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The New Turkey’s Destiny – #Shariah4Turkey via the Classroom

Erdogan and his party’s de-secularization project is nearly complete – a transition that will likely change the face of the former Kemalist Turkey forever.

Dr Can Erimtan

21st Century Wire

Some time ago, the political scientist Dr Murat Somer argued that “[u]ntil recent years, Turkey was hailed in the world as a relatively secularised and dynamic society and as a flawed yet nevertheless laudable example – or even model – of secular democracy in a Muslim-majority country.”

The staunch Kemalist intellectual Prof. Dr. Suna Kili (1929-2015), for instance, regarded the issue of secularism the “sine qua non condition of Turkish progress and development.” And theoretically, the Kemalist Republic adhered to that principle – in “1927, all courses concerning religion were excluded from the curriculum of primary, secondary, and high schools on the basis that non-Muslims also live in Turkey” – though on the ground, an active undertow of Islamic pride and Muslim rectitude was always present in Turkish society in the latter part of the 20th century. In this century, the New Turkey (to use the moniker introduced by AKP founder and leader Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, whom I like to call the Prez) had been moving steadily away from being a “laudable example – or even model – of secular democracy” towards a veritable autocracy as a preamble for the implementation of Shariah in the land. I have been writing about Turkey’s journey “Back to the Future” for nearly ten years now. And in this context, I would here like to turn to Dr Nicholas Danforth, who, in 2016, wrote that the quite infamous Islamist journalsit Abdurrahman Dilipak had suggested the previous year that “President Recep Tayyip Erdogan could introduce an updated version of the Ottoman caliphate [soon], in which representatives from Muslim states would have offices in Erdogan’s presidential palace.”

Preamble to a Post-Kemalist Century

Dilipak had been talking in the context of 2015’s election fever, and arguably, in his fervour had gotten ahead of himself. His Yeni Akit pieceErdoğan başkan seçilirse halife olacak” – was nevertheless rather prescient, albeit devoid of a clear understanding of Realpolitik and the sticky nature of electoral politics in an as yet democratic system. Moreover, Dilipak made these announcements while giving a lecture in Toronto (Canada), at the Anadolu İslam Merkezi (or the Anatolia Islamic Centre, an institution affiliated with Necmettin Erbakan (1926-2011)’s Millî Görüş movement). He had flown across the pond as a guest of the local AKP election coordination centre (AK Parti Toronto Seçim Koordinasyon Merkezi), and what he was doing there basically amounted to an AKP campaign event abroad, trying to persuade the local Turkish immigrant community to vote for none other than Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. In fact, he told his captive audience that they should not think that “their job ends with voting for Erdoğan.” Presciently and somewhat creepily, Dilipak added that “[y]ou should not just work for yourselves, [instead] you should also work for your children.” Following the whopping AKP victory on 1 November 2015, I wrote that the AKP leaders could now in earnest “begin their serious work of leading the nation further down the post-Kemalist path into a full-blooded Islamo-Capitalist future (as a presumably leading actor in the Middle East and the wider world beyond):

Turkey has been run by means of a multi-party democracy ever since the end of the Second World War. In the aftermath of Hitler’s defeat and the formation of the NATO alliance,Turkey’s leadership switched to the Demokrat Parti (DP) under Prime Minister Adnan Menderes [1899-1961]. The DP ran the country for a decade until the military coup of 1960 brought an end to its hesitant moves away from the example set by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk [1881-1938] and what used to be called Turkish Secularism (a shorthand for a lenient attitude towards restrictions imposed by the religion of Islam and a public life centred on the propagation of Turkish nationalism as an alternative to Muslim self-identification). The remaining decades of the 20th century then saw a reassertion of the cult of Atatürk (commonly known as Kemalism) and a concerted effort to play the political game as it had been established in the West. As a result, for much of its time the country was governed by coalition governments of varying degrees of efficiency and corruptibility.

