Will Turkey become the new Pakistan?

Dr. Can Erimtan is an independent scholar residing in İstanbul, with a
wide interest in the politics, history and culture of the Balkans and
the Greater Middle East. He tweets at @theerimtanangle

Published time: February 21, 2014 12:47

Protesters shout slogans as they try to march towards Turkish
Parliament during a protest against Turkey's ruling Ak Party (AKP) and
Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara February 13, 2014
(Reuters/Umit Bektas)

Culture, History, Pakistan, Politics,Religion, Turkey

As Turkey is now slowly approaching the first centenary of the
Republic's foundation on 29 October 1923, some critics appear to fear
that the country has assumed an outlook most incongruous with the
legacy of Atatrk.

And it is true that ever since the Justice and Development Party (AKP)
assumed the reins of power in the country, Turkey has moved into a
distinct post-Kemalist era. Following decades of Kemalist
indoctrination and a seeming hostility towards Islam, the nation is
now going through a "process of completing its normalization," as
voiced by Taha -zhan, the Director General of the Ankara-based
non-profit research institute SETA (or Foundation for Political,
Economic, and Social Research).

Kemalism" is the `ideas and principles of Mustafa Kemal Atatrk, the
founder and first president of the Turkish Republic.' From The Oxford
Encyclopedia of the Islamic World

-zhan sees the overtly Islamic AKP as a political power that is
forcibly taking Turkey into new waters, where a pious population is
made to feel at ease with the government machinery that had previously
appeared to be in direct opposition to the population's deep and
heartfelt attachment to Islam and its values. As such, throughout the
1920s and 30s "the ideological position of Turkish nationalism in the
guise of the political doctrine of Kemalism was meant to replace the
religion of Islam as the binding force fashioning a unitary and
homogeneous state."

Turkey's Westward road

The many ethnic groups making up Anatolia's Muslim population `
according to the Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdo?an Turkey's
population consists of "36 ethnic elements" ` are all united under the
banner of Turkish nationalism in the Kemalist nation state. The late
19th and early 20th century Ottoman state, the Turkish Republic's
direct precursor, had attempted to accommodate the many Muslim
refugees fleeing persecution from the Russian Empire and the Balkans
on Anatolian soil, the Ottoman heartland. This exercise in social
engineering saw the dispersal of the Christian minorities living in
Anatolia only to be replaced by Muslim newcomers. The ideological
stance of Ottomanism provided a new identity to the newly arrived
settlers, who were united in their allegiance to the Ottoman
Sultan-Caliph, the nominal head of all (Sunni) Muslims worldwide.
Following the end of the Great War (1918) and the successful War of
Resistance (1922), Mustafa Kemal Pasha sent a delegation to Lausanne
to conduct peace negotiations. The subsequent treaty, signed on 24
July 1923, led to the formation of the state of Turkey on Anatolian
soil ` the name Turkey having been in use throughout the 19th century
to refer to the Ottoman Empire. And the earlier results of the
Ottoman-directed exercises in social engineering were all but
confirmed by the treaty and the population exchange between Greece and
Turkey, forcibly evicting and relocating Christians and Muslims and
leading to the fact that by 1927 a staggering 97.4 percent of Turkey's
population was Muslim (the statistic today proclaims 99.9 percent of
Turks are Muslim).

As a result, the population of Anatolia emerged as an almost
completely Islamic entity. But rather than identify themselves as
Anatolian Muslims, Kemalist indoctrination and social engineering
turned these Republican inhabitants into Turks, with their allegiance
to Islam actually constituting their common bond.

The stipulations of the Treaty of Lausanne, in conjunction with the
abolition of the Ottoman Sultanate (1922) and Caliphate (1924), meant
that the Republic of Turkey developed into a modern nation state
oriented towards the West. The Kemalist reform policies cut off
modernized Turkey from its erstwhile Ottoman hinterland and Muslim
neighbors. The Kemalist experiment transformed the Anatolian
population, the Turkish citizens in other words, into a people cut off
from their Islamic past, with access only granted to academic
historians able to read the Arabic alphabet.

The new westward orientation of the country was made visible by means
of the so-called Language Reform (1928), which saw the introduction of
a new Latin-based script. The new Republic ensured that the
traditional Islamic power class no longer wielded any power ` creating
the Directorate of Religious Affairs (1924), as an aggregate to the
office of the Prime Minister, to control the religious institutions of
the country. As a nation state, deprived of its erstwhile Islamic
provinces and dependencies, the Islam practiced in Turkey became
focused on the population of the territories granted in the Treaty of
Lausanne. Whereas previously, the Ottoman sultans wielded nominal
power over all (Sunni) Muslim peoples, the Republic's government only
held sway over Turkey and the Directorate of Religious Affairs, in
turn, only provided for the needs of the Turkish believers.

Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan (Reuters)

`Reapplying Islam' in the 21st century

At the moment, the AKP-led government appears to be pursuing a policy
which all but strengthens the Anatolian population's Muslim identity
at the expense of their "common" Turkish character. Efforts to solve
the Kurdish Issue appear to underline this development.

