Prime Minister Erdoğan’s atheophobia

Prime Minister Erdoğan’s atheophobia

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, under fire from the opposition over massive corruption allegations targeting him, his family and his ruling party members, has increased his religious tone at election rallies ahead of the March 30 local polls.

While he often reminds the voters of how his Justice and Development Party (AKP) allowed public workers, lawmakers and university students to wear headscarves, he has also increased the references in his speeches to Islam and the Quran.

This might be seen as a smart move in a country where over 95 percent are Muslims and 88 percent say religion is very or somewhat important in the lives, according to the latest PEW research. But his recent attack on atheists, which clearly make up a very tiny portion of the society, can only be explained by atheophobia, the fear, distrust, or hatred of atheists.

“We opened a boulevard in Ankara on Feb. 24 despite the [protests of] leftists, despite those atheists,” Erdoğan said at a rally in Balıkesir on Feb. 28. “They are terrorists,” he added.

So, Prime Minister Erdoğan, a staunch advocate of the fight against Islamophobia, sees no problem in associating atheism with terrorism. Those he called “leftists, atheists, terrorists” were a group of university students protesting against the construction of the road and corruption.

Erdoğan’s views on atheism are actually no secret. He made them clear two years ago when main opposition leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu criticized the prime minister for his remarks about raising “pious generations.”

“Kılıçdaroğlu, do you expect us, the AK Party that has a conservative-democrat identity, to raise atheist generations,” Erdoğan said in reply. “That might be your job, your goal, but not ours.”

Erdoğan was probably concerned the atheist youth could be persuaded to be a part of atheist terrorism. As if we live in a world where atheists have been killing believers for thousands of years, where sects within atheism have turned guns against each other and been engaged in inner fighting.
However, the prime minister was not always this harsh on atheists.

“We are the government of the Muslims, we are the government of the Christians, and the Jewish,” he said last October in Van. “We protect everybody’s rights, we will protect the rights of atheists,” he added.

When he visited Tunisia in September 2011, he was bold enough to advise them to take the secular way.

“A secular state has equal distance from all religious groups, including Muslim, Christian, Jewish and atheist people,” Erdoğan said during a visit to Tunis. On the same trip, he said in Egypt that “secularism is definitely not atheism. In a secular regime, people have the right to be believers or not.”

But the elections are coming, Erdoğan is facing massive allegations of corruption, and he is not interested in convincing the voters that he will pursue a liberal agenda. He relies on a core constituency that will vote for the ruling party even though it goes back to Islamist roots.

Critics of religion were already having a hard time before being openly targeted by the prime minister. World-renown pianist and composer Fazıl Say was sentenced to a prison term for sharing a ruba’i by Omar Khayyam. Sevan Nişanyan, an Armenian-Turkish writer and linguist, was sentenced to 13.5 months in jail for allegedly insulting the Prophet Mohammad. Some 40 users of Ekşi Sözlük, one of Turkey’s most popular websites that publishes user-contributed content, and its owner Sedat Kapanoğlu, are on trial for “publicly degrading religious values” for their critical articles on God, the Prophet Mohammed, heaven, hell, the Quran, Bible, and Jesus, facing prison terms of up to 1.5 years.

According to a poll conducted in 2009 by Bahçeşehir University, 75 percent of Turks do not want an atheist neighbor, while 64 percent do not want a Jewish person next door and 52 percent do not want to live near Christians. According to the same poll, a whopping 93 percent believe that life was created by one creator, while 7 percent accept evolution, and 56 percent think that religious books are more important than science books in efforts to understand the universe.

Having admitted to having had the conversations in the leaked phone recordings, Erdoğan believes this pious society will vote for him on March 30 instead of “leftists, atheists, terrorists” and whitewash the corruption claims.

Late Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan, the leader of the Islamist “National View” that the majority of the AKP cadres were followers of, said in 1991 that those who did not work for and vote for his Welfare Party (RP) were not Muslims and “of the potato religion.” Erdoğan is slowly approaching that point.