The future of laicisim in Turkey

In Turkey, secularism and legal pluralism within a pluralist political enviroment is possible.

The future of laicisim in Turkey
The future of laicisim in Turkey: Secularism and legal pluralism

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By Ertuğrul Aydın, World Bulletin
The NYU Center for Global Affairs Scenarios Initiative mediated a workshop on Turkey on May 21, 2010. Full report has yet to be published but CGA released three scenarios as alternate futures for Turkey that are critical to U.S national interests.

Scenario One: Illiberal Islamist

By 2020, Turkey has emerged as an illiberal Islamic state. Islam functions as justification for restrictive government policies, as identity basis for large segments of society, and as exclusionary moralistic code of conduct in everyday life. Institutions remain nominally democratic, but political opposition groups and parties are either repressed or ineffective. This scenario is driven by continued migration from rural to urban areas, whereby religiosity emerges as the defining feature of a growing urban lower middle class. Turkey’s conservative governing party, the AKP, effectively responds to this trend with religiously motivated legislation, lifting the ban on headscarves at publicly funded universities, opening the bureaucracy to graduates of preacher schools, and other steps to undermine the secular foundations of the Republic. In foreign policy, disappointed by the stagnating EU accession process and a listless NATO, Turkey steps back from accession negotiations and strengthens its ties with countries of the Middle East, Central Asia, and Russia.
Scenario Two: Illiberal Secularist

The decade leading to 2020 reorients Turkish politics back toward domination by secularist forces. The traditional maxims of territorial integrity and modernization, fueled by increasing insecurity and rising nationalism, gain new persuasiveness among large parts of Turkish society. Claims for religious freedoms and freedom of expression in the media, including the use of the Kurdish language, are repressed in the name of security. This scenario is driven by diminishing returns to the AKP’s economic and foreign policies, and by deteriorating regional security. Violence in Kirkuk after the US withdrawal from Iraq, along with increasing PKK violence in southeastern Turkey fuel fears of threats to the stability of the Turkish nation. Links between the military and secularist government strengthen.

Scenario Three: Political Pluralism
By 2020, Turkey is squarely on the road to liberal democracy. This scenario is primarily driven by increased political competition, which emerges as opposition parties capitalize on growing concerns about the AKP’s attempts to monopolize power, its controversial stance on religious issues, its failure to manage rising unemployment, and its foreign policy, which secularists regard as ideologically motivated. Business elites, as well as a variety of civil society actors, become particularly vocal, demanding liberal freedoms and greater transparency from the government. As the AKP is forced to genuinely compete, it becomes more pragmatic and reclaims its identity as Turkey’s party of economic reform. The multi-party coalition government that emerges encompasses a broad range of views, such that political debates in Turkey necessarily center on less ideologically polarizing issues. A settlement of the Cyprus conflict gives new impetus to Turkey’s EU accession negotiations, which provides incentives for further democratic reforms. Gradually, pluralism and broad participation are institutionalized.

These scenarios urged me to think on the future of the secularism (laicism)  in Turkey because secularism under the guise of liberalism is center stage of the three and their horizon is deliberately limited to 2020.  I will avoid labeling a fourth scenario in this paper but add a new feature to the “Scenario Three: Political Pluralism”: Legal pluralism within a secular framework.

We should recall what we know about the course of religion and secularism not only in Turkey but in the West and elsewhere because thinking about the future of laicisim in Turkey means thinking about the future of the lacisim (secularism) in the world especially in the West. Where ever and whenever there is a change in the social norms, forms also change and all these changes, sooner or later, appear at distant places of the world. The fate of laicism heavily depends on the developments or normative changes. Thus, it is obvious where to search the answer for the future of laicisim in Turkey:  Normative social changes and their agents, both in Turkey and elsewhere, capable of changing the form/s or re-forming.

