Turkey is in the middle of a political crisis that has pitted the Islamic-rooted civilian government against the military, following reports of an alleged move by military leaders to overthrow the government. Ameen Izzadeen,who was in Turkey last week meeting journalists, civil society leaders and political activists, reports on the country’s changing socio-political scenario.
|Is Turkey facing a military coup? No way, says a journalist whom I met in Istanbul, Turkey’s most populous city which reminds visitors and citizens of the country’s glorious Islamic past. During my conversation with journalists, academics, political activists and businessmen, I was shocked to hear them criticise Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the father of modern Turkey. A few years ago, none dared criticize him in public or in conversation with outsiders. Things are changing in Turkey. History is being rewritten. Even the last Ottoman sultans whom the Kemalists — supporters of Mustafa Kemal and Turkey’s secular system — blamed for all the ills of Turkey in the early 20th century are being hailed as “good and honest leaders”. Media freedom has undergone a qualitative and quantitative change for the better. They are daring to speak now.”The army won’t be able to topple the government,” the journalist said. “If it does, it knows there will be public uprising and street protests,” he said.
“Can I quote you,” I asked him.
But I told him that I would not mention his name, because I did not want any harm befall him.
The revolution is: A government elected by the people is daring to look into the eyes of the “deep state”, which, in Turkish political terminology, means a state within a state, while more and more people are discovering their Islamic roots, which the secular elite have been trying to erase for the past 86 years.
The Turkish military, which has the world’s eighth largest Army, considers itself as the guardian of the republic. It is an important member of the “deep state” which believes that the responsibility to maintain the country’s secular character lies with it. The deep state, which, apart from military chiefs, comprises the westernized elite including top public servants and university dons, are largely Kemalists — supporters of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the father of modern Turkey and its first President. They were the people who drafted Turkey’s secular constitution and laws that bar Muslim women from wearing the head scarf in keeping with Ataturk’s vision of a modern republic.
Very little is known about Ataturk’s family background or what his faith was. Was he a Muslim or a Donmeh, a word used for a member of a secretive Turkish society? Donmehs are the descendants of the Ottoman era Jews who, along with their leader Sabbatai Zevi, converted to Islam in 1666 and took Muslim names but secretly followed their Jewish rituals. The orthodox Jewry, however, has condemned the Donmehs as heretic because they worshipped Sabbatai Zevi as the messiah and an incarnation of God.
A Google search, however, produced a number of web articles on Ataturk’s alleged Jewish links.
The Sultan told one of his officials, “Advise Dr. Herzl not to take any further steps in his (Zionist) project. I cannot give away even a handful of the soil of this land (Palestine) for it is not my own, it belongs to the entire Islamic nation. The Islamic nation fought jihad for the sake of this land and had watered it with their blood. The Jews may keep their money and millions. If the Islamic Khilafah (state) is one day destroyed then they will be able to take Palestine without a price! But while I am alive, I would rather push a sword into my body than see the land of Palestine cut and given away from the Islamic State. This is something that will not be. I will not start cutting our bodies while we are alive.”
This part of history has failed to find its way into Turkey’s curriculum. Instead, officially recognized history books are full of blame for Sultan Abdul Hameed. They have painted him as as a vicious tyrant.
Ataturk later abolished the Caliphate (Sultanate) and with the help of the rival parliament in Ankara, he became the founder President of the Turkish Republic in 1923. He changed the country’s Islamic character and confined Islam to mosques. Thousands of Islamic scholars were either banished or killed. The Arabic script was replaced with the Latin alphabet — a move that made 99 percent of the Turkish population illiterate overnight. The move, however, helped the westernized elite to dominate politics and covet top positions in public administration and the military. Eighty six years after the setting up of the republic, the elite who still continue to live with their erroneous belief that Turkey belongs to them feel threatened. The signs are ominous.
During my stay in Turkey last week together with veteran Sri Lankan journalist Latheef Farook on an invitation from the Cihan News Agency, a major political upheaval was taking place after a newspaper exposed a secret military document that gave details of a plot to overthrow the civilian government led by Recep Tayyip Erdogan and discredit the popular Fethullah Gulen movement, which is regarded as the power behind Turkey’s current Islamic renaissance.
The exposé came against the backdrop of the arrest of several ex-military and civil servants last year for their alleged role in a plan to topple the democratically-elected government of Erdogan, who is the leader of the AK Party (Justice and Development Party). Erdoagan’s Islamic credentials are an anathema to the deep state, which feels it is fast losing its place in Turkish politics.
