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Ed Webb

The perils of mixing religion and politics: the case of Turkey | openDemocracy - 0 views

  • Turkey was touted as a model of secularism in Muslim society, which could only be achieved, it was argued, top-down through state imposition. By the end of the century, however, when postmodern multiculturalism prevailed, Turkey began to be seen as an example of authoritarian secularism, intolerant of religious expression.
    • Ed Webb
       
      Not wrong, but the passives here hide who held these opinions.
  • Erdoğan’s rejection of the designation and his unconcealed intention to institute an Islamic regime throw in doubt the existence of a difference between the goals of the so-called “moderate” and “radical” Islamisms, except perhaps in terms of political method. On 28 November 2019, during the closing session of a meeting of the Religious Council of Turkey, Erdoğan clearly stated his priorities as President:“According to our faith, religion is not restricted to certain spaces and times. Islam is a set of rules and prohibitions that embrace all aspects of our lives. … We have been commanded to live as Muslims … No one can deny these tenets, because a Muslim is obligated to adapt his life to the essence of his religion and not the religion to his conditions of existence. … Even if it may be hard for us, we will place the rules of our religion at the center of our lives and not the requirements of our time.”
  • I want to question the wisdom of mixing religion and politics, as pursued by the AKP government.
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  • in foreign affairs, the government pursues a “neo-Ottomanist” policy, building on Muslim Brotherhood networks, losing allies and tending to resort to military hard power in the region instead of diplomatic soft power
  • Domestically, intervention in people’s life-styles, primarily in the form of restricting the consumption of alcohol through exorbitant taxation and a policy of limiting times and zones of alcohol sale and consumption, does not only violate citizens’ freedom of choice, but has also indirectly caused loss of lives owing to the illegal production and sale of fake drinks to evade the restrictions
  • discrimination on the basis of religious identity or degree of religiosity, including in public employment, has been rampant
  • Erdoğan’s repeated calls since 2012 to “raise pious generations” led to a radical overhaul of the entire educational infrastructure. Religious instruction began to occupy a greater part of the curriculum at all levels. More specifically, Imam-Hatip Schools, originally created in the early republican period to train preachers and prayer leaders employed by the Directorate of Religious Affairs (DRA), began to turn into a mainstream venue for secondary education for both boys and girls.
  • The total number of Imam-Hatip middle and high schools (the former had been previously closed but then reopened by the AKP government in 2012) went from 2215 (in 2013-2014) to 5017 (in 2018-2019), housing over one million pupils.
  • the success rate of Imam-Hatip graduates in university entrance exams is the lowest among all types of high schools
  • Nearly half of the 200+ (public and private) universities in Turkey have faculties of theology, the majority of which opened since 2010, and currently enroll more than 100,000 students, 60 percent of which are women. Moreover, the recent trend in the appointment of university rectors by President Erdoğan has been in favor of those with Islamic theology backgrounds.
  • A pamphlet prepared by the DRA and distributed free of charge in early 2019 expounds the inverse relationship between secular education and religiosity, and suggests that higher levels of education encourage “individualism and freedom” and discourage “belief and worship.”
  • The threat that “secular education” poses to the government is not illusory. There is indeed an inverse relationship between the level of education and the level of religiosity, and, likewise, the electoral support for the AKP is in an inverse relationship with the level of education, but in direct correlation with the level of religiosity.
  • Those youths from the secularist upper and middle classes, whose families could afford to send them abroad for better education, have begun to leave the country. Those youths from the conservative lower classes, whose families have been the power base of the AKP, may be unable to leave but they have begun to turn away from religion. Reports indicate a decline in religiosity and rise in deism and atheism, alarming the AKP government and its religious establishment. It appears that mixing religion with politics does not even serve religious purposes. Politics needs to be kept free of religion.
  • After 9/11, Turkey was flaunted again, this time as a model of “moderate Islam,” an alternative to the presumably dangerous “radical” version
Ed Webb

