Perhaps we should thank the speaker!

Perhaps we should thank the speaker!

Parliament Speaker İsmail Kahraman has understandably caused outrage among modern Turks by suggesting the new Turkish constitution should be stripped of all references to secularism and be based on religious values instead.

His remark also disturbed his own Justice and Development Party (AKP) government because it appears to hint at what really lies in the AKP’s heart.

When combined with his support for President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s push to convert Turkey’s parliamentary system into a presidential one, Kahraman appears to be calling for an Islamic dictatorship.

Kahraman has also provided vindication for those who believe that Erdoğan’s and the AKP’s outlook is ultimately based on what in Latin is referred to as “Cuius regio, eius religio,” which basically means “whatever the leader’s religion is, so should the religion of the land be.”

It is precisely to prevent this that the founding fathers of the Turkish Republic underscored the importance of secularism. Without secularism you have what amounts to a theocracy based on an exclusive religious outlook which predominates over all other faiths and beliefs. 

Many believe, rightly or wrongly, this is what Erdoğan and his Islamist supporters would really like to see in this country. Some of the steps the AKP has taken since assuming power also reinforces this belief. 

Yet Erdoğan knows that he would be rowing in very dangerous waters if he were to openly push this line.

Instead he and his supporters have veered towards the argument that they are not against secularism per se, but the Jacobin and undemocratic manner in which it was implemented in Turkey in the past.

They may have an argument there, but Kahraman does not have an argument he can support. What he has said is only a shrouded way of saying that the Turkish constitution should be based on the Islamic sharia. 

There is no doubt that an element of the population would support him in this, but it is obvious that there is a much larger element who would oppose him. Calls similar to Kahraman’s have resulted in serious social strife, if not civil war, in many countries. 

One has to therefore question his intelligence for even suggesting such a thing, especially at a time of heightened sensitivities in Turkey along the secular-religious fault line. What he recommends would only spell disaster for this country. If he does not care about that, so long as his world view somehow gets the upper hand, then he should not be sitting in the chair of the parliamentary speaker.

The positive side to his remark is that it has forced Erdoğan and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu to come out and support secularism with reassurances that any new constitution will retain all references to it.

Erdoğan, in particular, cannot be too happy with Kahraman for this reason. What is evident, however, is that Erdoğan and Davutoğlu’s response to Kahraman show that they understand, no matter what their true beliefs may be, that secularism remains non-negotiable in Turkey.

We have to perhaps thank Kahraman, therefore, for bringing up the matter in such a stark manner that it galvanized support for secularism, rather than increasing support for his obviously highly skewed political outlook.

It is still shocking, though, to see a person who holds what should be such an important position in our democracy, come up with such a suggestion in this day and age.a