Tuesday, April 22, 2008


The stand-off between hard-line religionists and hard-line secularists in Turkey is yet another example of an essentially phony war between two sets of ideologists unhelpfully claiming a monopoly over both their own traditions and one another, rather than seeking a pluralist path. The message that needs to be heard loud and clear is "it doesn't have to be this way". Adrian Pabst, who teaches theology and politics at the University of Nottingham, and collaborates with John Milbank and Philip Blond in developing the provocative Radical Orthodoxy line of approach to Christianity in public life, has written a very good piece for The National analysing Turkey's plight and signalling the alternative to non-productive confrontation.

The Kemalists are wrong to treat religion as a purely private phenomenon with no public import. They must recognise that all belief systems and social practices are political. They should look to the best traditions of secularism that separate state and mosque without divorcing religion from politics. In a modern Turkey that they purport to defend, rival values should be debated freely. Judicial or military intervention will merely push religion underground and contribute to the rise of fundamentalism — in that case, a repeat of Algeria’s bloody experience would be a distinct possibility.

For its part, the AKP cannot simply proceed with fundamental constitutional reforms that are seen as an assault on secularism. Erdogan and his allies are right to reconsider the legal provisions on insulting “Turkishness” that saw the Nobel Laureate Orhan Pamuk prosecuted in 2007. Likewise, the AKP must tackle discriminatory policies against the Alevi, Kurds and Armenians and work towards their full integration into Turkish society.

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