Connect with us

Middle East

Notes on Turkish Politics (3): The Journey from Assertive to Passive Secularism

Published

on

The state-religion relationship and secularism policies in Turkey have been of a scholarly endeavor for both local and international researchers. While analyzing democracy journey and modernization history of Turkey, secularism has been one of the top-analyzed issues.

The first attempts of secularism were witnessed in the late Ottoman times. While the order based on the Millet system continued until the end of 1800s, it was subjected to change during Tanzimat era, it was replaced by a secular ideology known as Ottomanism. During the modernization period, the intellectuals who got training in Europe were influential. For instance, Abdullah Cevdet believed that there had been no civilization in the world except for Europe. Cevdet wanted to make society get a form based on a strict idea of positivism. It is known that, Cevdet had been an ideologist of the Young Turks until 1908.

Since the establishment of Turkish Republic, the nature of the relationship between state elites and religion has been dynamic and it has changed over time. In the single party-rule there was a heavy state control and pressure on religion. In this regard, Ahmet Kuru’s concept of “assertive secularism” can be seen as a theory that summarizes the early Republican years. According to Kuru (2009), there are two models of secularism: Assertive secularism and passive secularism. In the Anglo-Saxon world especially in the US, the dominant ideology is “passive secularism” which allows public visibility of religion. By contrast, the dominant ideology in countries such as France is “assertive secularism” which confines religion to the private sphere. Turkey witnessed assertive secularism for several decades. The military elites and other state elites like the judiciary elites and some actors in the academia and media defended assertive secularism.

Until the multi-party years, Turkish state elites took major steps for secularizing the political and societal system. The Islamic schools were closed. The Ottoman fez was banned and the European-style hat was imposed. The Islamic calendar was replaced with the Gregorian one and the Arabic alphabet was replaced with the Latin one. In 1928 the principle of “laiklik” (adopted from the French “laïcité”) was established in the Constitution as a feature of the Turkish Republic. A number of policies were made for further secularization. In 1942, Arabic ezan (call to prayer) was forbidden.

Islam was put under official control through the creation of a Directorate of Religious Affairs and this actor promoted Sunni Islam. The Directorate is within the general administration. As this Directorate promotes Sunni Islam, it can be said that the Alevi citizens were excluded. This has been a threat to religious pluralism and democracy.

The multiparty years witnessed the relaxation of state-religion relationship. The number of İmam Hatip schools (schools training Islamic civil servants) increased along with the rise in the number of mosques. However a military coup occurred in 1960 and the Democrat Party was accused of politicizing Islam.

In the post-1980 period, against communism threat state elites took measures. One of them has been the promotion of Turkish-Islam Synthesis ideology. This was a right-wing ideology. According to Çiler Dursun (2004), the idea of the Turkish-Islamic Synthesis combines the concepts of nationalism and Islamism on the basis of Muslim identity.

The 1990s saw the rise of identity politics and an Islamist Party (Welfare Party) was the coalition partner in the mid-1990s. However due to its Islamic policies (the mainstream media and secularist academics and journalists reflected the reason as this) the army forced the government to resign during the post-modern coup process.

After 2002, with AK Party rule especially with the lift of headscarf ban in 2013 and Alevi opening which started in 2007, a certain degree of liberalization was realized in secularism policies. I argue that for almost a decade, important steps were taken in the path to a more liberal state-religion relationship. However this is not sufficient for a better working democracy. The Alevi citizens’ demands such as the reformation of the Directorate of Religious Affairs have not been satisfied.

In one of my articles I wrote the following:

“… [t]he state policies and practices toward religion constitute a major problem in the consolidation of democracy today, although a considerable degree of development has been achieved in order to make these practices more compatible with democratic procedures. Turkey must have an appropriate balance between religion and secularism. It is noteworthy that, compared to past decades, Turkey has made a considerable amount of progress making its understanding of secularism understanding more harmonious with her democracy. In the previous decades, Turkey had adopted a specific kind of laicism that is the Kemalist understanding of laicism in its relationship with religion. This Kemalist understanding of laicism is both authoritarian and undemocratic”

 To summarize, it can be said that the historical background of Turkey saw the adoption of a strict secular(ist) understanding. This understanding has neglected the religion-oriented pluralism in society. However, for more than a decade, this strict interpretation of secularism has been challenged and passive secularism has started to dominate Turkish political scene.

In my next article, I will try to address the media-politics relationship in Turkey and how this relationship transformed over time and shaped democratic processes.

