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Sunday, 16 September 2007
Kemalism And The Cult Of The Turk

"Turkey continually oscillates between full-blown Sharia and military dictatorship."
-- from JW comments by Greg Davis 

This is not true. The history of modern Turkey does not show it ever to have been forced to endure "full-blown Shari'a." It would be more accurate to say that Kemal Ataturk was a despot, but an enlightened despot. He systematically constrained Islam. He helped to make possible the development of a secular class, but that same secular class, the class of intended beneficiaries of Ataturk's measures collectively known as "Kemalism," were insufficiently wary of Islam, or insufficiently grateful for what Kemalism had done for them, or both, to continue to push for ever more constraints. Nor did they push to expand their numbers as vigorously as they might have. They behaved, in fact, as Turkey's geopolitical ally the United States behaved during the Cold War, with both the secular Turks and the American government assuming that Kemalism was there to stay, and would continue to inexorably transform Turkey.

What turned out to be permanent, and a permanent threat to Turkey's dominant secular class who controlled not just the army, but the universities and the judicial system, was not Kemalism, which needed to be constantly protected, but Islam. Islam is the force that keeps coming back, that cannot be kept down, like Rasputin.

And those who fill Western newspapers with contented reports on how the Islam in Turkey is so much better, so much in tune with the modern world (why, just look at those places, say Konya, where Islam and economic activity (it's always about some bustling textile or candy factory) do not know, cannot know, what Turkish secularists now know.

In the past, it was the army that was seen as the protector of Kemalism, and several times the army seized power, but most temporarily, in order to re-establish a system threatened by Islam. It would be harder now, for Erdogan, following Erbakan, have been whittling away at the pillars of Kemalism -- in the war on the Turkish rectors, and even, one suspects, infiltrating their own men, who are well-versed in the need for deception and for patience, into the army, perhaps even into the lower ranks of the officer corps.

Turkey does not "continually oscillate..." It has had, since the early 1920s, a system that has constrained Islam. For nearly half-a-century that system, put in place by a war hero and enlightened despot, continued, though his successors -- Inonu, Menderes -- added their own twists to, or turns away from Ataturk, who in the meantime, after his death, became the central figure in the cult of "the Turk" which was offered as an alternative to Islam, with Ataturk substitute, as a human form divine, for Muhammad.

Posted on 09/16/2007 8:41 AM by Hugh Fitzgerald
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