Turkey’s ruling AKP going back to its radical roots

Turkey’s ruling AKP going back to its radical roots

Once the champion of individual freedoms, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) is now pushing an ultra-conservative and Islamist agenda, as party officials feel their public support is strong enough to transform the country.

Last week’s National Education Council and the subsequent debate over the education system, as well as President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s speech earlier this week at the Fifth Religion Council, are clear examples of what the AKP will offer citizens in the general elections next June.

Although the debate has mostly stuck on whether the Ottoman language should be a compulsory lesson in high schools, Erdoğan’s speech was about much more than that.

“We are going beyond the banalities taught to us for 200 years. We are finally asking the right questions,” the president said, referring to the Tanzimat reform era in the Ottoman Empire in the 19th century, the first attempts of Westernization in these lands.

Erdoğan added that the first verse of the Quran received by the Prophet Muhammad was “read.” He said it was significant that the members of such a religion put verses aside and “followed intelligence and science as if they are the only way out.”

The president, who is a former footballer himself, used a football metaphor to encourage the audience of Islamic clerics, telling them to “get out of defense and run forward. We will always be supporting and encouraging you.”

Buoyed by Erdoğan’s call, one religious official was quick to make the forward run, hoping to score.
Globalization and secularism have “changed and damaged” religious life in Turkish society, Necdet Subaşı, the head of the Diyanet’s Strategy Development Department, said at the same council. He was angry that although over 99 percent of Turkish citizens called themselves Muslims, they did not live accordingly.

According to an official survey conducted by the Directorate General of Religious Affairs (Diyanet), 99.2 percent of Turkish citizens said they were Muslims, Subaşı said. (By the way, 98.7 percent of respondents said they believe that Allah exists, so 0.5 of those who call themselves Muslims do not believe in Allah.)

But Subaşı was not happy with the details: The number of people regularly performing prayers was low; 10 percent said consuming alcohol could be accepted to some extent; 40 percent said they were not totally opposed to interest, which is banned by the Quran. After all, sharia requires total commitment.

“Different curricula and educational systems, the pressures of secularism, and particularly the effects of the globalization that Turkey is experiencing, have changed and damaged the details of society’s religious life,” Subaşı said, adding that religion is particularly learned between the ages of six and 10.

So, this is why the government is preparing to introduce compulsory religious courses to primary schools, and even to kindergartens, disguised as “values education.”

The idea was made public by Eğitim-Bir Sen, a teacher’s union that has enjoyed the AKP’s backing in the last decade and is being used as a tool to bring controversial issues on the agenda. The union had 18,000 members in January 2003, according to data on its website, but now has almost 280,000, making it the biggest teachers’ union. This is not surprising, as being a member of this union is a must if one wants to be appointed to a post at the Education Ministry, or even become a vice principal at a school.

The union previously proposed the launch of gender segregated education, but this was not backed by the government officials. After President Erdoğan’s call to play on the offense, this proposal may come back on the agenda very soon.

The AKP, in its early days, was located as a party in the political center, including many prominent politicians from a wide spectrum. It advocated freedom not only for the religious and the pious, but for all citizens. Today, it puts religious freedom for the Sunni majority at the top of its priorities, while party and state officials openly attack the very fundamentals of the Republic to turn it into a “truly Muslim” one.

These attacks are not efforts to “create an artificial agenda to overshadow corruption,” as some pundits argue, because the latest local election and the presidential election proved that widespread allegations of graft and corruption, which included President Erdoğan, have no effect on the party’s votes.

When the AKP was founded in 2001, Erdoğan said he had “taken off our National View shirt,” trying to put distance between the party and the main political Islamist movement in the country, led by ex-Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan, in which many of the AKP’s founders - including Erdoğan - had their roots. Now, the shirts have been changed once again, and the June 2015 election will show whether the voters like the new outfit.