Cited resources

  • Arslanbenzer Hakan, 2019, Abdullah Cevdet: Eccentric, strange and misunderstood Abdullah Cevdet: Eccentric, strange and misunderstood | Daily Sabah (8.2.2021)
  • Burak, Begüm, 2011, Can Secularism Hinder Democracy? The Turkish Experiment, begum-burak.pdf (insanvetoplum.org) (8.2.2021)
  • Dursun, Çiler, 2004, Türk-İslam Sentezi İdeolojisi ve Öznesi [The Ideology of Turkish-Islamic Synthesis and Its Subject]. Doğu Batı, Year: 7, (25).
  • Kuru, Ahmet, 2009, Secularism and State Policies toward Religion: The United States, France, and Turkey, Cambridge University Press.

Dr. Begüm Burak – Istanbul-based researcher in French Institute of Anatolian Studies. In 2015, Ms. Burak got her PhD degree. During her occupation as a teaching assistant, she got engaged in short-term academic activities in Italy, United Kingdom, Bosnia and Spain. In 2018, she became one of the founding members of www.ilkmade.com. For her twitter visit: @begumburak1984

Continue Reading
Comments

Middle East

Papal visit to Iraq: Breaking historic ground pockmarked by religious and political minefields

Published

on

Copyright © Dicastero per la Comunicazione - Vatican Media

When Pope Francis sets foot in Iraq on Friday, he will be breaking historic ground while manoeuvring religious and political minefields. So will his foremost religious counterpart, Grand Ayatollah Sayyid Ali al-Husayni al-Sistani, one of the Shia Muslim world’s foremost scholars and leaders.

The three-day visit contrasts starkly with past papal trips to the Middle East that included Turkey, Egypt, Morocco, the United Arab Emirates and Azerbaijan, states that, unlike neighbouring Iran, are more accustomed to inter-faith interactions because of their Sunni Muslim history and colonial experience or in the case of Shia-majority Azerbaijan a modern history of secular and communist rule.

Unlike in Azerbaijan, Pope Francis is venturing in Iraq into a Shia-majority country that has been wracked by sectarian violence in which neighbouring Iran wields significant religious and political influence and that is home to religious scholars that compete with their counterparts in the Islamic republic. As a result, Iraqi Shiite clerics often walk a tightrope.

Scheduled to last 40 minutes, Ayatollah Al-Sistani’s meeting with the pope, a high point of the visit, constitutes a double-edged sword for a 90-year-old religious leader born in Iran who has a complex relationship with the Islamic republic.

Ayatollah Al-Sistani has long opposed Iran’s system of direct rule by clerics. As a result, he has eschewed executive and political authority while playing a key role in reconciling Iraqi Shiites and Sunnis, promoting inter-tribal and ethnic peace, and facilitating the drafting and ratification of a post-US invasion constitution.

Ayatollah Al-Sistani’s influence, however, has been evident at key junctures in recent Iraqi history. Responding to an edict by the ayatollah, Iraqis flocked to the polls in 2005 despite the risk of jihadist attacks. Large numbers enlisted in 2017 to fight the Islamic State after Ayatollah Al-Sistani rallied the country. The government of Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi resigned in 2019, four days after Ayatollah Al-Sistani expressed support for protesters demanding sweeping reforms.

To avoid controversy, Ayatollah Al-Sistani is likely to downplay the very aspects of a meeting with the pope that political and religious interlocutors of the head of the Catholic church usually bask in: the ability to leverage the encounter to enhance their legitimacy and position themselves as moderate and tolerant peacemakers.

With state-controlled media in Iran largely refraining from mentioning the visit and Iranian Spiritual Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei claiming the mantle of leadership of the Muslim world, Ayatollah Al-Sisi is likely to avoid projecting the encounter as a recognition by the pope that he is Shiite Islam’s chief interlocutor or that the holy Iraqi city of Najaf, rather than Iran’s Qom, is the unrivalled capital of Shiite learning.

Sources close to Ayatollah Al-Sistani, who rarely receives foreign dignitaries, have described his encounter on Saturday with the pope as a “private meeting.”

“Khamenei will not like it,” said Mehdi Khalaji, an Islamic scholar who studied in Qom and is a senior fellow at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Critics are likely to note that Ayatollah Al-Sistani was meeting the pope but had failed to receive in December Iranian Chief Justice Ebrahim Raisi, who is touted as a potential presidential candidate in elections scheduled for June and/or successor to Ayatollah Khamenei.

