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Laiklik and Nation-Building: How State-Religion-Society Relations Changed in Turkey under the Justice and Development Party

Laiklik and Nation-Building: How State-Religion-Society Relations Changed in Turkey under the Justice and Development Party
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  111 Chapter Four  Laiklik   and Nation-Building: How State–Religion–Society Relations Changed in Turkey under the Justice and Development Party Edgar Şar “Nation-building,” in its broadest sense, aims at creating a sufficient amount of commonality of interests, goals, and preferences among the members of a “nation” so that they feel like a part of it and wish to live together. 1 To that end, nation-building requires the creation and promotion of a common “na-tional” identity for the unification of all people within the state. Nevertheless, national identity is usually not constructed with the partici- pation of diverse social sections, but on the very contrary, it often becomes an arena of struggle among them. 2  Particularly in the contexts where there is not a sufficient degree of elite consensus on subjective perceptions of history and politics, the fundamental beliefs and values, the foci of identification and loyalty, and the political knowledge and expectations, 3  there might well be “a continuous struggle within the society over the ability to define who ‘we’ are as a nation.” 4  The social sections that become so dominant as to capture state power can be expected to embark on nation-building by means of social engineering to terminate the continuous struggle over national identity 5  by creating a majority. 6  However, this strife is unlikely to end permanently and might even escalate if the process of nation-building is based on identity- based polarization and homogenization without paying any attention to the diversity within the society. 7 Turkey sets quite a good example, where there has been a political po-larization between different definitions of “who we are” and “who we want to be” as a nation. Although the struggle over the national identity is some-times oversimplified and reduced to oppositional state–society relationship, whereby the state is constantly repressing the society, 8  the identitarian, and  partly ideological, conflict within the society and its capacity to shape the  process of nation-building should by no means be underestimated. In these conflicts, whether between the state and the society or within the society 19_0073_Donmez.indb 1113/28/19 5:16 AM  112  Edgar Şar  itself, religion has always had a special place. The establishment of Turkey as a “secular” Republic did not change the fact that Islam looms large in the definition and representation of the Turkish nation. Therefore, state–reli-gion–society relations and the Turkish model of secularism, or laiklik, 9   that manages these relations have been developed in tandem with the process of nation-building throughout the Republican era.  Laiklik and state–religion–society relations are also significant to under-stand the “New Turkey” under the Justice and Development Party (JDP) and its leader, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. A wide array of scholars who have dealt with Turkey’s transformation under Erdoğan seems to agree that Turkey has almost “reinvented” itself over the past decade. 10  It is also obvious that this reinvention has been followed by a new process of nation-  building modeled on Islamist-conservative values, whereby the JDP’s objec -tive was to generate and preserve its majority within the society. According to the well-known narrative based on the “Old Turkey vs. New Turkey” that dominates the relevant literature, the new process of nation-building under the JDP represents the downfall of the omnipotent Kemalist regime based on the repression of the society by ultra-laicist means. While this narrative based on Kemalist–Islamist dichotomy may give an idea about how JDP started to change Turkey as it consolidated its grip on power, it would be over-simplis-tic to argue that the omnipotent Kemalist state project has been flawlessly im- posed on a reluctant society for almost eighty years and that the JDP started to change everything in Turkey when it came to power in 2002. Therefore, analyzing Turkish political history by means of such dichotomies would not allow us to profoundly grasp the transformation of Turkish political life in the 2000s and the conditions that paved the way for it. Nor does it provide a right  perspective to explain how laiklik—  as one of the core principles of the nation- building process during the early Republican era—has transformed over time and what consequences this transformation had in contemporary Turkey. JDP’s incumbency is a turning point in Turkish political history in many respects. Nevertheless, to