New religious groups and Erdoğan

Published 29.11.2014 01:04

The habit of interpreting politics through the speeches of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is very relieving. It is strange to suppose that only one person's statements, which were issued to mold public opinion and to keep up the struggle, explain Turkey. Erdoğan's remarks are not necessarily always influential among his own grassroot supporters. While the secular stratum attaches extreme importance to his remarks, the supporters of the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) regard them as simply the political maneuverings of their leader. Even Erdoğan is not always a strict follower of his remarks. These speeches he makes are just words and hardly any of them are put into practice. Moreover, Erdoğan himself can "forget" his own remarks and lay them aside until the next appropriate occasion.

We can only find the causes of this idiosyncratic behavior in sociology. What seems clear is that Erdoğan's followers evaluate his remarks in quite a different way from "objective" observers. We can take his already much-debated speech about "America's discovery" as an example. The president said this continent was not discovered by Columbus, but by Muslims 300 years before Columbus came to the scene. A few days later, he complained about the youth in his own grassroots. He said Islamic youths do not take the argument seriously; that they were entrapped in the discourse of the West, and dubiously approached his argument without even doing any research. The truth is, Erdoğan is not really concerned about who originally discovered America. He expects the emergence of a self-confident Islamic generation and their involvement in politics.

The interesting thing is, such a transformation is actually ongoing, but it does not always result in the direction the president wishes. Today's Sunni youth in the age group of 20-30 has radically secularized and individualized their religiousness. They are creating different syntheses by combining various cultural and ideological factors and socializing these combinations in small groupings during their daily lives. Now the question, "How does a young Sunni person approach life?" does not have a clear answer. This group ranges from those who see themselves as AK Party militants to those who integrate both Islamic and global aspects into their lifestyles.

On the other hand, urban people in the age group of 30-40 consider themselves the owners of reforms and liberalization, again portray a wide spectrum depending on how they comprehend religiousness. While a part of this generation targets material wealth, another part strives to disintegrate themselves from the traditional approach of the state and institutionalized Islam. Also, those in the age group of 40-45, who had an opportunity to publicly raise their voices, are the direct conveyers of the transformation that created the AK Party. In other words, all these people do not concern themselves with obeying Erdoğan. They feel that they politically owe a great deal to him, but they have also developed a critical approach from the inside. When the government or the president leans towards a classic statist perspective, this group, which is quite influential in society, has a dual reaction: they politically support the government and Erdoğan but they also take a critical approach to institutional and sociological aspects of the steps taken. They support the AK Party in its struggle and underline that they are aware of the narrow and dangerous path they are walking on. However, they do not intend to sacrifice their social life for the sake of the political requirements.

Such a complicated and multi-dimensional structure cannot produce a homogenous religiousness, homogenous youth or homogenous AK Party supporter base. Erdoğan, meanwhile, successfully maintains his dexterity by unifying all these different people under the same roof thanks to his remarks and the reactions.

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