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Elections won by ‘secularization’

lundi 6 août 2007, par Etyen Mahçupyan

The recent general elections in Turkey attracted the attention of more foreign observers than ever before. The “spiral” developments brought along by globalization mean politics has taken on a kind of externality. There is a commonly held opinion that the elections in Turkey bore clues about the near future of the Middle East, particularly that of the Islamic world. In fact, the foreign press preferred to analyze the results from this perspective. However it has been proved once again that categorical approaches to Turkey-related issues prevent accurate assessments.

For many media observers who went for the easiest explanation, the election results depicted the “victory of the Islamists.” These observers are apparently not aware that the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) has nothing to do with “Islamism” and that the Islamist party of Turkey received only 2.3 percent of the vote. Although it seems possible to attribute to the AK Party a title like “carrier of Islamic sensitivities,” it is beneficial to keep in mind that today’s Turkish Muslims have adopted an understanding that distinguishes between religion and fields such as economics and politics. In other words, the “Islamism” of the AK Party emerges when they have to take up individual attitudes in public places, or it emerges in private places and thus implies the continuation of traditional moral values. However, when it comes to adjusting the public sphere and establishing rules for it, nobody sees the issue through Islamic concerns.

We also see those in the foreign press who make a more nuanced assessment present the election results as the success of “moderate Islam.” Unfortunately this too is an extremely superficial view because, for the AK Party and the masses who voted for them, their position is not “moderate” at all — it is just “Islamic.” This is how they understand being Islamic and they have internalized it. If they use the word “moderate” to compare Turkey to different Islamic understandings in the Middle East, they should know that the understanding in Turkey expresses a “different” Muslimhood rather than being a “moderate version” of something, as Turkey’s understanding has never come to resemble that of the Middle East.

The point that has to be emphasized first in commenting on the election results and AK Party victory is that these votes did not come solely from the Islamic segment of society. The ruling party managed to garner the votes of democrats because the election was also a two-pole referendum, with politics and democracy on one side, military guardianship and the authoritarian regime on the other. Therefore one should be able to see that the Muslims who voted for the AK Party did so because they wanted to take sides with democracy rather then their Islamic sensitivities. The Muslims of Turkey have, for the last decade, come under the influence of a self-imposed stream of secularization which doesn’t distance them from the religion. On the contrary, it changes the meaning and domain of being religious, while leaving them as religious. While the religious segment becomes more individualistic and different it simultaneously adopts a stance that claims politics and democracy.

This process has been the most important and genuine social change we have undergone since the founding of the republic. Turkey’s conservative people have come forth with a whole new set of demands that can be considered extremely reformist in the public sphere and even revolutionary in a democratic sense, while maintaining their conservatism in their private lives. What confronts them is a coalition of resistance consisting of those calling themselves “social democrats” — the nationalists and the bureaucracy — which has come in danger of losing its privileges. For them the only way to stop the AK Party is by way of a secularist imposition. In an environment where the religious gradually become secular, statists’ opposing this trend in the name of secularism is a bizarre irony. The real matter is the difference of mindsets. Secularization is a democratic expansion and secularism is an instrument of the totalitarian imposition. These elections were the “no” from society growing secular to the fetter of secularism, and from a nation becoming more democratic to the oligarchic administration.

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Source : TDZ, 03.08.2007

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