At the end of World War I, while the Ottoman state, the leading Muslim empire, was disintegrated, the thriving Western colonial empires succeeded to take Muslim lands under its yoke. Only in Turkey did people succeed in overthrowing the colonial occupation through a difficult war of independence.
While the Ottoman state entered into a fatal period of regression, Ottoman intellectuals came up with new ideas to keep the empire on its feet. Ottomanism, Islamism, Turkism and Westernism were the leading ideas among the Ottoman intellectuals of that time. By the fall of the empire and the foundation of the Republic, Turkism and Westernism had begun to predominate in Turkey. While the Cold War polarized the world with the dichotomy of capitalism and communism without allowing for a third option, only a small group of newly independent states remained "nonaligned."
A number of political and intellectual groups who coincided with those Ottomans supporting the idea of Islamism emerged in the second half of the 1970s. In fact, shaping the last era of the Ottoman state, the idea of Islamism pulsed through different sociological veins. Islamism has become one of the most preeminent political movements in Turkey through the tariqas of Qadirriya and Naqshbandi, some Salafi movements, Namık Kemal and his friends, and Sultan Abdulhamid II. In the founding one-party period of the Republic, the ruling political elite repressed Islamism as a political thought. Conservatives silently opposed the Westernized and racist ideas of the one-party period of the ruling Republican People's Party (CHP).
In this historical context, Necmettin Erbakan emerged as the supporter of a third option apart from the binary opposition of capitalism and communism. As an engineer himself, Erbakan transformed the Islamist body of knowledge silently developed until the 1970s into a full-fledged political manifesto.
Despite the fact that the ruling bureaucratic elite always shut down Erbakan's Islamist political parties, his political movement continued to grow. Although those political parties had different names, the political movement led by Erbakan as a whole was designated as the National Vision. The main features of the National Vision Movement were as follows:
1. Doing politics in line with the traditional codes of Islam
2. Taking an anti-colonial, yet nonviolent political attitude
3. Doing politics through legal political parties
4. Struggling for human rights and freedom of thought and faith
5. Not attempting to change the core ideas of Islam
6. Transferring the uneducated and poor people of Anatolia first to the cities and then to the administrative center
Apart from all these features, Erbakan demonstrated that Islamism could have produced political alternatives, instead of merely reacting to the modern forms of society. His coalition governments realized massive projects of heavy industry. Therefore, his political movement was the first of its kind by its presentation to its electorate of a new political alternative supported by economic prosperity.
Unfortunately, Erbakan's government was overthrown by a coup d'état. Still, the present government was founded by a revisionist political elite coming from his National Vision Movement, who established the Justice and Development Party (AK Party), which rapidly came to power in 2002. Dedicating his whole life to the political and economic development of his country, Erbakan left a strong political legacy that emphasizes a third political option promising liberty and prosperity to the oppressed masses. On his death anniversary, we remember him with respect and admiration.
About the author
İhsan Aktaş is Chairman of the Board of GENAR Research Company. He is an academic at the Department of Communication at Istanbul Medipol University.