Erdogan, who, as a teenage boy, sold lemonade and sesame bread on Turkish streets before he graduated from Istanbul’s Marmara University, was a hardline Islamist. In the past, the military has toppled several Islamic-leaning governments. Former prime minister Adnan Menderes was tried in a military court and hanged. Another popular Islamic-leaning president, Turgut Ozal, died mysteriously. The official version was he died of a heart attack. But others say he was poisoned.
A controversial poem by Erdogan ruffled many feathers a few years ago and continues to hang over his administration like Damocles’ sword. Here are the first lines of that poem.
Of late, largely due to the influence of the Gulen movement, Erdogan has distanced himself from his hardline Islamic views and is taking Turkey towards more democracy in an effort to gain full membership of the European Union. His moves towards more democracy have apparently irked the secular elite, for whom more democracy means more Islam. The secularists accuse him of having a secret agenda to turn Turkey into a religious state. But Erdogan is emerging strong. He is presiding over a government that has made Turkey one of the fastest growing economies of the world.
Last week, his government dared to arrest Colonel Dursun Cicek, who allegedly signed the military document that called for the toppling of Erdogan’s government. On Wednesday, a court in Istanbul ordered his release, pending further investigations. In another move, parliament passed legislation to curb the powers of the military court in civil matters. The government said that such a measure was necessary to meet EU membership requirements.
These moves have added to the tension between Erdogan’s government and the military, the self-assumed guardian of the secularist system.
Young couples smooching in public, midnight discos, belly-shaking scantily-dressed female dancers, mini skirts, tight jeans and alcohol remind a visitor to the Turkish capital Ankara that he is not in a conservative Muslim country. Though the call for prayer five times a day blares from the loudspeakers of Ankara’s grand mosque, the general impression is that Islam, the religion of 99 percent of the Turkish people, is not standing as tall as the 88-metre minarets of the mosque, which is one of the largest in the world.
In the marketplace of Ankara, searching for Islam appears to be a task tougher than finding a needle in a haystack, though a few women in head scarves remind a visitor that Muslims also live in Turkey, which for more than six hundred years had been the standard bearer of the Islamic caliphate till it lost its Islamic identity in political coups and schemes engineered by the West and the Zionists during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Why is Ankara like a liberal western city, in contrast to Istanbul, my first port of call during a week-long visit to this historic country, courtesy the Cihan News Agency? My Turkish friend tells me that it is because Ankara is the spring of secularism. It is from here that secularism flowed to other parts of the country. It is virtually a secularist colony. To find Islam, one has to penetrate the wall the secularists have built preventing Islam from coming into public life.
“You know, during Prophet Muhammad’s time, Arabia was like the present day Turkey. The good and the evil existed side by side. But eventually good triumphed over evil. This will happen in Turkey soon,” my friend, a practising Muslim, said.
Elsewhere in Ankara, on June 25, the first day of the Islamic month of Rajab, at a guesthouse run by members of the Fethullah Gulen movement, more than one hundred fasting men gathered in a big hall waiting for the call for prayer at dusk. After breaking their fast, they prayed Maghrib (the Muslim prayer at dusk) and listened to the recitation of Quran by a senior member before they held a meeting. At the end of the meeting, they played a DVD on a big white screen. It showed a man in turban and black robe over his western suit giving a sermon from a mosque pulpit. During the sermon he broke down and wept. So did the congregation. It is this man, Fethullah Gulen who is bringing Islam back to Turkey’s secular society. He says he is no opponent of the secular system. He believes Islam can co-exist with secularism, Islam is compatible with democracy and Islam is complementary to modernity. He condemns terrorism and advocates peace through patience and dialogue. For Mr. Gulen, modernity does not mean blind adoption of everything west. His interpretation of modernity comes with respect for human life, decent behaviour, human values and personal integrity.
According to Turkish academics Bulent Aras and Omer Caha, Mr. Gulen seeks to construct a Turkish-style Islam, rekindle the Ottoman glory, Islamize Turkish nationalism, recreate a legitimate link between the state and religion, and emphasize democracy and tolerance. So some call him a modern Ottoman.