We have already two agents and these are operating everywhere in the world, in a world where religion did not disappear albeit the course of modernization: Civil society and private capital. And please keep in your mind that these current agents of change are operating in a political environment where dominant constants are not French but Anglo Saxon or American.
The Rise of religion
The post-religious era of reason, that is the dream of the enlightenment, never come true. Instead, the religion is on the rise. “People are as religious now as they ever were.”  (Rodney Stark, 1999)
Religion neither declined nor became a relic of the past. Quite the contrary, secularist constitutions obliged to protect it under the title of “religious rights” and thus, tacitly confirmed its vitality and centrality for human life. 
Rodney Stark and William Bain- bridge note that sociologists of religion assume that "people almost universally possess a coherent, overarching, and articulated 'Weltanschauung,' 'world view,' 'perspective,' 'frame of reference,' 'value orientation,' or 'meaning system' " that is often based on religion. (Stark and Bainbridge, p.366)
In 1970’s, in the face of “atheist” communist danger, politics turned its face toward religion and begged for help. At the end of 1980’s religion became the central topics of discussions. The entire Western world celebrated the birth of a 2000 year-old messiah at the beginning of 21. Century. The religion is more visible now and we are in a phrase of debating post-secular society and the role of the religion there. And “the global resurgence of religion may well be a response to the crisis of the liberal state in the West as well as the crisis of the secular and modernizing state in the developing world.” (Scott M. Thomas, p.40)
Religion influences international politics too. Foreign policies are under the influence of the religious views and beliefs of policymakers and their constituents. Religion is a source of legitimacy for both supporting and criticizing government policies. Local religious issues and phenomena, religious conflicts, spread across borders and become international issues. Further, religion is still a source of legitimacy. Some scholars insist that the legitimacy of governments cannot be fully separated from religion. The most well-known leaders of persecuted minorities, opposition movements, and independence movements are often religious figures also indicates the legitimacy of religion internationally. Such past and current leaders include Mahatma Gandhi in India, the Dalai Lama in Tibet, Bishop Desmond Tutu in South Africa, and numerous members of the Catholic clergy in Latin America, to name just a few. In 1995, the Dalai Lama determined that Gehun Choekyi Nyima, then a six-year-old boy, was the reincarnation of the Panchen Lama. The Chinese government opposed this decision, detained Gehun Choekyi Nyima, and enthroned a different six-year-old boy, Gyaincain Tashi Lhunpo, as the tenth reincarnation of the Panchen Lama. (Johnston and Figa, pp.32-34)

And wars can be justified as holy wars, as George W. Bush did before the invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Civil society

The London School of Economics Centre for Civil Society's definition for Civil society refers to the arena of uncoerced collective action around shared interests, purposes and values. In theory, its institutional forms are distinct from those of the state, family and market, though in practice, the boundaries between state, civil society, family and market are often complex, blurred and negotiated. Civil society commonly embraces a diversity of spaces, actors and institutional forms, varying in their degree of formality, autonomy and power. Civil societies are often populated by organizations such as registered charities, development non-governmental organizations, community groups, women's organizations, faith-based organizations, professional associations, trade unions, self-help groups, social movements, business associations, coalitions and advocacy groups.

The discussions about the role of the civil society also became the central topics at the end of 1980’s. Both civil society and religion were discovered and reinterpreted in a post-modern way as political tools in opposition to Soviet influence in Eastern Europe.

