Turkey: A Right-Wing Country

Turkey is a country where politics and even daily life are seen through a right-wing perspective.

This right-wing perspective, which dominates culture and daily life, naturally affects the characteristics of the Turkish state, too. Thus, it has spread to all arms of the state, from the lowest level of local officials to the higher judiciary.

Reflecting the right-wing culture, even political actors and parties that are defined as “leftist” very often give essentially right-wing reactions to social issues.

Religion and culture help explain the dominance of the right-wing perspective in Turkey.

A widespread right-wing interpretation of Islam in Turkey ignores the individual and emphasises community. It is never happy when a protesting student, a worker, or a woman challenges the government, their employer of her husband. The keywords are harmony, obedience and order. Issues such labour rights, environmental concerns or gender equality do not have a place in this interpretation.

An important reflection of right-wing Islam is the identification of religion with the state. Imams, who lead prayers in mosque, are state officials. Men of religion thus represent both Islam and the state.

The other important reflection is the identification of religion and nation. Islam has therefore almost abandoned its claim of universality in Turkey and transformed itself into a national religion. Reflecting this, for example, the mosque in Turkey is an official and a national space.

The second sociological phenomenon is culture.

It is time to recognise that some problems of Turkey have their origins in culture.

So far, pundits have more focused on Islam in explaining various problems in Turkey. Indeed, it is valid approach, but it is not correct to refer Islam’s interpretation as the major cause of all sociological problems.

At this stage, a more critical approach to culture is required. A serious problem quickly grabs our attention: Urban social patterns and institutions that generate and transmit high culture are in crisis. Instead, a more provincial small town culture is in the process of dominating the social code impoverishing many fields from politics to higher education.

But political actors are not shy in sacrificing politics, state and even Islam to provincial cultural codes simply to consolidate their electoral constituencies.

Indeed, Turkey’s towns are beautiful but letting provincial culture becoming the main social code in interpreting politics and even Islam is by itself a typical intellectual impoverishment, which usually ends up in a cultural shallowness.

However, bringing cultural issues into political analysis is usually received with criticism. The mainstream approach in Turkey is almost a kind of taboo that prohibits questioning the quality of culture.

To express myself better, it might be useful to refer Ziya Gökalp (1876-1924), who is recognised as the chief ideologue of Turkish nationalism.

Culture and civilization are different concepts in Gökalp. Whereas each nation has its own culture, civilisation is shared globally. Thus, he underlines the importance of the contacts between culture and civilisation.

For Gökalp, only ordinary people are satisfied with their culture. Open-minded people demand a contact with civilisation that Gökalp defines as an international phenomenon. In short, culture is a closed system for Gökalp that is never enough to sustain a nation, thus, he requires contact with the universal.

Reading Gökalp, one ironically cannot help thinking as follows: The populist wave transformed Turkey so much so that even Gökalp, the chief ideologue of Turkish nationalism, can be taught as a humanist in schools!

So, what is happening in Turkey is even beyond the acceptable limits of Gökalp’s standards. Turkey has almost become a closed society losing its dynamic contacts with the international.

Turks today hate almost every other nation. Since intellectuals are humiliated on a daily basis, they can no longer fulfil their role between Turkish culture and the global world.

Turkey’s closing itself to the global world is now the new dynamic that consolidates the right-wing paradigm as the sociological normalcy.

Revisiting Islam and culture in understanding contemporary Turkey reveals a simple message: Many problems that Turkey faces are not only because of political actors, but also because of culture.

Thus, blaming or pointing to politicians is no longer satisfactory since it is Turkish society that breeds and embraces many problems including authoritarianism.

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.