The Prez’s 2015 electoral victory was the effective death knell of the Kemalist tradition and the strange idea that Turkey is a lone beacon of democracy in the Middle East.

In effect, the AKP triumph concluded the rivalry between the old, Kemalist elite and a new, Muslim (or Islamist) class: the former, represented by the TSK (aka the Turkey’s Armed Forces) and TÜSİAD (Turkish Industrialists’ and Businessmen Association), fearful of losing its ‘privileges’ and ‘freedoms,’ and the latter by swathes and swathes of seemingly downtrodden and neglected ordinary Muslim Turks (the proverbial AKP constituency) and the now wealthy Muslim business leaders, represented by MÜSİAD (The Association of Independent Industrialists and Businessmen). In explaining this dichotomy, it is interesting to note that Dr Soner Çağaptay in 2011 spoke about a “‘Turkish model’ of democracy-craft, i.e. the art of conducting democratic affairs, which in Turkey involves the military [or TSK] playing a stabilizing role during the transition process while Islamist parties moderate through political participation.” This article, written in the aftermath of Egypt’s revolution (25 January–11 February 2011) bringing an end to Hosni Mubarak’s one-man rule as “a latter-day Pharaoh” (1981-2011), was published in the Turkish English-language daily Hürriyet Daily News (04 February 2011) but at present is no longer available online. Çağaptay optimistically characterized Turkish democracy as an electoral process aided-and-supported by the Turkish “army [that] sees itself as the guardian of Turkey’s secularism,” using the BBC‘s 2007 phraseology. Even the then-chairperson of the executive board of TÜSİAD, Ümit Boyner (2010-13) said at the time that “[i]mportant opportunities might come out [of the so-called ‘Arab Awakening’ currently sweeping through the Middle East] for Turkey; in the first place, the value of Turkey’s model is rising.”

Education, Education, Education

Our top priority was, is and always will be education, education, education,” said Tony Blair in 1997 (and again in 2001). And that was and still is basically also Tayyip Erdoğan‘s mantra. In that respect, though, he has merely been following the groundwork executed by the Turkish Military (TSK) in the Eighties. Following the supposed Kemalist coup of 12 September 1980, the army leadership introduced a new constitution in 1982: “Ataturk, the founder of the Republic of Turkey, its immortal leader and unrivalled hero; and [this constitution is] in line with the reforms and principles introduced by him.”. And in many ways, this new constitution continues Atatürk’s legacy, for instance, unequivocally declaring that the “Republic of Turkey is a democratic, secular and social State governed by the rule of law” (Article 2) and stressing the “indivisible integrity of the State with its territory and nation” (Article 14).

On the other hand, this legal document’s 24th Article appears particularly poignant in the present context:

Education and instruction in religion and ethics shall be conducted under state supervision and control. Instruction in religious culture and moral education shall be compulsory in the curricula of primary and secondary schools.

By means of including this provision in the nation’s constitution, General Kenan Evren (1917-2015) paved the way for the return of Erbakan in the Nineties and Erdoğan‘s meteoric rise in this century (starting back in 1994, as elected Mayor of İstanbul). The constitution’s Article 24 appears like a clean break with the hard-line secularism introduced to the nation’s political life by Atatürk. The application of so-called ‘Kemalist Secularism’ entailed that “[b]etween the years 1927-1949, no religious instruction was permitted in schools,” as expressed by the theologian and one-time adviser to the Prime Minister Erdoğan (2003-14), Dr. Hadi Adanalı. This education policy was part of a “step-by-step anti-religious radicalisation” that decreeded “the youth’s exposure to religion throughout the 1920s and the early 1930s,” as worded by Sinan Ekim. A policy that was “to sweep religion away from public spaces and into the private realm.” The advent of multi-party democracy led in 1950 to the sweeping victory of the Demokrat Parti (or DP), that was more sympathetic to Islam and its teaching. Dr Ekim relates succinctly that the DP rolled out its revised school “curriculum in November 1950, when Tevfik İleri [1911-61], as the minister of education, placed religion classes back into the timetable.” These courses however depended upon parental consent, given that they were not compulsory but elective. On the other hand, the CHP government had already re-introduced the instruction of religion in 1948 and 1949, which Ekim sees as a shift from ‘French secularism’ to the ‘style of American secularism,’ with its greater emphasis on “freedom of religion within the public realm.” The Prez and his AKP henchmen were not happy with these arrangements, as became obvious in the 19th National Education Council (or Milli Eğitim Şurası) held in the coastal city of Antalya in December 2013. This Council released 179 “recommendatory decisions” that have left their mark on the children that have been attending school since, as I have explained in January 2015:

