Does Prime Minister Erdoğan Accept Turkish Secularism?

On March 14, 2003, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, leader of the Justice and Development Party (Adalet ve Kalkinma Partisi, AKP), became Turkey\’s prime minister.[1] While the AKP makes no secret of its Islamic roots, it describes itself as a conservative party that fully accepts Turkey\’s secular system of government.[2] \”A political party cannot have a religion, only individuals can,\” Erdoğan explained.[3]

Some U.S. officials accept such assurances. Assistant Secretary of State Dan Fried, for example, has said that he sees the AKP as the Islamic equivalent of a European Christian Democratic party.[4] But is the AKP merely the Muslim version of a Christian Democratic party? Is Erdoğan committed to democracy and Western values?

He has sought to reverse the ban on head scarves in state institutions, called for a \”change of mindset\” in the judiciary,[5] embraced Hamas, and endorsed an Al-Qaeda financier.[6] He has sought to equate religious school education with that of secular schools,[7] and his political party has worked to enforce Islamic alcohol bans in some municipalities.[8] On April 12, 2006, President Ahmed Necdet Sezer warned, \”Religious fundamentalism has reached alarming proportions. Turkey\’s only guarantee against this threat is its secular order.\”[9]

Early in his career while mayor of Istanbul (1994-98), Erdoğan was explicit in support of an Islamist agenda. As he considers a presidential run, a juxtaposition of statements made early in his career with his actions as premier suggest that while his style may have changed, his agenda has not. Far from being just the Muslim equivalent of a Christian Democrat, Erdoğan remains an unabashed Islamist, raising the question: Will 2007 be the year Turkey elects an Islamist president?

Separation of Mosque and State

The Turkish Republic is founded on the notion of the separation of mosque and state.

  • \”We will turn all our schools into İmam Hatips [religious schools]\”—Cumhuriyet, Sept. 9, 1994
  • \”Thank God Almighty, I am a servant of the Shari\’a.\”— Milliyet, Nov. 21, 1994
  • \”I am the imam of Istanbul.\”—Hürriyet, Jan. 8, 1995
  • \”The police operations against the turban are comical.\”—Sabah, May 5, 1995
  • \”I support the proposal to inaugurate the parliament by reciting the Qu\’ran.\”—Milliyet, Jan. 8, 1996

Belittling of Atatürk

Mustafa Kemal Atatürk is the father of modern Turkey and the symbol of Turkish secularism.

  • \”One ought not to stand [in respect, stiff] like a straw on Atatürk\’s commemoration events.\”—Hürriyet, May 12, 1994
  • \”There was much ado about nothing on November 10 [the commemoration of Atatürk\’s death]—Hürriyet, Nov. 14, 1994

Disapproval of Western Culture

Turkish governments traditionally pride themselves on their embrace of and participation in European culture.

  • \”I am against the [Western] New Year\’s celebrations.\”—Sabah, Dec. 19, 1994
  • \”Alcohol should be banned.\”—Hürriyet, May 1, 1996
  • \”Swimsuit commercials are lustful exploitations.\”— Hürriyet, Mar. 6, 1996

[1] Turkish Daily News (Ankara), Feb. 8, 2003.
[2] Turkish Daily News, Oct. 23, 2003; Akşam (Ankara), Sept. 18, 2006.
[3] The New York Times, May 11, 2003.
[4] Remarks by Daniel Fried, assistant secretary of state, Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs, at American Enterprise Institute conference, Gdansk, Poland, Aug. 30, 2005; Daniel Fried, Foreign Press Center briefing, Washington, D.C., Nov. 9, 2005.
[5] Turkish Daily News, Feb. 15, 2006.
[6] Sabah (Istanbul), Sept. 22, 2006.
[7] Turkish Daily News, Feb. 10, 2006.
[8] Associated Press, Dec. 15, 2005.
[9] Turkish Daily News, Apr. 14, 2006.

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