Sunday, August 17, 2008

Are Islam and Kemalism Compatible? How two systems have impacted the Kurdish question? 27/11/2007 - By Aland Mizell

A student of Islam realizes that in the mind of the average Muslim, Islam is much more than just a religion: it is a way of life because under its framework, politics, social behavior, and economics are fused. Kemalism is an ideology, devised by Mustafal Kemal Ataturk, founder and first president of the Republic of Turkey. In a post-Ottoman period, his regime administered the government based on his pillars of separation of church and state. However, the principle doctrine of Islam could best be defined by the absolute rule under God, a political system called a theocracy. Is it possible that Islam and Kemalism can coexist? Why do some Islamic politicians like Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and some Islamic sects like the Fethullah Gulen movement insist that Kemalism is compatible with Islam? The goal of the contemporary Islamic movement is to eliminate all authority other than that of Allah and his prophet and to eliminate nationalism in all its shapes and forms, in particular nation states in order to unite all Muslims under the single Islamic state. If that is not its purpose, then why is the largest Islamic movement--that of Gülen-opening schools all over the world to teach Islam?

In the global effort to establish Quranic law, Sharia law not only limits religious and political freedom, but also makes second-class citizens of non-Muslims. For Muslims, Sharia rule is not an option; it is an obligation, Sharia is the code of law for the Muslims’ way of life that Allah revealed for mankind and commanded Muslims to follow. Muslims believe that Sharia law comes from Allah while they see all other legal systems as being man-made laws. On the other hand, Kemalism advocates a secular state, as proclaimed by the Turkish Grand National Assembly on the day it declared the Republic of Turkey to be an independent, secular republic with a constitution.

Islam and Kemalism are not compatible, because for Muslims, Islamic law covers all aspects of human beings and does not change over time since they view it as a universal, perfect, and complete system. Kemalism operates on man-made law, and man-made law starts from the few and then is embraced in the minds of the many over time. In addition, man-made laws can be changed over time as Kemalism recognizes in its goal of maintaining a progressive and modern state. Therefore, the pragmatic approach of Kemalism depends on the circumstances and times, so that advancement and reform become key principles. However, today Kemalism is slowly diminishing. It is the first time in the history of the secular state of Turkey that a woman wearing a headscarf will live in the secular palace, a highly emblematic shift. Nevertheless, the current Muslim administration does not tell the truth about its ultimate goal that some day they will dismiss all Kemalist pillars when they accrue enough power or the support of the majority. As an Islamist, Erdogan is absolved from revealing his global goal.

Islam teaches that there is absolute truth as well as relative truth. The absolute does not change regardless of time and place. However, relative truth can be change depending on time, space, conditions, and people. Those two kinds of truth exist in Islam allowing anyone to avoid telling the truth. If those two concepts of truth exist in Islam, how can one determine which is absolute and which is relative? Muslims see no problem with showing two different faces when it comes to presenting the truth. This position also makes it easy to understand how Muslims can say one thing but live another. To them it is not a lie, but just a different perspective.

Islam and Kemalism also differ in terms of social, philosophical, cultural, and economic values. In search of world dominance through law, Islam will use religion as a tool to tap into the emotion of fear to keep other ethnicities, particularly the Kurds, within the fences of the faith and to mobilize them against the common enemy; both concepts of relative truth and of fear have helped the Islamic strategy. That is why there are many Kurds being recruited by the Gulen religious community and being programmed in his ideology. This is the only way Turks could defeat the Kurds, not by F16s, bombs, or chemical weapons but by brainwashing and indoctrinating them with Islamic ideology, taking away their Kurdish identity and replacing it with an Islamic identity. Thus far they are being very successful. If Kurds have not rebelled in Turkey yet, it is because of their Islamic belief used as a card against them. However, now Kurds are coming to realize that there is discrimination against them. Even though Muslims do not encourage discrimination, Kurds are, nevertheless, the victim of discrimination. Martin van Bruinessen, as well as Robert Olson, argue that even the Sheikh Said rebellion in 1925 was not a purely Kurdish nationalistic one; the motivation behind the rebellion, led by shaykhs of sufi orders, was predominantly a religious factor and more anti-Ataturk because they wanted a more Islamic Caliphate. Now as then, the Kurdish identity is subsumed under the Islamic one.