Those included the introduction of religious courses into the curriculum of primary schools. Whereas, middle school pupils undergoing training to memorize the Quran (known as hafızlık in Turkish) would be able to leave school for the duration of two years but will still be allowed to sit exams. At the same time religious instruction in high schools will be doubled, while the teaching of the history of Turkey’s reforms and the principles of Kemalism in middle and high schools will be subjected to a critical revision more in line with a contemporary understanding and current needs. But the most spectacular “recommendation” or decision was arguably to turn the instruction of the Ottoman language (Osmanlıca, in Turkish) into a compulsory course for vocational religious high schools as well as social science high schools.

In this context, the so-called İmam-Hatip schools have been at the centre of much criticism – these institutions of secondary education were founded to train government-employed imams (or prayer leaders); after the abolition of madrasas in Turkey by the proclamation of the Tevhid-i Tedrisat Kanunu (Law on the Unification of Education, 1924). Following the DP’s victory, Prime Minister Adnan Menderes ordered the opening of İmam Hatip schools in seven provinces on 17 October 1951, in response of the personal intervention of ‘Celal Hoca.’ As related by Mahmut Celaleddin Ökten (1882-1961) himself and presented on a dedicated webpage on the website of the Presidency of the Republic of Turkey. Celaleddin Ökten was appointed director of the first İmam-Hatip school to be opened in İstanbul (and in the whole of Turkey). İmam Hatip schools today only make up about %13.49 of the total schools in the land. The high visibility of these schools in the New Turkey probably explains why “Menderes is overwhelmingly remembered as the leader who brought religion back into Turkish social and cultural life,” says Dr Sinan Ekim. As expressed by Dr Danforth, “Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has frequently compared himself with Adnan Menderes.” And the Prez is not shy about promoting himself as the one to successfully complete what was begun by Adnan Menderes – the politician who ‘was tried and hanged one year after the military staged a coup in 1960 to put Turkey back on a more secular course,’ as stated by the AFP. Effectively spelling out his debt to Menderes and his DP, speaking to the crowd following his victory in the presidential elections of 2014, “Tayyip Erdoğan declared that the parenthesis opened by Turkey’s 1960 coup had finally been closed.” Whereas Menderes perished in the aftermath of a military coup, Erdoğan successfully manipulated the population via his smartphone broadcast on live television to take to the streets and thwart the coup attempt of 15 July 2016. Whether this coup attempt had been a misled military endeavour to restore the seeming tranquility of the yesteryear’s Kemalist Turkey or an orchestrated event meant to secure and solidify the AKP in place regime remains an open question (‘A Coup that was No Coup’), but if nothing else, it showed that Erdoğan was able to do what Menderes had not been able to pull off. Nick Danforth skillfully explains the strong ideological and emotional bonds linking the 1950s to the 21st century:

In praising Adnan Menderes [in 2014], the prime minister deposed and later executed in the 1960 coup, Erdoğan reprised his victory speech from the 2011 general elections, in which he declared the AKP’s triumph at the polls was also a triumph of the democratic ideal for which Menderes had sacrificed his life . . . The rise of the AKP thus becomes the culmination of a century- long clash between Ataturk’s secular, Western modernity and a more authentic alternative rooted in popular Islam. The Menderes government, in turn, appears as an intermediate step in this larger transformation.