The fact that Tayyip Erdogan's AKP-led government is currently
developing policies that would strengthen the Turks' rediscovery of
their Islamic heritage is illustrated by the budget passed for the
fiscal year 2014. The money allocated to the Directorate of Religious
Affairs has increased by 18.2 percent; the Directorate of Religious
Affairs will receive around $2.5 billion, compared to the Ministry of
the Interior with $1.6 billion and the Ministry of Health with $1.1

The budget passed for the year 2014 does seem to stress that Erdogan's
government is at pains to provide for the spiritual and physical
health of the Turkish citizenry, as befits the Muslim nanny stateI
talked about earlier.

When the Kemalist regime abolished the Caliphate, it also ended the
office of the Chief Mufti and replaced the Shariah with the new
Turkish Civil Code (Trk Medeni Kanunu) in 1926, which was adopted
from the Swiss Civil Code of 1907. Many in Turkey now fear a creeping
return to a more Islamic approach to law and civil rights.

On a purely academic level, the current government, employing the
offices of the Committee for Higher Education, ensured in August 2013
that theology faculties will in future only teach Islam and Islamic
scholarship to their students. Whereas previously, Turkish theology
students also became well-versed in religious studies and even
philosophy, psychology and sociology; new candidates will only receive
a strict Islamic education ` one that even excludes the beliefs and
teachings of the Alevi minority in Turkey.

Recently, Hayrettin Karaman, a highly respected theology professor
known for his close ties to the Prime Minister, published a telling
article in the pro-government paper, Yeni Safak, somewhat reflecting
the government's thinking. Karaman writes that pious believers in
Turkey do not want full"integration with the EU," nor do they wish to
"replace" their "own pure and high civilization" with that of the
"West," regarding this as an "issue of faith."

These words appear as a clear challenge to the Kemalist credo, which
sees the Muslim Turk as an integral part of the civilization of Europe
and the West. As such, Karaman even takes his anti-nationalist stance
a whole lot further, declaring that these unnamed pious believers
regard the"human element [living] within the national borders [of
Turkey, in other words, Turkish citizens or Turks] as an indispensable
part of the great Islamic ummah [or community of believers]."

The Islamic thinker, Hayrettin Karaman, should not be understood as an
obscurantist advocating the return to some kind of idealized Islamic
past. Instead Karaman is a person totally at ease with today's world
and enjoying the benefits of 21st-century science and technology. On
the internet, for instance, he has a very distinct presence. His
personal website contains over 3,500 individual webpages and provides
online access to 15 of his books. In addition, his website also
provides access to his articles published in various newspapers and

Riot police use tear gas and water canon to disperse protesters as
they try to march to the parliament during a protest against Turkey's
ruling Ak Party (AKP) and Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara
February 13, 2014. (Reuters)

Karaman does not promote a return to the past; instead he lives and
works in the here and now. As such, Karaman resembles the Pakistani
writer Mawlana Abul Ala Mawdudi (1903-79). As a Muslim who witnessed
the fall of the Ottoman Empire and the abject failure of the Indian
Khilafat Movement, in his writings, Mawdudi "provided Islamic
responses, ideological and organizational, to modern society," as
worded by American professor of International Affairs and Islamic
Studies, John Esposito. In his analysis of the Pakistani thinker,
Esposito explains further that Mawdudi saw"the West ... [as] a
political and economic but also a cultural threat to Muslim
societies," that Abul Ala Mawdudi was a thinker who "self-consciously
reapplied Islamic sources and beliefs, reinterpreting them to address
modern realities."

He put his thoughts into practice in 1941, founding the
Jamaat-e-Islami in Lahore, in then-British India. Following
independence and partition, Mawdudi and his Jamaat moved to West
Pakistan. As an organization, the Jamaat maintains close ties with
international Muslim activist groups, such as the Muslim Brotherhood.
Mawdudi's organization aims at the establishment of an Islamic state,
governed by the Shariah, but maintains that democracy is understood as
an integral part of Islamic political ideals. When General Muhammad
Zia-ul-Haq organized a coup in Pakistan on 5 July 1977, Mawdudi's
ideals arguably provided the basis for the general's subsequent
thorough Islamization of Pakistani society. Still, the left-liberal
Pakistani journalist, Nadeem Paracha, maintains that General Zia
actually "exploited" what he calls 'Maududi-ism' "as a way to deflect,
deflate and denounce any other form of Islamic reformism."

The parallels outlined above could very well lead some critics of the
Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan to assume that the future of Turkey
appears predicated upon earlier events in Pakistan. Could it be that
Turkey's Directorate of Religious Affairs and certain trusted
faculties of theology are now in the process of formulating a Turkish
form of Maududi-ism? Thinkers like Hayrettin Karaman are able to
provide Turkey's current government with academic and legalistic
ammunition to enact a wholesale shift in Turkish policy-making, thus
paving the way for the Republic of Turkey to look like another version
of Pakistan transported to the western edge of Asia.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely
those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.