SECULARISM, TURKISH STYLE

“. . . I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their Legislature should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between Church and State.”
~ Thomas Jefferson, Letter to the Danbury Baptists, 1802.

I think most of you know that Turkish propaganda has been in hyper-mode lately, especially directed at the US and Americans in general. This is not, I repeat, it is not, because Turkey is getting ready to celebrate the Fourth of July.

It is because, for one thing, the Turkish Foreign Minister, Abdullah Gul, is due to depart for his US visit tomorrow. For another, Turkey has had a serious case of the hives since the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom. You would think that since the US and Turkey are such fine allies, with such a long-standing relationship, that Turkey would be happy to have the US share in its regional sphere of influence but, alas, it was not to be, and this is the reason why there has been so much hype about the Turkish-American relationship. It’s all a matter of control.

Turkey and its apologists repeat the same old, tired refrain about Turkey being a secular democracy, something like an attempt at forced “bonding” between two supposedly like-minded peoples. I suspect that the use of this refrain, “secular democracy,” is derived from the adage which says that if you repeat a lie often enough, everyone will believe it. Nevertheless, Turkey is not secular and it is not a democracy.

Allow me to point out something to Americans and to those familiar with life in America. What if American religious clerics had to get their sermons or educational materials approved by the government before they could use them? What if, in certain cases, the government handed out sermons, talks, lectures, whatever, and told American clerics that they had to disseminate the given information and not say that it came from the government?

What if all American Christian children were required to attend religion classes in public schools, classes that taught only one denomination of Christianity? I don’t mean the teaching of a generic brand of Christianity, but instead only one, specific Christian denomination.

What if there were a Department of Religious Affairs, a department of the government, that controlled religion?

Wrap your brain around that and then tell me if, given those scenarios, any American would have any faith left in the First Amendment, especially the first part of the First Amendment, which states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” This is the amendment which guarantees that there shall never be an official or state religion in the US. It is this amendment which Jefferson “contemplate[d] with sovereign reverence.”

I will probably break a few hearts here by saying it, but the US is not a Christian country and the founding fathers never intended it to be so. The predominant culture of the US has a Christian basis, but this is not a Christian country.

The First Amendment to the US Constitution guarantees the separation of religion and state for the benefit of the entire population, whether you have religion or not. This is the definition of “secular” as it is included in the phrase, “secular democracy.” Anything else is not secular.

Not so in Turkey, happy boys and girls, not so, because the examples I gave above are regular occurences in the “secular democracy,” known as the Turkish Republic. As such, those scenarios apply to everyone except non-Muslim religious minorities, as per the Treaty of Lausanne. That treaty is the problem, though, especially for people like Alevis.

Believe it or not, Alevis may be a more complex group than Kurds. Ethnically, they might identify themselves as Kurds, Turkmen or Turks. Religiously, they might define themselves as on the fringe of Shi’a Islam, as a syncretic religion–a blend of many religious traditions of the region–or as humanists. More, from Common Ground News Service:

The Alevis are a non-Sunni religious community that makes up around one fifth of Turkey’s predominantly Sunni population. The faith emerged as a mix of mystical Islam with elements of pre-Islamic shamanism in 9th century Anatolia. In the 16th century, Alevis were driven underground when the Ottoman Empire wrested control of the Anatolian peninsula from its greatest rival, the Shi’ite Safavid Empire. Alevis, as victims of pogroms and accusations of heresy, practiced their faith in secret, often pretending to be Sunnis as late as the twentieth century.

One reason Sunni Turks have often disparaged and stigmatised them is that Alevis, like other Shi’ites, revere Ali and his descendents as the true heirs of the Prophet Muhammad. However, many other Alevi practices differ significantly from those of both Sunni and Shi’ite Islam. Alevis do not worship in mosques, instead gathering in various locations to practice their religious ceremony, the Cem. During Cem ceremonies, men and women pray together, facing each other rather than Mecca. Alevis also reject many other tenets of Islam, such as the pilgrimage to Mecca, fasting and daily prayers, in favour of a more mystical, humanistic approach. Officially, Alevi places of worship do not enjoy legal status as places of worship – instead the Turkish establishment labels them cultural centres.

Also, because Alevis often worship in secret, rumours and prejudices about the Alevis are common. As recently as 1995, a Turkish comedian joked on television that Alevis practiced incest at their ceremonies. The EU has no magic wand with which to combat these attitudes, yet it has made its message clear: Turkey has to improve the status of its Alevi community before it can be admitted.

An excellent article, describing the complex and fascinating history of the Alevis, is Dr. Martin van Bruinessen’s Kurds, Turks and the Alevi revival in Turkey. Two other current resources include a UN article on the situation of the Alevis between 2002 and 2005, and a Washington Report on Middle East Affairs article from March, 2005:

. . . [B]ecause of religion’s key role in the definition of minority [in Turkey–again, check the Treaty of Lausanne–Mizgîn], this dispute also has focused on the argument over what Alevism actually is. Here, the community has become divided, with some arguing that it is quite a distinct religious position from Islam, while others argue that it is a subset—either of Shi’i Islam, or a combination of Shi’i and Anatolian animist beliefs that predate the arrival of Islam.

The former idea is clearly the more risky, as it plays along with the beliefs of many Sunnis that there was always something a bit dodgy about the Alevis.

[ . . . ]

Yet at the same time, it is also the idea that most strongly lays the basis for defining the Alevis as a minority. Advocates argue that this is the best way to counter discrimination, which for many Alevis is very real. Even those who are opposed to the idea of minority status concede that Alevism is marginalized and officially excluded. While the country allows Jewish, Greek and Armenian schools, Alevis go to state schools, where Sunni ideas are taught and their existence denied. The community overall has a generally lower standard of living, while the religion enjoys no official financial support, unlike Sunni Islam, which is administered in Turkey via an official government body.