Turkey: An Ambivalent Religious Soft Power - 0 views

  • Albania is not the first country to realize that the mosques built with Turkey’s money and other services were also used for political purposes to promote Erdoğan's sociopolitical and religious desires. For instance, in June 2018, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz ordered the closing of seven mosques run by the Diyanet and deported more than 40 Turkish imams and their families in consequence of their political activities under the cover of religion
  • Germany launched an investigation into the Diyanet to explore the possibility that some Turkish imams have spied on members of the Gülen Movement among the diaspora
  • surveillance activities conducted by imams within the territory of foreign states cannot be defined within the concept of religious soft power, which fundamentally means the promotion of religion for a country’s foreign policy purposes. However, these investigations underline that the Diyanet imams are not alone; on the contrary, they have been working with Turkey’s other transnational apparatuses, which have been seen as soft power tools of Turkey in host countries
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  • Since coining the term in the late 1980s, Joseph S. Nye Jr. has modified the concept of soft power multiple times, but he has not explicitly theorized religion as a form of soft power
  • Jeffrey Haynes, as one of the first scholars to talk about the relation between religion and soft power, noted that religious soft power involves encouraging actors to change their political behaviors
  • Starting from the late 1940s, within the multi-party system, political parties have realized that religious rhetoric could be transformed into votes; therefore, both right-wing and centrist political parties tried to enlarge the real authority of the Diyanet to reach religiously sensitive masses of people. After the re-establishment of the democratic order annihilated by the 1960 coup d’état, the Diyanet gained prominence because the state employed it in its struggle against communism. 
  • After the 1980 coup d’état, the Diyanet’s mission included the promotion of Turkish Islam abroad, and it began to play a sociopolitical role in the international arena with the aim of promoting Turkey. Thus, Turkey’s Diyanet and Turkish moderate Islam have been actively instrumentalized in Turkish foreign policy as a soft power tool, providing an advantage over other potential actors since they have been seen as a preventive force against some of the radical Islamist movements and ideologies.
  • With its ascendant economy, domestic reforms aimed at the EU accession process, and a global climate proposing the compatibility of Islam and democracy, Turkey rose as a soft power with religious tools at its disposal. In this, Turkey has become publicly almost more visible than the other Islamic soft power actors in continental Europe, in the Balkans, and in some particular countries like Somalia.
  • opened branches in more than 40 countries, publishing and distributing Qur'ans and religious books in more than 25 languages. It also provides financial support to official Muslim representative institutions in the Balkans, continental Europe, and Africa. Furthermore, the state-run construction companies TOKİ and TİKA have been constructing mosques around the world
  • process of democratic backsliding has manifested through both domestic politics and significant changes in foreign policy, and the increasingly acrimonious rivalry between the Gülen Movement and the AKP has negatively affected Turkey’s capacity to wield effective soft power. In this transformation the AKP has started to instrumentalize Islam quite differently compared to the previous periods of Turkish attempts to exert influence in the Middle East and North Africa, the Balkans, and beyond. Notably, the Diyanet’s policies have been synchronized with the policies of the AKP, and its budget, administrative capacity, and activities have been gradually expanding throughout these years despite the shrinking economic environment within which the AKP operates. Over time, the Diyanet of the now increasingly repressive and less moderate AKP has started to be perceived differently by various countries and groups around the world
  • these religious soft power apparatuses have started to involve themselves in the host countries’ domestic politics, as in the case of Bulgaria, due to Erdoğan’s new foreign policy mentality
  • Turkey’s religious soft power is best characterized in terms of ambivalence—particularly given the increasingly competitive market of Islamic soft power
Ed Webb

Turkey: Is Erdogan's "Magic Spell" Beginning to Pale? - 0 views

  • Research conducted in March by 50 teachers from the Imam Hatip schools revealed that students are moving away from Islam
  • Another cause of upset on the part of many religious Muslims is the content of the Diyanet-prepared Friday sermons, which frequently advocates violent jihad
  • great disappointment in the Erdogan government's version of Islam, especially when accompanied by corrupt politics and a deteriorating justice system
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  • Turkish Islamists are no longer politically uniform -- especially women and young people, whose waning support for the AKP was apparent during the April 2017 presidential referendum. To attract both sectors, Erdogan promised to lower the age at which a person can run for parliament and to grant lavish subsidies to housewives. These vows, however, appear to be insufficient to keep the people under his "spell."
  • Erdogan has long promised his supporters that he would cultivate a "pious generation", and invested heavily in religious Imam Hatip schools. His younger son, Bilal, even referred to the students attending these schools as "Erdogan's generation." Yet, it turns out that the children enrolled in these institutions have been failing miserably on all standard academic tests. Research conducted in March by 50 teachers from the Imam Hatip schools revealed that students are moving away from Islam in favor of a more general deism. The report generated a heated debate. While some secular groups doubt its findings, many feel vindicated by them.
  • Children from AKP-loyal families, as well as intellectuals and activists, are apparently questioning the touted morals of their elders. In a recent op-ed, hijabi-feminist Berrin Sonmez attacked what she called the "hypocritical piety" of Erdogan and the AKP elites. Sonmez and others have been criticizing Erdogan for his one-man rule, claiming that it runs counter to Islamic values and culture
  • As of 2017, there were 90,000 mosques in Turkey, led by government-employed imams. These mosques have experienced a notable decrease in attendance, particularly among young and middle-aged men. Some of those who continue to frequent the mosques are doing so less for religious reasons than for networking and job-seeking. In addition, more and more mosques have begun requesting hefty contributions from their congregants, while imams are coaxed by the state to collect donations after each sermon. One young imam who publicly complained about this practice -- he said that mosques "no longer serve people, but rather serve as a source of income for certain people" -- was promptly removed from his position.
  • Religious orders not associated with the Diyanet are beginning to attract more practitioners. While Diyanet and government officials make headlines for their lavish spending and luxurious lifestyles, outside religious orders are presenting a more righteous way of life
  • As Diyanet mosques function as pseudo-AKP headquarters across Turkey and abroad, the alternative religious orders pose a significant threat to Erdogan's standing and power
Ed Webb