Although formally inaugurated by Ataturk in 1923, Kemalism dates back to the Ottoman Empire in1889. Known as Tazminat, the reorganization attempted to reform the Ottoman Empire, creating a social class first from military students and then from professionals. The Tazminat reforms, however, preserved the main Islamic institutions such as Islamic law, courts, and schools, so some nationalities within the empire, such as the Armenians, agitated for independence. Ataturk formed the Young Turk movement and produced a new leadership under the Turkish republic. He established the Six Pillars of Kemalism or Ataturkism: 1) republicanism, 2) secularism, 3) nationalism, 4) populism, 5) reformism, and 6) statism. Republicanism argues for only a republican regime for Turkey emphasizing not a multinational system but a nation state. The second pillar, secularism, radically changed the young republic by forbidding a state religion and therefore secular control of law and education, abolishing the Caliphate, and replacing Sharia law with Swiss Civil Law and Italian Penal Code. Further, secularism required a new alphabet, a western style of dress, the emancipation of women, and the Turkification of the Quran, so that the five prayer times were in Turkish rather than in Arabic. Nationalism, the third pillar, proposed the idea that the Turkish language defines the nation and inextricably linked this principle with militarism. Populism promoted the sovereignty of the state and the mutual responsibility of the state and individuals. The fifth pillar, reformism, advanced the notion that revolutionizing the republic will incrementally and orderly transform the society into a western life style and consequently bring about economical development and advancement of science. The last pillar, statism or etatism, supported the idea that the state should not play a passive role in social, economical, cultural, and educational activities when the interest of the state is involved. Ataturk organized the administration of the new Turkish nation as an authoritarian system with the hope of modernizing the Turkish society on the model of a western, secular style order and of defining the Turkish nation as part of western civilization.

If the concept of secularism opposes religion or the presence of ecclesiastical authorities and simultaneously exercises public authority, what role is left for religion in a secular society in Turkey? Has religion declined and has attrition occurred? Is religion no longer important other than just as a part of the culture in Turkey? Or is secularism doomed to decline? If an observer looks at Turkey today, he will note that the executive family has deep convictions about religion, signaled by a radical shift in that for the first time ever a first lady with a headscarf will live in the Presidential Palace, ironically while universities carry out the ban against women wearing scarves on campuses, part of the Kemalist reform putting restrictions on the Islamic dress code that dates back to the early 1930s. However, the wife of President Gul is a hardcore Islamist and wears a headscarf at the Kemalist Palace. Why will Erdogan and Gul not tackle the headscarf issue?

Several questions arise. Where does secularism come from? Why did secularism develop mostly in western societies but not in the Muslim world? Can secularism as articulated by Ataturk coexist with an Islamic administration? Today many Muslims argue that Realism does not oppose the practice of Islam but instead make it a private matter, but not one that clashes with the state. However, Ataturk saw Islam as the biggest obstacle to Turkey’s being westernized and modernized, so he created a nation without an official religion. Ataturk closed the door on the Islamic Ottoman cultural heritage and the educated elites. Turks were socialized to see Islam as a major threat to Kemalism, based on ethno nationalism influenced by the European experience, and as a threat to progress and development. Yet, at the same time Kemalism denied the existence of the Kurds by categorizing them as Mountain Turks. As a result, Turks under the Kemalism ideology used many strategies to hide or to eradicate Kurdish identity, such measures as forbidding the use of the language, purifying village names, banning Kurdish traditions and the Kurdish language, and introducing restrictions on Kurdish names.

