Turkey is often held up by some unimaginative politicians and commentators as a successful reconciliation of Islam and secularism that the rest of the Muslim world should imitate. Perhaps the treatment of Turkish libertarian academic Dr. Atilla Yalya — no “Islamist” by any means — for simply referring to Ataturk as “this man” will give them cause to reconsider their support of the Kemalist state?
Cato Institute report:
A respected political scientist, Dr. Atilla Yayla of the Gaza University of Ankara, Turkey, has been dismissed from his teaching position and pilloried in the press in Turkey for daring publicly to make critical remarks about the legacy of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, whose version of “secularism” has meant state control of and suppression of religion.
Dr Yayla’s organisation, the Association for Liberal Thinking, has a number of interesting articles on its website that discuss different aspects of the Turkish polity. Obviously, not all of the articles and ideas will be agreeable to Muslims, but of particular interest is this one, which triages the tensions between the state religion of Kemalism and the people’s religion of Islam.
The prevailing paradigm in Turkish scholarship, which considers Islamization an anomalous fact, is based on some incorrect presumptions. The underlying mistake is to see Islam as a strange factor, an outsider, to Turkish society and polity, a factor one has to ignore in any understanding and analyzing of modern Turkey. That is not all. Some scholars even see Islam as a “dangerous” phenomenon, a threat, and wish the state would suppress it as a societal force and an identity.
Islam, however, is a formative component of Turkey’s social and cultural fabric. Historically and culturally, Turkey is a Muslim country, and most of the misunderstanding about Turkey’s relationship to Islamic formations comes from the Kemalist elite’s ignoring of this basic fact. By taking this history into account, Islam’s visibility in public and political spheres is not a surprising phenomenon. In this context, what the Kemalist elite did not understand is that for Turkey Islam “is more than a doctrine, more than a private belief or worship. It is also a culture and an institutional framework governing all aspects of interpersonal relations.”14 For this reason, it is not possible to consolidate democracy in Turkey by casting out Islamic factor and curbing Islamic political, social, economic and cultural movements.