Secular Turks may be in the minority, but they are vital to Turkey’s future


Date posted: September 6, 2016

Umut Parmaksız

As the dust settles after the recent coup attempt in Turkey, the reality that awaits the country’s secular citizens is becoming clearer. The Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is using the coup as an opportunity to consolidate power as bureaucracts with suspected links to the Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen are being purged.

While this is the beginning of a new Turkey for supporters of Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP), for Turkey’s secular minority the power grab raises fears of increasing oppression.

For many secular Turks the difference between Erdoğan and Gülen’s vision for Turkey is not very substantial. Gülen’s desire to save the Turkish nation from “atheism” and “materialism” and take it back to its authentic self sounds similar to Erdoğan’s goal of raising a “pious generation” and saving Muslims from the grasp of materialism and social disintegration. Once allies in silencing their secular opponents, both men have been striving for dominance, pushing forward their respective beliefs as the proper way of living an Islamic life.

What makes this perplexing is that Turkey has never been a fully secular society, nor has it ever been consumed by atheism or materialism. On the contrary, the country has gradually become more religious in the last two decades – a process that started well before the AKP came to power in 2002.

According to the World Values Survey, the percentage of Turks who self-identify as religious has gradually increased from 74.6% in 1990 to 83.5% in 2011. In the years before the AKP’s rise to power, the share of people who think “religion is important in life” increased dramatically from 61.2% in 1990 to 80.8% in 2001. Belief in God, considered an important indicator of religiosity, has consistently stayed over 95%, and belief in an afterlife has increased by 10% to 90.1% in about a decade.

Religious belief in Turkey

Despite the prevalence of religiosity, analysts have commonly portrayed the political struggle in Turkey as taking place between two radically different camps: the secular and religious. While there is some truth to this view, what has been missing from much analysis is an understanding that being secular in Turkey is very different from being secular in the West. Unlike Western Europe where belief and church membership has declined since World War II, the latest World Values Survey shows that in Turkey of the 14% who identify as nonreligious, almost all (96%) also identify as Muslim and believers.

What mainly differentiates these secular Turks from their religious peers is that they are less inclined to govern their everyday life by religious teachings and are more inclined to reconcile their religious beliefs with mundane activities. For example, it is not uncommon for these Turks to consume alcohol liberally yet fast during Ramadan. They are also more open to different interpretations of Islam and understand belief to be essentially related to one’s conscience.

For this secular minority, years of AKP rule in Turkey has meant the gradual shrinking of living spaces. Practices associated with a secular way of life, such as alcohol consumption, have been aggressively regulated. The cultural scene has been dominated by a nostalgia for the Ottoman era while traditional, conservative values have been exalted in everyday Turkish life. Successive AKP governments have remoulded the national education system to fit with their vision of a more religious society.

The critical minority

Secular Turks are now coming to terms with their predicament as a social, cultural and political minority. Faced with the undiminishing popularity of the AKP, many are seeking ways of resilience rather than developing practices of resistance. Self-censorship is becoming more common and people are limiting themselves to safe spaces beyond the reach of the religious gaze.

The younger secular generation are less concerned about the headscarf, which was at the centre of the debates about secularism throughout the 1990s and 2000s and is now no longer banned in places of education and public institutions including the police. Instead, this younger generation is more concerned about protecting their way of life from a very popular government that views their social and cultural identity as a threat.

If Turkey is going to move towards a pluralist democracy that respects the basic rights of all its citizens, its secular minority will play a critical role.

What a decade and a half of AKP experience has shown is that the problem with democracy in Turkey has deep social roots that go way beyond the political power struggles on the surface. Both an authoritarian political culture and conservative social values inhibit the emergence of a pluralist democracy. In the last decade, despite the elimination of the military’s influence over politics, Muslim conservative elites have shown little interest in establishing a fully fledged democracy. This is not surprising: popular support in Turkey for the basic rights that characterise liberal democracies is limited, and democracy is largely understood by most Turks to be just about elections.

The kind of social change needed to foster a healthy democracy is not easy to bring about: it will take years and many generations to come. And right now, the social group that comes closest to harbouring the values, hopes and fears pertinent to such an ideal in Turkey is its beleaguered secular minority.

Source: The Conversation , September 6, 2016


Related News

Texans experience Turkish culture by volunteering

After helping to distribute charity Kimse Yok Mu’s (Is Anybody There) Eid al-Adha care packages to families in Turkey, four Americans travelling across the country shared their satisfying experiences with local Turkish families.

Turkish Teacher Died Under Custody in the Aftermath of the Coup Attempt

Turkish teacher who was denied medical aid after harsh treatment, dies under custody. Gokhan Acikkolu was a teacher of history. As many people, he was detained on charge of being Gulen Fallower on July 23,2016. He died under police custody. He died without even knowing what he was accused of.

Attempting to discredit Gülen by linking him to Israel

A typical example of black propaganda is the “anti-reactionaryism action plan” prepared in cosmic rooms with the intention of destroying the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) and the Gülen community in 2009, which was initially denied and passed off as a “piece of paper,” but which led to the trial and sentencing of those who prepared it.

Faces of Manisa prisoners rendered unrecognizable due to torture, lawyer says

The faces of people held in a Manisa prison have become unrecognizable due to heavy torture, Seda Tanrıkulu, a lawyer representing some of the prisoners, told the Turkish media. “When I met with prisoners, there were bruises on the face of D.K., made by the boots of officials,” Tanrıkulu said.

Children from all over the world embarked on Turkish voyage

Around 22 years ago, Fethullah Gülen said, “The day will come when you will no longer fit into the stadiums.” In fact, it turned out to be true. The Turkish Olympiad, which began in 2003 with young people from 17 different countries, has grown to the point that this year we hosted 2,000 students from 140 countries. The Olympiad came to an end in Istanbul with a magnificent final ceremony.

Critics locked up at home as President Erdogan arrives in India

“I have no family to look after me here, and an arrest warrant has been issued for me in Turkey. All three of my business partners and the CEO of my company have been jailed in Turkey. I lead the life of a fugitive,” he says. Salman is wary of providing details about himself or his family, and refuses to be photographed. “My wife and daughter are still there, I don’t want to put them in trouble,” he says.

Latest News

This notable Pocono resident has been living here in exile since 1999

Logistics companies seized over Gülen links sold in fast-track auction

That is Why the Turkish Government could Pay 1 Billion Euros

ECtHR rules Bulgaria violated rights of Turkish journalist who was deported despite seeking asylum

Fethullah Gülen’s Message of Condolences in the Wake of the Western European Floods

Pregnant woman kept in prison for 4 months over Gülen links despite regulations

Normalization of Abduction, Torture, and Death in Erdogan’s Turkey

Turkey’s Maarif Foundation illegally seized German-run school in Ethiopia, says manager

Failed 2016 coup was gov’t plot to purge Gülenists from state bodies, journalist claims

In Case You Missed It

New Mother Detained Over Alleged Gülen Links Despite Doctor’s Objection In Turkey

Pro-gov’t circles intensify hypocritical propaganda targeting Gülen movement

Turkey ‘looking for scapegoats’ by linking schools in Nigeria to failed coup

Kimse Yok Mu presents gifts to 8,000 children in Diyarbakır

GYV holds reception for attendees of 70th UN General Assembly

Keep Incirlik, Extradite Gülen?

Turkic American Alliance’s iftar brought diplomats together in Washington DC

Copyright 2021 Hizmet News