Secular opposition poses greatest threat to Turkey's secularism

Published 27.04.2016 23:52

Since the beginning of the week, Turkey has been discussing Parliament Speaker İsmail Kahraman's remark that secularism should not be included in the new constitution. Kahraman's statement was not supported by the government or the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) of which he is a member. Both the AK Party and the government spokesmen said that Kahraman's statements were his personal opinions and had nothing to do with the AK Party or government. Moreover, the AK Party has announced that its draft constitution places emphasis on secularism.

The clearest objection to Kahraman's remark was raised by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who referred to the importance of secularism in Egypt. He said: "Our parliament speaker has revealed his own opinions and thoughts in the context of discussions about the constitution. As you know, my ideas about the issue have been clear since I was prime minister. Above all, the speech that I delivered about the matter in Egypt is crucial. This is very clearly cited in the program of the AK Party, which I founded. Here, the whole truth is that the state treats all faith groups equally so that they can practice their faiths. This is what secularism is."

For the moment, it seems discussions have partly eased following Erdoğan's response. Despite these clear statements, main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) figures have asserted that Kahraman's statement has something to do with Erdoğan and the ruling AK Party government. This is because the CHP lives on Turkey's existing fascist practice of secularism. The overlooked point in this discussion, which is overshadowed by political heroism, is that Turkey is not completely secular.

With its secular practices, the modern Republic, which was founded in 1923, interfered in the hair styles and beards of Sunni citizens as well as how and what kind of headscarves women should wear. It further restricted the freedom of worship of Alevis with a law that banned tekkes (dervish lodges) and similar zawiyahs in 1926. In other words, it also deprived secularists and nonbelievers of democracy in an attempt to restrict religious practice.

This is mainly because Turkey has been an ideological state since its establishment that defines secularism by restricting people's freedom of belief to prevent them from practicing their religion in daily life. Secularism has literally been killed in Turkey as it is highlighted in a constant manner. This is like Stalin's 1936 Soviet constitution. This constitution, which allows sending people to labor camps, is one of the basic texts to define freedom in the most comprehensive way. Indeed, secularism is not a phenomenon that can be practiced in accordance with a definition but is a natural consequence of democracy.

This is why Kahraman's remark might pave the way for a useful discussion about implementing secularism, which moves away from the perspective of freedom in Turkey, in universal norms. To this end, certainly, the opposition must abandon embracing the fascist secularist practices of the status quo under the cloak of liberalism and confining all different views. Such an attitude harms the objective of taking Turkey to an ideal practice of secularism more than radical and anti-secular circles do.

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