Secularism entered Turkey and entrenched itself largely as a result of two factors – one internal and the other external. The internal factor emerged during the early 20th century in the form of pressure exerted by the Young Turks led by pro-Western elites who were riding high then because of a series of humiliation the Ottoman Empire had suffered in wars with Russia and other European powers. They believed Islam was the cause of many ills that befell the empire. The external factor was conditions imposed by the victors of World War I. The July 24, 1923 Lausanne Treaty — which Turkey was forced to negotiate to retain at least a truncated part of the vast Ottoman territory — required the republic’s first government to take measures to protect minority rights. In other words, this treaty ended the special place Islam enjoyed in Turkey during the Ottoman period and even briefly after its collapse. Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the Turkish Republic introduced a series of laws banishing Islam from public life.
Eighty-six years of secularism may have protected the minorities, who form a mere one percent of the Turkish population or less than that, but the policy has done more harm to Muslims. Even today, Muslim women do not have the right to wear head scarves to schools, both public and private, or to any government office. Girl students removing their headscarves at the gates of universities are a common sight in Turkey. Last year, the Islamic-rooted government led by the AK (Justice and Development) Party passed legislation to permit the headscarf in universities and public offices. The law was approved by President Abdullah Gul, who was one time the foreign minister of the AKP government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. But the secularists took the matter before the Constitutional Court which held the law unconstitutional.
If Ankara is the fort of secularism, Istanbul appears to be the door to Islam’s return. It is here, we saw mosques brimming over with the faithful. Men and women attend prayers at Sultanahmet (Blue) mosque, Sultan Fatih and Sulemaniyeh mosques. The crowd was unbelievably large at the Abu Ayub al-Ansari mosque – a mosque that houses the tomb of the companion who shared his house with the prophet when he came to Medina as a refugee. In this city of mosques, more mosques are being built. Turkey has some 85,000 mosques. Headscarf-clad women, young and old, are rampant at shopping malls. People seem to be fast discovering Islam – albeit a Turkish version, a moderate version.
The Gulen movement’s stamp is visible in the rise of Islam. Mr. Gulen, some say is a Sufi, a mystic. But he denies he is one, though his teachings have incorporated the fundamentals of Sufism, which is a form of Islam based on extreme love for God and all his creatures. Some say he has founded a new tariqah, a new Sufi order, but he denies this also, though it is no secret he has been influenced by the works of Bediuzzaman Said Nursi, a religious scholar who resisted Ataturk’s moves to confine Islam to mosques and spent much of his life in jail. The Bediuzzaman, a title which means ‘wonder of the time’, authored the Risale-i Nur Collection, a 6,000-page commentary on Quran. Although he also denied he was a Sufi, he was a great admirer of Mevlana Jalaluddin Rumi. The Bediuzzaman not only studied Islam but also excelled in natural sciences.
Similarly, Mr. Gulen, who now lives in the United States, is well versed in Islamic studies as well as modern philosophies. He was included in the Newsweek magazine’s list of the 21st century’s top one hundred intellectuals. The irony is that some of his critics from the secular camp say he is a CIA agent.
Born on April 27, 1941, Mr. Gulen has more than five million active followers across Turkey, a country of 76 million people. Among his followers are university students, journalists, professionals and businessmen. They claim they are the modern version of the prophet’s companions (Sahabas).
They run schools, universities, hostels, student homes, charity groups, newspapers including Turkey’s largest-selling newspaper (Zaman), television stations (both local and foreign) and Islamic banks. Their overseas schools in 140 countries, including Sri Lanka, are open to both Muslim and non-Muslim students and Gulen followers say every student is treated equally and every belief system given equal prominence.
These activities are winning the Gulen movement more converts but the group has become a problem for the secularists, including the military. The secularists and top generals in the military believe they are the guardians of Turkey’s secular system and regard every Islamist as an enemy of the secular state. But very little have the secularists gathered in the form of evidence to ban the Gulen movement, though Mr. Gulen had been charged with sedition in the past.
However, last month, a newspaper published an alleged military document which gave details of a plan to discredit the Gulen movement and the AK Party. The plan envisaged planting of bombs and explosives in AK party offices and Gulen movement hostels and setting the stage for a military takeover and the banning of the Gulen movement.
Critics say the Gulen movement members and Islamists, especially the AKP supporters, are quietly infiltrating the military and the courts, two institutions dominated by the secularists, with the intention of turning Turkey into an Islamic state one day. They say Mr. Gulen’s message of tolerance and forgiveness is only skin deep beyond which lies a grandiose scheme of Islamisation.
COURTESY: SUNDAY TIMES
DISCLAIMER: These views don’t reflect the views of PTH.