understand how laiklik and state–religion–society relations changed with the JDP-launched project of nation-building, one should look beyond the JDP era and clarify “what was there before.” Ac-cording to the aforementioned narrative based on the “Old Turkey vs. New Turkey,” laiklik, as a solid, anti-religious state ideology, was persistently and oppressively implemented until JDP consolidated its grip on the state and “moderated” the state–religion–society relations. Here, too, this narrative is fallacious. In fact, as I elaborately discuss in the following paragraphs, laiklik has never been a properly defined principle but, on the very contrary, proved to be vulnerable to political developments throughout the entire Republican era. Therefore, in this chapter, I will also deal with how laiklik was before 19_0073_Donmez.indb 1123/28/19 5:16 AM   Laiklik   and Nation-Building   113 the JDP to clearly set forth how it was changed by the JDP by addressing the following questions: How were state–religion–society relations and laiklik  projected in the early Republican era? How did they shift following the tran-sition to multi-party democracy? How does the role of Islam change in the national identity? What consequences did these changes bring about leading into the 2000s?Although there is more than one turning point in the political history of laiklik in Turkey, JDP’s coming to power in 2002 as a conservative Islamist  party led to an unprecedented debate on laiklik   and, thus, is paid special at-tention. In the early years of the JDP era, many hoped that by embracing secular politics and liberal values, the JDP would have helped develop a softer and more democratic version of laiklik.  Nevertheless, as it consolidates its power in the state institutions, the JDP and its leader Erdoğan embarked on a new process of nation-building, where the state-favored interpretation of Islam plays a much more definitive role. In this context, this study argues that the way laiklik was debated during the 2002–2010 period led to what I call the collapse of laiklik, which eventually paved the way for the process of “desecularization of the state,” which I indicate the incumbent JDP embarked on in tandem with its nation-building project modeled on a conservative and Islamist Weltanschauung. A SHORT HISTORY OF LAIKLIK   (1924–2002): A PRINCIPLE OF ALL SEASONS? To understand how laiklik changed during the JDP’s incumbency, we should first reveal what it was like before.  Laiklik has been a constitutionally defined characteristic of the state since 1937, which became unamendable in 1961 and has remained so since then. Having remained constitutionally unchanged over the decades, laiklik may well be expected to be a deep-rooted state  principle with a set of steady political values and goals that all governments in the Republican era would endorse despite ideological differences. This is, however, far from reality. During the entire Republican era, state–religion– society relations have constantly changed in accordance with the shifting  political landscape. 11  Governments pursued almost antipodal policies towards religion for the sake of short-term political goals and used the guise of laiklik to legitimize them. Therefore, laiklik is more a principle of all seasons than a consistently preserved or gradually evolved state principle. The abolition of the caliphate in 1924 is generally taken as the beginning of the history of laiklik   in Turkey. By abolishing the caliphate, the state did not only give up its “legitimate” authority over the Islamic umma  at the cost 19_0073_Donmez.indb 1133/28/19 5:16 AM  114  Edgar Şar  of being accused of rejecting Islam and being kafur, 12  but also it clearly set forth that the identity of the new Turkish nation  was no longer to be defined within the so-called Islamo-Ottoman context. 13  Nevertheless, Islam, as “the  primary social identity maker,” was the only element that could unite Turk-ish-, Arabic-, Kurdic-, Circassian-, Albanian-, Bosnian-, and Laz-speaking  populations and, thus, was one of the first issues to be addressed by the na-tionalist cadres that founded the Republic of Turkey. 14  Therefore, despite the abolition of the caliphate  , the state was not willing to relinquish its oversight and control over religion, and they instead founded a new office, the Director-ate of Religious Affairs (  Diyanet  ). The  Diyanet   was authorized to administer the mosques, religious lodges, and so on and to hire and fire imams and other mosque staff and to oversee the muftis . 