The Prez has become more and more heavy-handed over the years, now appearing in front of posters of Atatürk and himself while doing what he does best – addressing large crowds of AKP believers. But not the whole of the Turkish population is either deeply pious or emotionally bound to the figure of Tayyip Erdoğan . . . and among those Turks (‘Everyone bound to the Turkish State through the bond of citizenship is a Turk,’ Article 66Constitution of the Republic of Turkey) the word on the street these days is that all schools have now effectively become of İmam Hatip schools. And as Turkey’s 2023-2024 academic year kicks off, as if to give extra weight to this popular opinion among opponents of the current AKP regime in the land, the government has decided to launch a controversial educational programme: the ‘ÇEDES project, a joint initiative by Turkey’s Religious Affairs Directorate (Diyanet), National Education Ministry (MEB), and Youth and Sports Ministry, aims to provide an “education of values” to students.’ The BBC explains that religious functionaries (‘din görevlileri’) wou;d be appointed to school in order to teach pupils these ‘values,’ supposedly the details of the Hanafi school (or madhab or mezhep, in Turkish)’s understanding of Sunni Islam.

Arguably, these ‘spiritual mentors’ (or “manevi danışman,” in Turkish) would thus be an ideal position to impress the importance of the Shariah (as an expression of God’s will) upon the pupils under their care; with the expectation that, in due time, these citizens or Turks will grow up to become cognizant of the fact that the situation in the Republic of Turkey is rather different.

Alas, this last paragraph is mere conjecture on my part, but in view of Turkey’s trajectory since about the year 2010 and particularly, in the aftermath of 2016’s Coup-that-was-no-Coup, one cannot but conclude that the Prez and his AKP henchmen are preparing the population for an event similar to what happened in Pakistan (regarded as by those who are religiously oriented as Turkey’s ‘brother nation’) under General Mohammad Zia-ul-Haq (1924-88). For, Turkey and Pakistan are close. Back in 2019, the Prez said that “[t]his brotherhood has overcome many hardships through the support lent to one another’s national causes at the most critical times. Turkey . . . will continue to stand with Pakistan.”

On 19 December 1984, the Pakistani government organized a referendum, presenting the population of Pakistan the following question: “Do you endorse the process initiated by the President of Pakistan, General Mohammad Zia-ul-Haq, for bringing the laws of Pakistan in conformity with the injunctions of Islam as laid down in the Holy Quran and Sunnah of the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) and for the preservation of the ideology of Pakistan, and are you in favour of continuation and further consolidation of that process and for the smooth and orderly transfer of power to the elected representatives of the people.” And afterwards, Zia-ul-Haq claimed that his request was met with a 60% approval, integrating the Shariah into the Constitution of Pakistan.

Will Turkey really become the new Pakistan in years to come?!?? Is the Republic of Turkey destined to look like another version of Pakistan transported to the western edge of Asia?!?

21WIRE special contributor Dr. Can Erimtan is an independent historian and geo-political analyst who used to live in Istanbul. At present, he is in self-imposed exile from Turkey. He has a wide interest in the politics, history and culture of the Balkans, the greater Middle East, and the world beyond. He attended the VUB in Brussels and did his graduate work at the universities of Essex and Oxford. In Oxford, Erimtan was a member of Lady Margaret Hall and he obtained his doctorate in Modern History in 2002. His publications include the revisionist monograph “Ottomans Looking West?” as well as numerous scholarly articles. In Istanbul, Erimtan started publishing in the English language Turkish press, culminating in him becoming the Turkey Editor of the İstanbul Gazette. Subsequently, he commenced writing for RT Op-Edge, NEO, and finally, the 21st Century Wire. You can find him on Twitter at @TheErimtanAngle. Read Can’s archive here.

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