Turkey's Thirty-Year Coup | The New Yorker - 0 views

  • Within the country, the military saw Gülenists as a considerable threat. Gareth Jenkins, a fellow at the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute in Istanbul, said that, during the nineteen-nineties, the armed forces expelled hundreds of officers on suspicion of harboring links to Gülen. In a cable released by WikiLeaks, an American diplomat wrote that secular officers devised a test: they invited fellow-soldiers and their wives to pool parties, reasoning that women who declined to appear in public wearing swimsuits must be restricted by their religion. According to the diplomat, the Gülenist wives became aware of the tactic and came up with a countermeasure: they started wearing bikinis more revealing than their hosts’. When military inspectors began searching officers’ homes, the Gülenists stocked their refrigerators with decoy bottles of alcohol and planted empties in the trash.
  • Hanefi Avcı, the police chief for Eskişehir Province, told me that he saw Gülenist police, prosecutors, and judges fabricate evidence in political investigations. But when he alerted his superiors he was ignored. “I talked to ministers and I wrote memos and didn’t get any replies,” he said.In 2009, Avcı secretly began writing a book detailing the Gülenists’ activities in the police and judiciary. He described a movement of protean adaptability, whose methods resembled those of terrorist groups and criminal organizations; they framed opponents by planting evidence or blackmailed them with information gleaned from wiretaps. “What made the Gülen movement different is that it was inside the state,” he said, noting that infiltrators in his department had sabotaged the careers of at least ten colleagues. The book, called “Simons Living on the Golden Horn” (the title is an abstruse metaphor for not seeing what is in plain sight), became a best-seller. It seemed especially authoritative because Avcı, a conservative Islamist, had two children in Gülenist schools.
  • The judiciary, emboldened by Ergenekon and Sledgehammer, pursued the investigations ever closer to Erdoğan. In the early months of 2012, police issued a subpoena to Hakan Fidan—the chief of national intelligence and a confidant of the Prime Minister—and arrested Ilker Başbuğ, the country’s highest military officer. “They felt that they could arrest anyone,” Gareth Jenkins said. Erdoğan responded in a way that seemed calculated to hobble the Gülenists: he started closing down their schools—a crucial source of income—and working to restrain the police.
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  • On December 17, 2013, police arrested Zarrab and eighty-eight others, including forty-three government officials. Although they did not arrest any of Erdoğan’s ministers, they detained the sons of three of them, claiming that they were conduits for bribes. Erdoğan’s son Bilal also came under suspicion, after a wiretap captured what was alleged to be a conversation between him and his father. Erdoğan has insisted that the tape was doctored, but it circulated widely on social media, and Turks claimed to recognize his voice.Tayyip Erdoğan: Eighteen people’s homes are being searched right now with this big corruption operation. . . . So I’m saying, whatever you have at home, take it out. O.K.?Bilal: Dad, what could I even have at home? There’s your money in the safe.Tayyip: Yes, that’s what I’m saying.A little while later, the two apparently spoke again.Tayyip: Did you get rid of all of it, or . . . ?Bilal: No, not all of it, Dad. So, there’s something like thirty million euros left that we haven’t been able to liquidate.
  • Western officials told me that they regarded the investigation as a Gülenist attempt to topple Erdoğan’s government—but that the evidence seemed credible.
  • On Christmas Day, 2015, Turkish intelligence breached an encrypted messaging app called ByLock—an apparently homemade network with two hundred thousand users. According to Turkish officials, it was set up not long after Erdoğan began purging suspected Gülenists from the government. When the network was discovered, the server, in Lithuania, quickly closed down, and its users switched to Eagle, another encrypted messaging app. “They went underground,” a Turkish government aide told me.The intelligence officials say that they were able to decrypt the exchanges, and one told me, “Every conversation was about the Gülen community.” By checking the ByLock users’ names against government records, they found that at least forty thousand were civil employees, mostly from the judiciary and the police department. In May, two months before the coup, the government began suspending them.In July, the intelligence department notified the military that it had also identified six hundred officers of the Turkish Army, many of them highly ranked, among the ByLock users. Military officials began planning to expel them at a meeting of senior generals that was scheduled for early the next month. “We think the coup happened in July because they needed to move before they were expelled,” Ibrahim Kalın, the Erdoğan aide, told me.
  • it seems that the plotters staked their operation on capturing or killing Erdoğan and persuading General Akar to join them. “If those things had happened, the coup would have succeeded,” Kalın said. But none of the most senior generals of the Turkish armed forces could be persuaded to join, which may have left the plotters without a military leader. By 4 A.M., the coup plotters were running for their lives.
  • For Erdoğan, though, retribution has always come more easily than apologies. The state of emergency that he declared after the coup gave him dictatorial powers, which he used to carry out a far-reaching crackdown that began with Gülenists but has grown to encompass almost anyone who might pose a threat to his expanded authority.
  • Public criticism of Erdoğan has been almost entirely squelched, either by the outpouring of national support that followed the coup or by the fear of being imprisoned. Erdoğan has closed more than a hundred and thirty media outlets and detained at least forty-three journalists, and the purge is still under way.
Ed Webb