Mr. Khalaji noted that Iran has long downplayed Ayatollah Al-Sistani’s significance that is boosted by the fact that he maintains a major presence not only in Najaf but also in Qom where he has a seminary, a library, and a clerical staff.

Shiite scholars suggest that is one reason why Pope Francis and Ayatollah Al-Sistani are unlikely to issue a Shiite-Christian equivalent of the Declaration of Human Fraternity that was signed in Abu Dhabi two years ago by the pontiff and Sheikh Ahmed el-Tayeb, the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, the Cairo-based historic cathedral of Islamic learning.

“Al-Sistani does not want to provoke Khamenei. There is no theological basis to do so. Muslims cannot be brothers of Christians. Mainstream Islamic theological schools see modern Christianity as inauthentic. They view Jesus as the divine prophet, not as the incarnation of God and his son. In short, for official Islam, today’s Christianity is nothing short of heresy,” Mr. Khalaji said, referring to schools of thought predominant in Iran. “Sunnis are a little bit more flexible,” he added.

Mr. Khalaji noted further that Shiite religious seminaries have no intellectual tradition of debate about inter-faith dialogue nor do any of the offices of religious leaders have departments concerned with interacting with other faith groups. “The whole discourse is absent in Shia Islam,” Mr. Khalaji said.

That has not stopped Ayatollah Al-Sistani from maintaining discreet contacts with the Vatican over the years.

In a bid to popularize the concept of inter-faith dialogue, Pope Francis is scheduled to hold a multi-religious prayer meeting in Ur, the presumed birthplace of Abraham, revered as the father of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

By the same token, Pope Francis, concerned about the plight of Christians in the Middle East and particularly Iraq that has seen the diverse minority shrink from 1.2 million before the 2003 US invasion to at most 300,000 today, will want to build on the Shiite leader’s past calls for protection of the minority faith group from attacks by militants and condemnation of “heinous crimes” committed against them.

The pope hopes that a reiteration by Ayatollah Al-Sistani of his empathy for the plight of Christians would go a long way in reducing pressure on the community from Iranian-backed militias that has stopped many from returning to homes they abandoned as they fled areas conquered by the Islamic State.

The pope’s visit, little more than a month after a bomb blast in Baghdad killed 32 people and days after rockets hit an airbase housing US troops, has sparked hope among some Iraqis that it will steer the country away from further violence.

That hope was boosted by a pledge by Saraya Awliyat Al-Dam (Custodians of the Blood), the pro-Iranian group believed to have attacked the airbase, to suspend its operations during the pope’ visit “as a sign of respect for Imam Al-Sistani.”

Said Middle East scholar Hayder al-Khoei: “There will be no signing of a document, but both (Pope Francis and Ayatollah Al-Sistani) are advocates of interfaith dialogue and condemn violence committed in the name of religion. The meeting will undoubtedly strengthen the voices and organizations who still believe in dialogue.”

Continue Reading

Middle East

Iraq Opens Hands to the Pope Francis’ Historic Visit

Published

on

Copyright © Dicastero per la Comunicazione - Vatican Media

The world looks forward to Pope Francis’ historic visit to Iraq which is considered the first papal trip represented by the Roman Catholic Church to the cradle of civilization, Mesopotamia, despite spreading the second wave of COVID-19 and the security situation in Iraq. This expected visit has an important impact on highlighting the challenges and disasters of humiliation, the sectarian war and displacing people, Yazidis persecution, and fleeing the Christian minorities that faced Iraq during all these past years after the US invasion occurred in 2003.

The three-day-visit is considered as the message of peace after years of war and violence, referring that the Pope’s visit is as a pilgrim to the cradle of civilization. The papal visit includes Baghdad, Erbil, Mosul- Qaraqosh, and Ur city. The trip comes after 18 months as the pandemic restricts his movement, and it is the first visit to the Middle East when he visited the U.A.E in February 2019 where he met and celebrated in front of 180,000 people at the Zayed Sports City stadium in Abu Dhabi.

The papal visit was intended to occur twenty years ago when St. John Paul II tried to visit Mesopotamia during Saddam’s regime, but the endeavors failed to complete that proposed trip. “The people of Iraq are waiting for us. The people waited for St. John Paul II who was not permitted to go. We cannot disappoint them twice”, said the Pope.

In a video message addressed by the Pope to the people of Iraq, he expressed his happiness and longing to meet the people who suffered from war, scourges, and death during all these years. “I long to meet you, to look at your faces and to visit your blessed ancient land and the cradle of civilization,” the Pope said.

