SECULARISM: STATE AND RELIGION IN TURKEY

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  1. Secularism has emerged within the framework of the unique idea and political development of Western civilization. Impacts of secularism have significant place in the world history to understand the ongoing philosophical debates. In particular, the connection between the idea of enlightenment, the French Revolution and the concept of the republicanism with a secular moral understanding makes it necessary to reveal the ethical dimensions of the evaluation. Moreover, when we consider the religious attitudes that make us feel greater in today’s political and social mobility, we need to understand the philosophical foundations of the principle of secularism, which implements religion and state relations.

In the conceptual part of this paper, two term should be defined. The term “secularism” basically refers the separation of affairs of state and religion. In other word, distinguishing and determining the sphere of temporal authority, which is state, and of spiritual authority which is religion. While the word “secularism” emphasizes the idea of worldliness, the term “laicism” derived from Greek laos (the people) and laikos (the lay) emphasizes the distinction of the laity from clergy. In this article, both term refer to same thing and are interchangeable.

Secularism initially, has emerged and developed in the Western Europe within its unique historical, cultural context. Briefly, declining power of the church during Renaissance and Reformation led to increase power of monarchs, states’ authority. So, the demand for get rid of church hegemony in politics by monarch contributed the secular movement across the Europe. After the Thirty Years Wars, modern state concept emerged and no more church authority over the state officially accepted. In addition, arguably, secularism became indispensable with the modern state particularly after the French Revolution which led to emerged of the notion, “nation state” based on not the pre-modern understanding of “millet”, community based on or identified with the religion. Nation state includes and gave both political and socio-cultural aspects of secularism.

Coming to the Ottoman Empire which had never experienced the separation of state and religion until Imperial Edict of Gulhane according to most widely accepted view. During the Tanzimat, numerous regulations and reforms had been done in administration, education, and jurisdiction. Distinctively, regulations in jurisdiction had to some extent secular attributions, forms. Sharia courts were not only single institution anymore at that time. Furthermore, it can be argued that traditional education institutions co-existed along with new, modern, positivist method based education institutions, contributed new feature to Ottoman education system. Sultan the II. Mahmud known as pro-western, conducted an engagement policy with Western contemporaries. However, we cannot claim that the sultan had clearly accepted the notion of secularism which aims to excavate religion, spiritual authority, from the temporal, political sphere. Nevertheless, institutional regulations and transformations caused an acceleration in secularization which is a sociological process takes place as a result of factors beyond the control of individuals. Young Turks who advocated secularism and westernization emerged as an elite group of Tanzimat, and also they established the Turkish Republic in 1923 when a more radical and intensive period of secularization has begun.

Republicans who were members of Union and Progress Community-Party which was also successor of Young Turks, approached the secularization issue more radical and assertive. This approach is called as Kemalist approach in this paper. After the establishment of Republic of Turkey, Kemalists were the main actor in all aspects of secularization in Turkey. Decisions of abolish of Sultanate and abolish of Caliphate was by Kemalists. In addition to these two, other decisions which were abolishing the ministry of Şeriat and Evkaf, closing medrese, unifying education under the Ministry of Education, and abolishing the religious communities(tariqas) taken by Kemalist government to eliminate all traces of the Ottoman Empire that was not a secular state. As I mentioned, in order to eliminate Ottoman’s shadow in politics, in society in all areas and establish a “modern, unique Turkey”, Kemalist state fully engaged with Western principles and became pro-western. Kemalist state created its secular, western mind elites who were the main actor of secularization that was as state doctrine in Turkey.

The form of secularization took place in the hands of state and Kemalist elites in Turkey. Thus, radical changes in the constitution have interfered with many issues of religious community and individuals such as clothing, education, music, worship, ritual, ezan, marriage and inheritance law. The most crucial and without vision was that alphabet revolution which eliminate the Arabic alphabet and replaced with Latin. I think, this implementation destroyed all accumulated knowledge of society, caused alienation of self-culture, self-identity, sources etc. Despite all efforts of Kemalist elites, bloody pressure, prohibitions, even “cultural revolution” by alphabet change and education, secularism could not fully achieved as western did in Turkey. So, this failure created a more complex, contradict structure in Turkey.

Kemalist state’s elites called as White Turks includes politicians, technocrats, bureaucrats, big business elites, journalist, media owners and academician. They settled in major cities firstly in Ankara, Istanbul, and Izmir. They are considered located in center rather than periphery. They have been always minority however, ruling class. This structure basically composed of secular state and religious society. Kemalist approach aimed to control of religion, to hold the monopoly of religious affairs and to determine the form of religion. Ultimately, I claim that, Kemalism engaged with religion. In Turkey, religion subordinated and reshaped by the state. In Republican era, Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet İşleri Başkanlığı) was established. Also in following periods, the use of religious organizations by secular state to oppose the secular was witnessed (g.e. FETÖ against establishment during AKP).

Throughout the Turkish political history, any political organization established from out of or inside of (DP) Kemalist group (CHP) was seen as a challenging structure and as a direct threat against the secular, pro-western establishment, white Turk elites. In addition, those who were against Kemalist has been in demand, favored, and majority. Within this political structure which based on rigid contradiction between religious society and their supported ones and secular state, and Kemalists, Turkish political history was shaped. Ozal, Demirel, Erbakan, Erdoğan were supported by majority of religious people against the CHP (most solid Kemalist fraction or actor in current Turkish politics). Moreover, anti-Kemalist organizations, parties created their own elites; businessmen in industry, in media, in academia, in bureaucracy etc. However, I think, rivals did not clash over the issue of secular form of the state, instead they were fighting on practical policies, or unjust distribution of outcome, sources, opportunities. Even in clash of ideology in Turkey especially btw. 1960-80s was not on the theoretical frame of the secular state. I want to emphasize the role or impact of Sunni political Islam doctrine which of obedience the leader or state even though it has worst condition. In other word, no group, no organization attempted to change the secular form of the state or seek to a radical change in politics except Islamists- the term refers to an Islamic political ground, standing attitude against modern, secular system). Islamism –with the impacts of Iran Islamic Revolution- emphasized and drown attention on the nature of the current political system-which is secular- initially invalid itself, and positioned against the state and all political mechanism. However, it can be argued that once those who supported these ideas could achieved to reconcile with politics more and the concerns of society. Today, this reached the peak level by coming closer to “the center” or even replaced it. Actually, we are more concern with the deep impacts of secularism on social relations, social institution, and corruption of values and culture rather than the secular political system.

Today around the world, only Islam stands naturally against secularism, and I believe that Turkey, as a muslim community, yet not a muslim state, will remain challenge against secularism. However, contrary to previous, people are exhausted from the debate of radical change in political system or this “endless dilemmas”. Therefore today, people or any muslim should try to best to be qualified, well educated, well trained, acquire the capacity to see issue without popular discourses, act not according to daily political affairs, and significantly be aware of the fundamental demand and characteristics of our people rather than ignore them. Interaction with globalization, engagement with free market economy may cause pushing us to more secular space, however, we should aware of what we belong to and from which value we are composed of.

In conclusion, ultimate solution for the issue of secularism seems to be a political system which is regulated, ruled and checked by the Sharia, however today it so far from realization of it. However, the movement and goals to achieve it, cannot be gave up, it is inevitable. Secularism in politics is secondary rather than while the vital issue which Turkish society now in danger of secularism, capitalism, populism, individualism. Immediately, it is significant to educate people and create public awareness against that danger. For those who believe that Islam offers peace and happiness not only for Muslims also for all humanity, must be take action and be determinant to achieve the goal.

Ahmet Enes BAŞKAYA

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