The threat

The threat

The Istanbul Policy Center at the Sabancı University released this week results of a rather interesting survey conducted within the framework of the International Social Survey Program, or ISSP.

The study, “Religiosity in Turkey” is part of a project that includes similar studies in all 43 member nations of the ISSP and once research in all countries is completed the results will be comparatively analyzed. The Daily News provided an extensive coverage to the study in its Wednesday editions and thus I will not go into details of it. Yet, among a set of very important findings, a point stressed in the study was rather worrisome.

Sabancı University political science professors Ali Çarkoğlu and Ersin Kalaycıoğlu and Ali Çarkoğlu explained that while 89 percent of the overall 1453 participants of the survey conducted in 51 provinces were of the opinion that religions other than their own religion, that is Islam, must be respected, when it came to the question “Can you accept someone who belongs to a religion other than your religion or to a different sect than yours from the political party you intend to vote for in elections?” some 60 percent said they would not accept. Similarly, only 11 percent agreed that people of “other religion” can hold public meetings to explain their religion to the public while 36 percent “definitely opposed” to such a thing.

Thus, Professor Çarkoğlu’s conclusion was a rather sad one. While they agree in principle with the notion of respect to other religions, these people in practice cannot have any tolerance for the “members of the other religions” to express themselves or to publish books.

Furthermore, the survey showed that only 13 percent had a positive view for Christians and even a lesser ten percent for Jews. Only seven percent had a positive view about atheists of non-believers.

What do these figures indeed indicate?

Do they indicate anything other than rising Islamist conservatism that many people including this columnist has been complaining about for the past many years or do they indicate a country where democracy, liberties and fundamental human rights including the right to believe a religion other than the religion of the majority or not to believe at all?

Well some people might say the same survey has concluded that while in 1999 a shocking 26 percent wanted Turkey to adopt Sharia law but now only ten percent was of that opinion and thus the threat of an Islamist takeover in Turkey has become less serious. However, rather than subsiding the Islamist conservatism or political Islam threat posed at the secular and democratic modern Turkish republic has transformed itself into a ruling new political elite, new top bureaucracy, academia, capital and started to take over the secular establishments of the country one after the other with a salami tactic.

2007 polls, the turning point

Perhaps the 47 percent electoral support the Justice and Development Party, or AKP received in the 2007 elections was the beginning of the end for the advance of political Islam. The Ergenekon thriller; an “informant” officer releasing “explosive documents” one after the other, as the atmosphere in the country or the agenda of the government required, demonstrating coup plot preparations in the military; rampant wiretapping that has reached top judges and prosecutors of the country and the unfortunate total mess up in the “Kurdish opening” or if you like the “national unity project” were all designed to consolidate a government sucked into an immense economic crisis not only due to the global crisis but also because of its mismanagement of the economy.

In a way the AKP has started to behave very much like the power-obsessed many examples in European history who rather than fighting at a time on one front engaged in war on all fronts with an urge for more, more and more… Is it conceivable for a sober mind to fight at the same time frame with both the patriots, Kemalists, nationalists, the military, the academia, the high judiciary and virtually everyone who did not belonged the AKP camp or bowed to the AKP?

The end result was a natural polarization which in the survey was alarmingly surfaced in the form of intolerance to the “other.” That is a sad but realistic picture of today’s Turkey. Still, no one should lose confidence in Turkey and the future of secular democratic republic.