This should make it clearer why DTP politicians like Abdullah Demirbas say things like the following–and are indicted for it:

Stating that he rejects the indictment’s accusations, Demirbas said that the aim of the paper wasn’t to spread propaganda for a terrorist group. “I don’t think saying Turkey is a country with multiple identities, multiple cultures and multiple languages constitutes separatism,” said the mayor.

The claimants said that the arguments advanced by the suspect in his paper are similar to the views of the PKK.

Uh, yeah. . . The admission of “multiple identities, multiple cultures and multiple languages” only constitutes “separatism” for a state that enforces a rigid, brittle, Ein Folk, Ein Reich, Ein Fuhrer mentality. It says a lot, all of it positive, about PKK, that the Turkish state accuses it of holding these views.

Let me also point out that yesterday was the anniversary of the Sivas massacre. Don’t know about the Sivas massacre? It took place in 1993, well after the beginning of the Turkish-Islamic synthesis, which was a little agreement between the pashas and Islamists, and was designed to battle the omnipotent PKK. This eventually lead to the creation of Turkish Hezbollah. That, of course, ended up being something of a Turkish version of Frankenstein’s monster, didn’t it?

It was at this time, too, when the state ordered Kurdish imams to preach in support of Turkish Hezbollah, handing them prepared sermons, in case they needed them. Always a few steps behind the power curve, the state didn’t realize that PKK had already been talking to Kurdish imams and had, since 1991, already reached an agreement with them to make concessions to religion. This was the beginning of the end of the loosely held Marxist ideology that was finally done away with at the PKK’s 5th Congress, in 1995. PKK wisely left the sphere of religion to the imams, and the imams left the sphere of the secular to the PKK. Besides, Kurdish imams are still Kurds; they were, and are, clearly aware of the Kurdish reality in Turkey.

Anyway, here’s a little something from Wikipedia as a reminder of the Sivas massacre:

The oppression [of Alevis] reached its dénouement in Sivas on 2 July 1993, when 36 people (Alevis, leftist non-Alevi intellectuals, and a Dutch anthropologist) attending a cultural conference were burned to death in a hotel by Sunni locals. Attending the conference was a left-wing Turkish intellectual Aziz Nesin who was vastly hated amongst the Sunni Turkish community as it was he who attempted to publish Salman Rushdie’s controversial novel Satanic Verses, in Turkey. The Sunni locals in Sivas, after attending Friday prayers in a near by mosque, marched to the hotel in which the conference was taking place and set the building on fire. The Turkish government sees this incident as being aimed at Aziz Nesin only, yet most agree that the target was really the Alevis. The response from the security forces at the time and afterwards was weak. The assault took 8 hours without a single intervention by the police and military. Alevis and most intellectuals in Turkey argue that the incident was triggered by the local government as flyers and leaflets were published and given out for days before the incident. The Turkish government refers to the Sivas Madımak Hotel incident as an attack towards the intellectuals but refuses to see it as an incident directed towards Alevis.

Alevis are generally left wing and are well known for supporting mainstream centre-left and left parties.

The Sivas massacre was also a Deep State operation, just like Susurluk, just like the creation of Turkish Hezbollah, just like the Semdinli bombing, just like the Council of State attack.

In his excellent critique of the Turkish constitution, “Cannibal Democracies, Theocratic Secularism: The Turkish Version,” Edip Yuksel describes how the Turkish Republic replaced one religion, Islam, with the “secular” religion of Ataturkism, and explains that the only cure for the new secular religion of Turkey is the application of true secularism:

If the Turkish state wants to rise to the “level of modern civilization,” instead of replacing a religion with another religion it should start practicing real secularism. The Attorney General, in his charges before the Constitutional Court, subscribed to a tyrannical definition of secularism: “This word does not merely mean the separation of worldly and religious authorities in the state, but it also means the determination of social life in the area of education, family, economy, law, manners, attire, etc., according to the time and requirements of the time.” (FN113) The understanding and practice of secularism as an officially mandated lifestyle for individuals explains the root of most of the social and political problems that Turkey is struggling with.

Edip Yuksel further comments on the status of religious minorities:

Turkish secularism on the one hand is antagonistic to religion, on the other hand, it continues the Ottoman tradition of discrimination based on religion. While there exist a small minority of Christians and Jews within the Turkish population (FN117), in the history of Turkish Republic, with the exception of Jefi Kamhi (FN118), there has not been a single congressman from these religious minorities Nor has any Turkish citizen belonging to a religious minority been placed in the cabinet or in the ranks of lieutenants of the Turkish Armed Forces.

With the passage of the new anti-terror bill in the Turkish parliament, a bill which requires only the approval of the president to become law, not only are religion, identity, manners, attire, and all other minutiae of individual life legislated “according to the time and requirements of the time” to guarantee the supremacy of the state against the people, but individual thought and its expression will be legislated to that end as well. Such a rabid definition of secularism is the very antithesis of everything that a man like Thomas Jefferson brought into being on July 4, 1776.

Don’t let the propaganda machine fool you. The much touted secularism of the Turkish state bears absolutely no resemblance to that secularism as it has been understood and practiced for the last 230 years “from sea to shining sea” under the torch of Lady Liberty. Instead of being a matter of liberty, Turkish secularism is a matter of control.

By the way, today, 3 July, is an anniversary, too, the anniversary of the bagging of Ozel Timler in Silêmanî by the United States Marine Corps in 2003.

Yo, Marines, Semper Fi!

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