Turkey's Alevi community fears more than just IS - 0 views

  • IS isn't the only threat. For nearly 15 years, Justice and Development Party (AKP) governments have instigated anti-Alevi policies and rhetoric and fanned the flames of enmity toward Alevis. Alevis have been resisting state-sponsored efforts at Sunnification and therefore face increasing discrimination at all levels of public life.
  • "Who can guarantee us that the police officers sent to protect us would not be the ones attacking our prayer houses? I mean, what if they are members of the Gulen organization or others? Was it not an active duty police officer who assassinated the Russian ambassador?"
  • Turkey's private security industry has been a burgeoning sector in the last five years. A prominent security expert who owns one of the major companies in Istanbul spoke to Al-Monitor on the condition of anonymity and said, "The government has been providing certificates for companies who follow an ultranationalist and Islamist line. You cannot find any left-leaning or Alevi companies in this sector, because they cannot receive certificates." In addition, dozens of security firms were shut down after the July 15 coup attempt for their alleged links to the Gulen organization. Plus, it takes months to complete training and paperwork for certification.
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  • this environment of fear, coupled with police surveillance, prevents observant Alevis from visiting the places where they usually congregate
  • Alevis and many secular Turks don't believe the government is even fighting IS
Ed Webb

Turkey, AKP Can Correct Mistakes - Al-Monitor: the Pulse of the Middle East - 0 views

  • On Sep. 19, the HEC issued a statement saying that the institution’s decision dated Aug. 15, 2013 — the one which curbed theology lessons along with other social sciences in the theology curriculum — was “suspended.” One reason, the HEC statement explained, was “the views and suggestions coming from the public.” In other words, criticisms from society had been effective in forcing a state institution to take a step back.
  • the AKP still has a reformist edge, and can see its mistakes and correct them
  • the AKP is on the one hand a democratic and liberalizing force, and on the other hand an increasingly illiberal and intolerant actor. (My explanation to this seemingly contradictory picture is that the AKP is very liberal when it comes to solving the problems created by the old regime — that of the Kemalists — but it can be very illiberal regarding the problems it creates with its own hands.)
Ed Webb

What Does Morsi's Ouster Mean for Turkey? - Al-Monitor: the Pulse of the Middle East - 0 views

  • Why is the Turkish government on such high alert? How can the coup in Cairo affect Turkey? Is Turkey fearing the collapse of the “model” that was once seen as a source of inspiration for the region?
  • “The impression I get from the second Tahrir uprising by Arab nationalists and liberals — which toppled the Brotherhood — and the West’s non-committal attitude, is that the global establishment has given up on the moderate Islam project. This will certainly reflect on Turkey. Turkey may easily experience a gradual decrease in the easy credits it was acquiring by saying, ‘I represent moderate Islam. I will rehabilitate the region.’ This loss of stature will not only be seen in economic but also in political, diplomatic and military arenas.
  • “Egypt can’t affect Turkey directly in the short run. But should the AKP exhibit displeasure and fully identify with the Brotherhood, we will be affected. I am afraid such a perception already exists. The AKP has ideological affinity and institutional links with the Brotherhood. But Turkey is not Egypt. They have diverse political processes. If the AKP exaggerates its reactions, all the forces that intend to mobilize against the AKP might take action. “Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu had an ambition to shape an Egypt-Turkey axis. This is now totally off the agenda. This is a serious weakness for Turkey and its political vision for the region. Egypt was the center of gravity for a Sunni bloc based on the Brotherhood. There is now a serious gap.
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  • “Obviously the moderate Islam project has been badly bruised. That is the prevailing perception. The moderate Islam project was an outcome of the Arab Spring. It was a general picture nourished by Tunisia, Egypt and Turkey. Now the pixels of that photo are blurred. It is sad, but it is the reality.
  • You are a political party. You are governing a country. You are not a civil society outfit. If you are going to deal with everything from a morality angle, then go and set up an NGO. Those ruling countries have heavy responsibilities. They have to think of the interests of millions of people. They have to be cool-headed and build their policies on realism and balances of power.
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