Turkey may be on ‘long and narrow road’ to Islamic order

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan may be taking Turkey on a “long and narrow road” to a full Islamic order for the country, according to Turkish researcher Mustafa Akyol.

Turkey today finds itself at another moment where the relationship between government, religion and the public sphere are all in flux. The approach of Turkey’s leadership to these changes will also have repercussions for the greater region and the Muslim world more generally, Akyol said in a report for the Century Foundation.

While Turkey could transform into a society where secularism, Islam and democracy can co-exist -- the Ottoman Empire and the Ataturk republic failed in this respect – some Islamic opinion leaders, such as Hayrettin Karaman, a professor of Islamic law and a columnist for Islamist daily Yeni Şafak, say “the primal duty is to change the order”, Akyol writes.

Karaman acknowledges that such total reform “is not easily done” and requires “following a long and narrow road”, said Akyol. In the meantime, governments with a “religious and ideological inclination” can “tilt” toward Islam, while Islamic civil society works hard to win hearts and minds, Karaman argues.

But Erdoğan has a problem. In today’s Turkey, the country has become a case study of how democracies can devolve into authoritarian regimes. The governing Justice and Development Party (AKP) has lost interest in liberal reforms and tilted towards corruption, nepotism and, ultimately, under Erdoğan’s new presidential system, authoritarianism, Akyol said.

While the slow Islamisation of society that Karaman envisaged is already in progress – the AKP has “sanitised” the education system, grown the number of religious schools and imposed “national and spiritual values” on mass media, there is a strengthening secular backlash to such efforts, Akyol says.

The growing loss of faith in Islam among Turks is caused by the behaviour of those who claim to act in religion’s name, Akyol said. There is unabashed exploitation of Islam by politicians – especially from the ruling AKP – which is pushing people away from the faith they claim to uphold, he said.

Therefore, just as Kemalism’s efforts to de-Islamise Turkey proved a half success, Erdoğanism’s nascent effort to re-Islamise Turkey will most likely prove a half success too, Akyol said.


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