15 Following the abolition of the caliphate, the constitutional secularization of the state continued with the removal of Islam as the official religion from the Constitution in 1928, and it was finally complete with the introduction of laiklik as a constitutional characteristic of the state in 1937. Furthermore, throughout the 1920s and 1930s, many reforms were made for the seculariza-tion of the Turkish legal and educational systems. However significant these were at that time, laiklik could not be institutionalized in a way that would ensure a gradual development of separation between state and religion. Ac-cording to Kemal Karpat, laiklik was not a sophisticated but rather a comple- mentary element in the ideology of the founder Republican People’s Party (RPP). Underpinned and redefined by laiklik, nationalism was freed from the Islamo-Ottoman content. 16  However, religion never lost its position as a key symbol in Turkish national identity at the grassroots level, 17  which is the main reason why the Republican regime adopted an understanding of laiklik    that sustained its predecessor regimes’ (the Hamidian and the Committee of Union and Progress) quest of controlling and instrumentalizing the religion rather than separating it from the state. 18  Therefore, despite the constitutional-ization of laiklik  , on the one hand, the state extended its control over religion  by marginalizing any religious interpretation other than the official one, 19  and on the other hand, religion was used in the nation-building at the expense of causing systematic exclusion as in the examples of assimilation of Alevis and the law on wealth tax applied particularly to non-Muslims. Hence, in practice, laiklik fell short to encompass notions of civic citizenship that guarantee an inclusive and pluralistic polity. 20 The post-World War II period marked a new era for Turkish democracy. The establishment of multi-party democracy, in 1946, brought about a much wider freedom of expression for various movements of thought. 21  In the meantime, the onset of competitive politics that arose from the foundation 19_0073_Donmez.indb 1143/28/19 5:16 AM   Laiklik   and Nation-Building   115 of a new party, the Democrat Party (DP), somewhat enforced the ruling RPP to pay more attention to the masses’ expectations, at the cost of revising its  policies of laiklik   that had hitherto been consistently implemented. 22  In the 7th Congress of RPP that was held in November 1947, it was widely voiced that conventional laiklik  policies that had marginalized Islam throughout the single-party era had to be softened, and religion got to be the cement of the society. 23  As a matter of fact, certain policies of laiklik were remarkably soft-ened thereafter. 24  The first-ever emphasis upon the “freedom of conscience” in the government program, the reintroduction of religious education in pub-lic schools, the opening of imam-hatip schools, and the opening of türbes to visit and state-led facilitation for haj are the most outstanding developments of this softening process. In the 1946–1950 period, religion and, thus, policies of laiklik apparently became a means of electioneering and have remained so since then.The interest-based clientelistic relationship between politics and religion took root in Turkey throughout the 1950s. Particularly early on in the decade, the ruling Democrat Party (DP) developed considerably affirmative relations with the conservative sections of the society, including Islamist communities,  by restoring the ezan in Arabic, abolishing the ban over the activities of tekkes and tarikats,  and extending the scope of the previously introduced religious education—turning it into compulsory in public schools and increasing the number of imam-hatip   schools. As Ioannis N. Grigoriadis underlines, “The social engineering projects focusing on the marginalization of religion were no longer on the agenda.” 25  These affirmative relations went so far as to form election alliances with some popular tarikats  that survived state assaults throughout the single-party era and managed to organize significant networks of social support and influence, such as  Nurcus . 26  Taken altogether, the DP is generally identified with the “revival of Islam” through which its place in the  public sphere was rehabilitated 27  and Islamization gathered pace at the social level in the 1950s. 28 As Grigoriadis puts it: Islam was no more seen as the reason for the decline of the Ottoman Empire and the failure of the Turkish nation to keep up with political, economic, military, and intellectual developments in the West; it was increasingly seen as a source of social solidarity and substantial element of Turkish national identity. 29 When compared with the single-party era of the 1930s and 1940s, the  bi-party politics of the 1950s marked serious differences regarding state– religion–society relations. The instrumentalization of religion for political  purposes that had begun during the last RPP government (1946–1950) under Prime Minister Şemsettin Günaltay continued at full speed during the 1950s. 30 19_0073_Donmez.indb 1153/28/19 5:16 AM
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