It is expected that the purpose of the Pope’s visit is to preserve the rest of the Christians in Iraq. According to the estimation of the charity aid of the Church in Need, the numbers of Christians have decreased from 1.4 million to under 250,000 since the American invasion of Iraq in 2003, especially in the cities of northern Iraq. Many Christians were killed and fled from 2014 to 2017 due to the Islamic State occupation and due to their atrocities, persecution, and violence against the Christian areas. The Pope yearns for meeting the dwindling Christian communities in Mosul, Qaraqosh, and Nineveh plains where these regions had suffered from the atrocities of ISIS in 2014 and people had been compelled to flee.

The world is waiting for the most significant historic meeting between the 90-year-old Shia Muslim cleric, the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, and the 84-year-old Pope Francis in the Shiite shrine city of Najaf. The expected meeting is seen as a real chance to enhance the bonds of fraternity between the Muslims and Christians and to lighten the impact of the islamophobia concept that swept Europe and America due to the terrorism actions that happened in Europe. This expected meeting that will be by Saturday signifies a historic moment when the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani meets Pope Francis, illustrating the fraternal bonds to make people live in peace and tranquility.

Back in February 2019, the Pontiff Francis and Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, the Grand Imam of Cairo’s al-Azhar mosque and the most prestigious leader in Sunni Islam, agreed and signed the declaration of fraternity, affirming peace among all nations. The two parties in this document adhere to fight extremism in every place in the world. If the Pontiff and the Grand Ayatollah sign a document like the declaration of fraternity, this will give Najaf’s Marjiya a very great impact, and this move will be seen as the first step to decrease the religious tensions and fill the gap of the clash of civilization. This document, if it is enacted, will have a great impact to make peace prevailing and encouraging Muslims and Christians to live in peaceful coexistence.

Ur, which is the oldest city in the world, is to be visited by the pontiff. It is considered the biblical birthplace of Ibraham, the common prophet to the Christians, Muslims, and Judaism and the father of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. It is expected that there will be prayers in Ziggurat where this place is one of UNESCO world heritage sites. This visit to this historic site will help the landmark to polarize people from Iraq and outside to visit it after years of negligence and ignorance attention to its importance and the vital role that can help Iraq to increase the public income.

The papal visit has many different messages to the people of Iraq. Firstly, the expected meeting with the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani reflects the fraternal and human stances, and this meeting underlines the important role played by the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani after the US-led-invasion in 2003. Secondly, his visit to Ur to pray there is a message of the peaceful coexistence between Islam, Christianity, and Judaism, trying to point out that all these three religions emerged from one source. Thirdly, the Pope endeavors to be with the Christians who suffer from the past events of persecution, humiliation, and atrocities. His presence among them is a message of tranquility, serenity, peace, and contentment to live in Iraq with the Muslims and to abandon fighting against others. Finally, the Pope’s visit to Iraq pays the world’s attention to the religious importance of Iraq and the significant role that can be played by Iraq.

Continue Reading

Middle East

Restart Iran Policy by Stopping Tehran’s Influence Operations

Published

on

Another US administration is trying to figure out its Iran policy. And, as always, the very regime at the core of the riddle is influencing the policy outcome. Through the years, the clerical rulers of Iran have honed the art of exploiting America’s democratic public sphere to mislead, deceive, confuse, and influence the public and government.

Yet Washington still does not have a proper taxonomy of policy antidotes when it comes to Tehran’s influence operations.

Arguments dictated by Iranian intelligence services echo in think tanks and many government agencies. These include the extremely misguided supposition that the murderous regime can be reformed or is a reliable negotiating partner for the West; or that there is no other alternative but to deal with the status quo.

How has Tehran been able to deceive some in the US into believing such nonsense? First, by relying on the policy of appeasement pursued by Western governments. And second, through its sophisticated influence operations facilitated by that policy.

Consider three recent instances.

First. Just last month, an Iranian “political scientist” was charged by the Justice Department for acting as an unregistered agent of Iran and secretly receiving money from its mission in New York. “For over a decade, Kaveh Afrasiabi pitched himself to Congress, journalists, and the American public … for the benefit of his employer, the Iranian government, by disguising propaganda as objective polic1y analysis and expertise,” the Justice Department noted.

Afrasiabi has an extensive body of published work and television appearances. In July 2020, according to the Justice Department, he linked many of his books and hundreds of articles in an email written to Iran’s Foreign Minister, Javad Zarif, saying: “Without [Zarif’s] support none of this would have been possible!”

