I respect all believers, 'even' Sunnis

I respect all believers, 'even' Sunnis

The headline may sound disturbing, but it is just a version of the latest remarks by the Justice and Development Party (AKP) leader that reveal the ruling party’s mentality and its approach to religious freedom.

“If any sect is offended in religious culture and ethics classes, not only Christianity but even Buddhism, then I would be the first to oppose it,” Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said Nov. 11 in a parliamentary group meeting.

The reason why Davutoğlu felt the need to use the term “even” with Buddhism is probably because it is not one of the three major religions believing in one god, so in a way, it is not even a real religion for many in this country. One thinks that the prime minister of a country ambitious to become the leader of its region should be ahead of the average citizen when it comes to important policies such as religious freedom, but apparently, the AKP prefers to follow the average citizen’s ideology.

Davutoğlu just voiced the fundamental policy of the ruling party: Underlining that non-Sunnis and non-Turks are “the others” of this country, adding that the AKP will work “even” for them, is a tradition the prime minister inherited from the party’s previous leader.

“There are many books, more than 30 written about us, calling us Jewish, Armenian, excuse my language, Rum [a term used for Greek in Turkey],” President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said in an interview on June 10, 2011, when he was the AKP leader and the prime minister.

“They have also said a lot of things about me,” Erdoğan said last August during a live interview when he was asked of his recent discriminative remarks.

“One of them came and said I was a Georgian. Then another came up and, I beg your pardon, called me uglier things, saying I was Armenian,” he said, adding that he was a purebred Turk and a Sunni.

Davutoğlu is not saying anything new but is just following in the footsteps of his leader, whose name is still being chanted by the crowds attending AKP meetings. He is also following Erdoğan in portraying the AKP as the sole defender of Islam in the country.

When he explained in his Nov. 11 speech why the mandatory religious courses were necessary, he was not shy to label those who want them abolished as enemies of Islam, slamming the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) for trying to “fight against religion.”

“The CHP says we should abolish religious education classes. They propose to remove the term ‘religious.’ Fighting against religion is in their heads, as it has always been,” he said, of course referring to the CHP’s one-party rule era in the 1930s.

In a ruling in September, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) said Turkey’s education system was still inadequately equipped to ensure respect for parents’ convictions. Pupils, starting from the age of 10, are indoctrinated in schools with Sunni beliefs, but discussing these problems is a taboo for the AKP. The formula is simple: If you are against the way we are teaching religion, you are against religion!

The AKP officials apply the same formula to any opposition: If you are against the way the government promotes construction, be it a new bridge over the Bosphorus or an insanely big new Istanbul airport at the expense of destroying the very few green areas left in the metropoles, you are against the development of the country.

If you criticize the killing of construction workers or miners in workplace accidents, you want people to be unemployed.

If you question the cutting down of thousands of olive trees, despite court rulings, for the construction of a power plant, you want the country to be dependent on imported energy.

If you criticize government pressure on the Central Bank to lower interest rates, you are a member of the “interest rate lobby” which wants an economic crisis in the country to weaken the ruling party’s support.

If you criticize the way the government handles the Kurdish peace process, you are a warmonger who wants death and suffering to continue. 

If you go on the streets to protest the government’s actions, you are vandals asking for a coup, because you cannot beat the AKP at the ballot box and hence seek undemocratic ways to topple it.

Erdoğan is a self-made, charismatic politician who advanced to the top post in the country from the bottom, keeping the pulse of the average citizen and telling them what they want to hear. Davutoğlu, an academic by profession, is following Erdoğan’s footsteps instead of bringing his own tone to politics.

We will hear more “evens” and “Inshallahs” from Davutoğlu until the general elections next summer. And maybe one day, the AKP will respect the rights of “even” those who do not vote for the party.