-leaning Islamic group led by theologian İhsan Eliaçık. They condemn Erdoğan not for his religiosity but his hubris and his “neo-liberalism,” or what they see as crony capitalism.

About a week ago, another voice came from a more prominent and mainstream Islamic circle: “The Labor and Justice Platform.” At a meeting in the offices of Mazlumder, a leading Islamic Human Rights Organization, the members of the platform announced a declaration which condemned the “state arrogance” that the AKP government has shown against the protestors in Gezi Park. They argued:

“Ignoring Gezi Park protestors’ demands, and subsequently labeling them as ‘plunderers,’ reflects the arrogance of a political power that mistakes itself to be the country’s landlord. Ravaging of the environment, cars and stores were triggered by the rough treatment of the police, whenever police violence stopped, protests took a peaceful turn.”

The text went on reminding the persecution and humiliation that Turkey’s pious Muslims went through in the late 90’s, during the “post-modern coup” era, but argued that a similar process was taking place right now against the secular camp:

“We, as Muslims, have not forgotten how media abused the whole country, and sullied the innocent 15 years ago. Today, conservative and mainstream media are using the same language to terrorize a certain part of the population – what has changed then? Did we forget what police forces have done to our kids? Why should police be rightful in persecuting others who are not like us? Is justice not a divine command that has to be kept alive against every form of hatred?”

The signatories of this text include some two dozen prominent Islamic public intellectuals such as Ali Bulaç, Cihan Aktaş or Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu --- quite respected names in Islamic circles. They, probably, represent a larger segment among religious conservatives who might not be openly challenging Erdoğan but who probably find his growingly tough attitude not terribly helpful.

This lack of full “unity” in the conservative camp is of course good news. Divisions within the divisions of a society only help to overcome an absolute polarization, which is dangerous. Moreover, the ideals of righteousness, humility and empathy that the Labor and Justice Platform emphasize are desperately needed in Turkish society. That is why, although I did not agree with every single opinion raised by these Muslim intellectuals, I have been happy to know that they are out there.