Second. Across the Atlantic, one of Zarif’s official diplomats in Europe, Assadollah Assadi, was convicted and given a 20-year prison sentence by a Belgian court on February 4 for trying to bomb an opposition rally in the outskirts of Paris in June 2018.

Court documents revealed that Assadi crisscrossed Europe as Tehran’s intelligence station chief, paying and directing many agents in at least 11 European countries.

Assadi’s terrorist plot in 2018 was foiled at the last minute. The main target was Maryam Rajavi, the President-elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI). Hundreds of Western lawmakers and former officials were also in attendance.

Third. Unable to harm its opposition through terrorism, the regime has expanded its influence operations against NCRI’s main constituent organization the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK), which Tehran considers its arch nemesis.

For decades, the mullahs have misled, deceived, and confused America’s Iran policy by disseminating considerable disinformation about the democratic opposition. This has in turn resulted in bungled American responses to Tehran’s threats.

In a breaking revelation this month, a former Iranian intelligence operative wrote a letter to the UN Secretary General, outlining in glaring detail how the regime’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) recruits, pays, and controls dozens of agents across Europe to influence policy.

Forty-one-year-old Hadi Sani-Khani wrote that he was approached by intelligence agents who lured him into the Iranian embassy in Tirana, Albania (MEK’s headquarters). He said he wants to go back to Iran. On one condition, the embassy responded: Cooperate with the regime’s intelligence against the MEK. He subsequently met with the regime’s intelligence chief, Fereidoun Zandi, who coordinated a network of paid agents in Albania since 2014. The intelligence chief was later expelled by Albanian authorities along with the regime’s ambassador.

Khani was paid 500 euros per month to write and publish anti-MEK articles and also send copious amounts of similar propaganda to members of the European parliament. Dozens of websites are operated by Tehran’s intelligence, some of which are, astonishingly, undeclared sources for unsuspecting Western journalists, think tanks and government agencies when it comes to the MEK.

In many cases, reporters have met directly with the regime’s intelligence agents for their stories. In September 2018, for example, according to Khani, a reporter from German newspaper Der Spiegel traveled to Albania. Khani recalls: “We met the Der Spiegel reporter in a Café in Ramsa district in Zagozi square. Each of us then told her lies about the MEK which we had been given in preparation of the meeting. … [Later on,] she occasionally asked me questions about the MEK which I then raised with the embassy and provided her the response I received.”

Der Spiegel published the story on February 16, 2019, parts of which were copied from websites affiliated with Iran’s intelligence service. Following a lawsuit, a court in Hamburg ordered Der Spiegel to remove the defamatory segments of its article.

These same agents also met with a New York Times correspondent at the same Café, who subsequently wrote a piece against the MEK, regurgitating the very same allegations.

The mullahs’ influence operations are a serious obstacle to formulating an effective US policy toward Tehran. As long as the regime’s agents are allowed to exploit America’s public sphere, cultivate important relationships, infiltrate the media and think tanks, and influence serious policy deliberations in Washington through a flood of falsehoods, America will be at a substantial disadvantage.

Continue Reading

Publications

Latest

Diplomacy60 mins ago

The Arts & Culture Economy: Cultural Diplomacy

The arts produce a unique combination of social, cultural, and economic benefits, which cities across the Country could increasingly recognizing...

Europe1 hour ago

Honorouble Justice Petric: Opening the Vienna Process conference on Int Women’s Day

It is a great honour for me to have the opportunity to address you today at an International conference on...

Southeast Asia3 hours ago

Anti-Coup Stir: Women Take Over the Reins of Protests in Myanmar

Ousting of a female civilian leader through a military coup and the declaration of a year-long emergency, in the early...

Terrorism5 hours ago

FATF and Pakistan: The Impact of Being in the ‘Grey’

The recently concluded Financial Action Task Force (FATF) meeting in Paris has come out with an expected outcome. It has...

Green Planet7 hours ago

Making Women Visible in Plastic Waste Management: Examples from Indonesia

Plastic Waste: Long History, Massive Consumption Plastic was invented by John Wesley Hyatt in 1869 and has an original sense...

Southeast Asia9 hours ago

Protecting National Sovereignty In the Current globalization context

National sovereignty is an inseparable legal and political attribute of each state. National independence associated with national sovereignty is now...

Europe11 hours ago

New constructivism needed towards Europe’s East

Authors: Eugene Matos de Lara and Audrey Beaulieu On the historic date of 0March 08th – International Women’s Day, a...

Trending