Still, Ataturk is the hero of modern Turkey. Many Turks essentially worship his picture everywhere placing busts or statues of him in every park, school, office, and using quotations from his well-known speeches. Visitors to Turkey tour his mausoleum, Antikabir, regarded by Turks with affection and pride because he undertook the task of completely remaking a society to be more advanced, progressive, and westernized. That is why he abolished the Sultanates’ religious school and Islamic laws, forbade the scarf in the public, made Sunday the official day, and outlawed polygamy. Ataturk tried to create a society without class and privilege, but that has not happened in Turkey; instead the elite control the masses by the military and a few bureaucrats, as one of the Ataturk pillars. Ironically, halkcilik means that the policy must be in the interest of the people and that it denies class distinctions. When any casual observer looks at the unemployment, poverty, and illiteracy, he will note that they have massively underprivileged many Kurds who live in slums and refugee accommodations even after Ataturk’s pillars have governed Turks for more than 80 years. Ataturk promised the Kurds an independent homeland at the Treaty of Serves, signed by the Allies of the World War I. Today, the Turkish Constitution demands that every citizen of the country must identify himself or herself as a Turk; if anyone does not call himself a Turk, he is considered a traitor or a terrorist.

If a person says, “I am Kurdish,” then he is considered to be creating terrorism because Islam disclaims racism, but other Turks have the right to call themselves Turks without being accused of being terrorists, yet not the Kurds. In Islam, all Muslims are part of the Ummat or community, but no one can be a Kurd; instead, every one is a Muslim. Other questions need to be asked. Who is to blame for Turkey’s troubled relationship with the Kurdish people? Is it Ataturk’s policy of secularism, or is it the Muslims who are to blame? Are both guilty?

Religion is what people ought to do as a result of existence, nature, and the will of God. Can the relationship between politics and religion have legitimacy? Turkish political Islam is only minimally democratic; therefore it does not accommodate the reality of the Kurd. The idea of nationalism uses and abuses religious themes. It is true that the majority of Kurds are Muslim, and they are not ashamed of that; however, they should be proud to be who they are. Does realism still exist in Turkey? When will Kemalism go away like other regimes did? What will replace Kemalism? Is it Islam? Or is democracy a bus to Islam as President Gul once said? Even Ataturk himself did not publicly express to the Turks how he would execute his plan until he gained power to implement his vision and pillars. Ataturk and his followers held the view that religion is not compatible with modern science but that Kemalism is compatible with modernity. He and his followers started to execute their plan step by step, much like today the Muslims also incrementally implement their ideology into the political system in Turkey. Thus, Kemal introduced the Kemalist ideology by the top down approach; however, today Muslims use the bottom up approach to bring widespread recognition to their ideology because the bottom up approach gives space for religion in the public sphere. Today Fethullah Gulen represents the bottom up approach using the writings of Said Nursi, a Kurd, and bringing about a social transformation in Turkey. He has recruited millions of followers, transforming their minds and making them understand this popular approach. Gulen’s movement may be the product of Saidi Kurdi; however, he believes that only Turks can truly represent Islam, so, therefore, he is using Turkish nationalism with a pan-Turkish mentality. He believes that Turks must be economically independent. His plan to solve the Kurdish problem is to indoctrinate them and brainwash them into Islam, so they will consider their religion above their ethnic identity. However many Kurds are Muslims and cannot understand why Kurds cannot Muslims as well as Kurds. Also Gulen’s followers do not mention much about Said Kurdi or do not clearly discuss Said Kurdi’s biography. Said Kurdi himself did not accept Ataturk ‘s reforms and rejected Ataturk as part of his own reform. To bring about his Pan-Turkish Islam, Gulen did not have his followers just read or pray five times a day; he wanted action and practice of his principles, so he created institutions and schools, incrementally spreading them over the nation, so that now he has taken over the government in Turkey though his followers Erdogen and Gul. He used Said Nursi ‘s books when they were declared illegal in Turkey, but now the government celebrates those same readings and the ideology underpinning them. Does Kemalism still exist in Turkey or Islam? Can two diametrically opposed ideologies coexist?


Anonymous said...

Please visit the following links to learn more about Fethullah Gulen and the movement inspired by him.
Fethullah Gulen
Fethullah Gulen Movement