The state, AKP, Religious Affairs Directorate, Alevis and rights

BÜLENT KENEŞ
BÜLENT KENEŞ


Date posted: December 16, 2013

BÜLENT KENEŞ

The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) claimed it would minimize the space the state occupies in people’s lives and reduce bureaucracy and downsize the public sector when it was first elected to office. During the early years of its rule, it really moved to achieve these targets. But as it increased its control over the entire state apparatus, it has increasingly become yet another typical Turkish ruling party that prioritizes the state.

All political parties that function within the current Turkish political space compete with each other to enlarge the state’s space and glorify the sacredness attributed to the state although they hold largely contradicting ideas in many areas. The main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) has always acted as a state-centric party instead of focusing on the representation of the public. In addition to its leader’s first name being “Devlet” (state), the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) puts the spotlight on the state in all of its acts and rhetoric. And despite the fact that it relied on nothing but the backing of the public and in its early years in office and it tried to remain in office only by promoting democratization, the AKP started to look and act like these two state-centric parties as it consolidated its power. While the state institutions opposed it and treated it as an enemy during its early years in office, the AKP has today surpassed these two system parties in terms of state fetishism.

It is thought-provoking to see how the ruling elites with religious and conservative lifestyles attribute an unprecedented sanctity to the state despite the fact that the Turkish state apparatus has inflicted tremendous sorrows on diverse social groups. Moreover, in bid to put the state at the very center of social life, just like what was done under the “one-man” rule in the early years of the republic, the ruling AKP seems very eager to nationalize all nongovernmental and quasi-nongovernmental organizations and movements in the social, cultural and economic areas.

One of the areas where the state’s central position has been reinforced is undoubtedly the religious sphere. The ruling AKP’s appetite for emboldening the state’s control and clout over the religious sphere has been whetted as it has consolidated its power and infiltrated deeper into the state apparatus during its 11-year rule. In this regard, for increased control over the religious sphere, the Religious Affair Directorate has been endowed with a functionality that is modeled after Mustafa Kemal Atatürk’s “one-man” or İsmet İnönü’s fascistic “national chief” eras. As is known, Atatürk and İnönü had used the Religious Affair Directorate to effectively eradicate the presence and visibility of religion from social life and to strictly monopolize the religion. The ruling AKP has strengthened this institution beyond its wildest dreams and turned it into a mighty machine imposing a single religious mentality on society using public resources.

The Religious Affairs Directorate, established on March 3, 1924 at the behest of Atatürk, sought to fill the void resulting from the purging of the class of religious scholars (ulama), who were relatively independent from the state in the Ottoman Empire, as well as the abolition of all civil society organizations that were providing religious services. Although the new regime claimed that it stuck to the principle of “secularism,” the very presence of the Religious Affair Directorate — which was established to impose state control over the religious sphere — is diametrically at odds with the regime’s secularism claims and universal implementations of this principle. The likes of an institution that turns clerics into public servants who cannot act freely cannot be found in any secular Western democracy.

Moreover, it is impossible to offer any logical explanation for this institution having a share of the state budget — which is funded by the taxes collected from citizens of diverse faiths — and paying the salaries of these clerics from this budget but requiring them to provide services only to Sunni/Hanafi Muslims. This practice of the Religious Affair Directorate is in stark contrast with the Islamic principle of justice and fairness and is harshly criticized by the practitioners of diverse religions and sects as well as by the hardcore secularists who seek the complete elimination of the state’s involvement in the religious sphere.

The presence and nature of the Religious Affairs Directorate — which has been frequently instrumentalized by the ideological groups that happened to come to power — represents an embodiment of injustice that violates the very spirit of Islam. The fact that injustice — which cannot be eradicated in social and economic areas — is imposed by the state in the religious sphere where moral and ethnic values are supposed to be promoted cannot be accounted for with references to any religious value.

The Abant Platform of the Journalists and Writers Foundation (GYV) — whose honorary president is well-respected Turkish-Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen — has been organizing agenda-setting events about various topics that are of special concern for Turkey and the world. During a meeting titled “Alevis and Sunnis: Searching for Peace and a Future Together” held last weekend by the platform, the basic criticisms and demands were largely about the Religious Affairs Directorate. In particular, Cafer Solgun, a columnist at Today’s Zaman, delivered a very impressive speech that bordered on rebellion, which should be a lesson for the government, the Religious Affairs Directorate and the clerics who work for the directorate.

Voicing bitter criticisms against the figurant role the state has imposed on Alevis regarding the distorted secularism mentality, Solgun explained the problems of Alevis with the following striking words: “We Alevis are always supposed to utter the slogan ‘Turkey is secular and will remain so’ very loudly and fervently, but we have never witnessed a true implementation of secularism. Yet, the state has to accept the Alevis’ demand for equal citizenship and recognize their rights. Moreover, these rights are non-negotiable! The recognition of people’s right to worship can no longer be postponed.”

Stressing that the hijacking of Alevis’ rights stems from the state and not the public, Solgun said: “Today, Alevis have cemevis as their places of worship and we hold funeral ceremonies for our dead people there. No Sunni citizen has ever objected to us, saying ‘Why do you hold your funeral ceremonies at cemevis?'”

Noting that seven Alevi workshops were held and that the Alevis initiative launched by the government were aborted, Solgun maintained that this led to great disappointment by Alevis. Slamming certain discriminatory remarks uttered during political campaigns, Solgun drew attention to the recent efforts to foster social polarization by creating the impression that all Gezi Park protesters are Alevis. Solgun also voiced warnings specifically for the AKP leadership. “Do not destroy the very grounds for coexistence for the sake of seasonal political gains from polarization. You may kindle a new wave of polarization by labeling all Gezi Park protesters as Alevis and you may derive political gains from this. But this will also create a very adverse outcome.”

Naturally, the Religious Affairs Directorate received the lion’s share of Solgun’s fusillade. Explaining how the Religious Affairs Directorate was instrumentalized by giving examples from the instructions the directorate sent to muftis and imams in the wake of the coups in 1960, 1971 and 1982, Solgun referred to the activities of the Turkish Armed Forces’ (TSK) Psychological Warfare Department that established units within the directorate during the postmodern coup of Feb. 28, 1997. Arguing that the discriminatory sermons which the Religious Affairs Directorate had ordered imams to recite during Friday prayers played a great role in effecting the emotional break-up of Alevis and Kurds from the regime, Solgun slammed the AKP for advocating that the status of the Religious Affairs Directorate should be discussed until 2008 and then reinforcing this institution by giving higher positions in the state protocol to the representatives of this institution and promoting this institution to the position it enjoyed during Atatürk’s era.

Of course, these remarks by Solgun are noteworthy. But, in my opinion, what makes Solgun’s speech more remarkable are his remarks about the financing of the Religious Affair Directorate: “We, as Alevis, do not forgive the Religious Affairs Directorate for the taxes we pay. How do you call yourselves Muslims? Doesn’t this bother you?”

Really, given the fact that their salaries are paid from the state budget, aren’t clerics — who are supposed to promote Islamic and ethnic values — concerned about Alevis not forgiving them for spending their share of taxes? Don’t they think it is wrong to finance religious services with taxes without consent from taxpayers? How can they reconcile injustice and the breach of rights of a social group with Islamic values?

Frankly speaking, I must note that I, as a Sunni/Hanafi Turk, wouldn’t ever want to be in shoes of clerics whose salary is paid by the state. I heartily approve Solgun’s remarks which amount to an outcry.

Source: Today's Zaman , December 16, 2013


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