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"Secularism versus Islamism in Turkey " - A beautiful theory versus an ugly detail

Reader comment on item: A Critical Moment For Turkey

Submitted by Ianus (Poland), May 20, 2007 at 15:47

Reading Dr. Pipes article with his laudatory , almost official-sounding remarks on Atatürk and phrases like " millions of secularists took to streets " as sharply contrasted with the dismal insight that "the country has generally reverted to Islamic ways" , one is tempted to subscribe instantly to the official theory Dr Pipes and many readers share :

" Good , secularist , Islamically moderate Turkey is fighting its most critical battle since 1923 against the evil forces of Islamism ".

Now I'd like to point to one ugly detail which this beautiful theory totally ignores but which to my mind is critical to either validate or refute it .

I think that we all agree that "secularism" in Turkey means roughly "militarily imposed secularism". If so , let's consider briefly what the adverb "militarily" implies . Let say a few words on that pillar of Turkish secularism - the military .

The Turkish officer corps constitutes a real caste , socially and economically distinct from the rest of the society . They live in separate settlements with all amenities and luxuries a common Turk can hardly aspire to ever enjoy . Their wages are extremely high and there never happen any problems like delays in payments or deficit in goods in shops located in military settlements. There are no poor underpaid officers in Turkey . They can make brilliant careers if they are able enough and know the right persons . Their pension funds are very generous too . On his retirement a Turkish colonel gets c. $ 200 000 - a huge sum for Turkey - and so he can easily buy a nice house with land for it .

Military personnel is not seen in public transport . And it's not because they are afraid of terrorism. They simply have their own separate transport network including planes for carrying military persons - including the lowest grades - across the country . The costs are paid from the state treasury of course. Around every professional military man there exists a large family which depends in its fairly affluent existence on the state-sponsored generosity towards the army . In accordance with their high income the families of the militaries are accustomed to much higher living standards than the majority of the population . Let's not forget that simulatneously c. 20 % of Turks live below the poverty line and unemployment soars around c. 10 % . The military caste enriches not only their closer and further family members . The military is a major employer in the country and so a large personnel is dependent on them and in turn relatives of the latter too .

Corruption among Turkey's military is proportionate to its enormous wealth and abilities to distribute jobs and orders and so it's not an exaggeration to say that another invisible civil army depends for its economic sustenance upon the official army of c. 1 000 000 (including recruits) .

Mutatis mutandis the same can be said about the police - another pillar of alleged secularism in Turkey .

In view of the above I can't but think that the spectacular and so advertised demonstartions in Turkey with slogans so willingly repeated by Dr. Pipes and others have in fact not so much to do with "secularism vs Islamism" . This is just a clever , idealistically sounding slogan designed for Western consumption and not corresponding to the ugly Turkish realities. These lofty slogans and theories built on them in fact obscure and hide quite other overriding and down-to-earth interests on the ground in Turkey for which the struggle is being conducted.

One of the points the "Islamists" are fighting for is the end of privileges and unjust distibution of wealth in the country. The militarists and all who depend on or profit from them are more scared of losing their privileged and stable positions , their higher social status and wealth ensuing from the above than of Islam . The country is after all almost a pure Islamic monoculture and in their private and public lives the officers don't behave insultingly towards the faith of the country . On the contrary , in Northern Cyprus it's the "secular" army that helps building new mosques and is responsible for destroying and devastating churches and Christian symbols and monuments . In many cases on instigations from the officers.

For this reason I am forced to conclude that it is not justified to make of the present situation in Turkey an Avestan conflict between good and evil personified by secularists and Islamists respectively . The real cause of conflict is not of religious nature , or it is a pretext , a minor issue if at all . Both sides will one day find a compromise on that minor issue and an inevitable alliance between the military and the Islamists will take place sooner or later , if - as I would surmise - it has not happened in secret yet . This Islamo-secularist alliance will be (or has already been) concluded on the following basis . The army remains a privileged and overpaid caste as before and in exchange the Islamist government - which desperately needs the army to conduct its aggressive policy in Kurdistan , Northern Cyprus , the Aegean region or Central Asia - is given a free hand to implement its agenda . Both sides are intelligent enough to know that appearances and beautiful theories built on them are in the vital interests of both parties .

[ I have included in the post no links . As they are not in English I refrained from it. In case of protests and refutations I can do that. ]

Submitting....

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Note: Opinions expressed in comments are those of the authors alone and not necessarily those of Daniel Pipes. Original writing only, please. Comments are screened and in some cases edited before posting. Reasoned disagreement is welcome but not comments that are scurrilous, off-topic, commercial, disparaging religions, or otherwise inappropriate. For complete regulations, see the "Guidelines for Reader Comments".

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