Secularism, Turkish-style

June 19, 2008 at 5:01 am 1 comment

We had to “finish” the history of Turkey this week, before we could really begin our travel around Turkey and the big projects. Feroz Ahmad’s narrative is not quite chronological, so we began Monday morning in a stereotypical, not quite creative, manner: building a collective timeline. But the timeline made Turkey’s political instability quite clear. How does Ahmad account for this instability? Taking the same information he presented, what other explanations might be possible?

We were immediately into a heady argument that seemed to recreate the dialogues among Turks over the past decades. It was the army, with its continuous interventions, that allowed politicians to be irresponsible and unaccountable because they always knew the military would fix the messes. No, no, the army was absolutely essential to the new Turkish Republic to keep it on the right path. It wasn’t the army, a third group argued, but the insistence on applying the principles of Kemalism in circumstances that demanded other approaches, the reification of decades-old goals and the controversies over how to implement them.

We ended the discussion before we had figured it out (of course!) in time to find our way to Suleymaniye, where my colleague Omid Safi had arranged a meeting with Istanbul’s mufti for both of our groups (and a few others). For the Burch students, it was an opportunity to try to understand the confusing relationship between Turkey’s religious and political institutions. They had just read an article by Haldun Gülalp explaining that secularism in the new Turkish Republic required both the privatization of faith (taking religion out of the public–and political–sphere) and, ironically, the control of the state over all religious institutions. The mufti spoke briefly, then answered questions. Some seemed strangely irrelevant, while others began to clear up our confusions. The mufti is employed by the government; he administers institutions that train those who do the call to prayer and the schools that train the jurists and control religious education in public schools.

We had to leave quickly to go to Yildiz University (our third campus tour) to talk with Professor Gulalp. The students asked him their questions about his article, about the relationship between the state and religion, and about his own answer to the morning’s question. Why is Turkey so unstable? He disagreed with all of their opinions, focusing instead on explaining how the military justifies their interventions (Rousseau’s notion of the difference between the popular will and the popular sentiment.) Once again, I was impressed with the students’ insights, and their clarity in both asking and responding to questions. Many carried the discussion into their own blogs (click links on the right).

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Entry filed under: Ataturk, Nationalism, Teaching, Uncategorized.

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Turkey » Secularism, Turkish-style  |  June 20, 2008 at 11:21 am

    […] Secularism, Turkish-styleWe had to “finish” the history of Turkey this week, before we could really begin our travel around Turkey and the big projects. Feroz Ahmad’s narrative is not quite chronological, so we began Monday morning in a stereotypical, … […]

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