Hence, liberal, secular and democratic West boosted its vision of civil society worldwide as a shareholder of power provided that the local actors undervalue existing local civil society. The aim is to foster a western kind of understanding of state-society relations. There are many roles of civil society that might be seem among the roles of authority in the past: Civil society and global governance, The role of transnational civil society in promoting transparency and accountability in global governance, International advocacy NGOs and network credibility in global governance and problem-solving, Legal empowerment, norms and capacity of civil society, International norm-setting by civil society organizations, Civil society, policy dialogue and democratic change. This is a very long list of daunting tasks which requires a remarkable degree of power. And the requisite degree of the power needed by civil societies to carry out those tasks is enough to impose their own wills against the (secular) state in public domain. Remember that the place of religion in modern Western societies has come into the debate within the context of civil society and faith based civil society organizations, that said, “haven in a heartless world.”  I can hardly imagine a civil society that values a specific religion but do not show passion to live in accordance with the requirements of that religion in their domain, that is to say, public domain where it has a share and role to play.
Habermas is aware of this fact and remind us that “a learning process is certainly necessary on the secular side unless we confuse the neutrality of a secular state in view of competing religious world views with the purgation of the political public sphere of all religious contributions.” He has no doubt that “the domain of a state which controls the means of legitimate coercion may not be opened to the strife between various religious communities, as otherwise the government could become the executive arm of a religious majority that imposes its will on the opposition. In a constitutional state, all norms that can be legally pushed through must be formulated and publicly justified in a language that all the citizens understand.” Habermas accepts the visibility of religion in public sphere but emphasize  that “ yet the state’s neutrality does not preclude the permissibility of religious utterances within the political public sphere as long as the institutionalized decision-making process at the parliamentary, court, governmental and administrative levels remains clearly separated from the informal flows of political communication and opinion formation among the broader public of citizens. The “separation of church and state” calls for a filter between these two spheres – a filter through which only “translated”, i.e., secular contributions may pass from the confused din of voices in the public sphere onto the formal agendas of state institutions.” (Habermas,2006)
My claim is that the empowerment of civil society will demand more than the mere permissibility of religious utterances within the political public sphere. The liberal, secular, democratic vision of state-society may give to leagl pluralism in the countries where there is a God (or gods) to believe in. And Anglo-Saxon secularism has a room for it. There are already precedents in U.S. and especially in British legal system and also in India and Tanzania.
And an empowered civil society or social stratum among it that has a God (or gods) to believe in, will look at the precedents and demand legal pluralism in the secular system.
Legal Pluralism
Legal pluralism has an historical depth but I will not handle the legal pluralism, its past and present but just draw the attention to the contemporary British and American legal practice, known to many readers.

British Jews, particularly the orthodox, will frequently turn to their own religious courts, the Beth Din, to resolve civil disputes, covering issues as diverse as business and divorce.  Both sides in a dispute must be Jewish, obviously, and must have agreed to have their case heard by the Beth Din. Once that has happened, its eventual decision is binding. English law states that any third party can be agreed by two sides to arbitrate in a dispute, and in this case the institutional third party is the Beth Din. The Beth Din also takes care of a multitude of Jewish community affairs, many of which never give rise to any dispute: the dates of the Sabbath, kosher certification of caterers and bakers, medical ethics for Jewish patients and religious conversions. But it is in the areas of divorce and litigation that the Beth Din acts as a court in the western sense.  Divorce, in Jewish law, takes place when a document called a Get, written out by a scribe in Aramaic and ancient Hebrew, is handed by the husband to the wife. It is not legal the other way round, but that does not mean that men have it all their own way. Both sides must agree, and the wife has to accept the document if she wishes the divorce to proceed. This need not always be in person, and a court official can stand in for the husband as a legal proxy in particularly fraught cases. The service provided by the Beth Din is best described as binding civil arbitration, and they do not seek to replace the state's civil courts and all criminal matters are reserved for the UK's state courts, and there is no appetite for change.  (Nick Tarry, BBC News, 7 February 2008)

Taken advantage of a clause in the Arbitration Act 1996, Islamic law has been officially adopted in Britain, with sharia courts given powers to rule on Muslim civil cases. The government has quietly sanctioned the powers for sharia judges to rule on cases ranging from divorce and financial disputes to those involving domestic violence. Rulings issued by a network of five sharia courts are enforceable with the full power of the judicial system, through the county courts or High Court.  Previously, the rulings of sharia courts in Britain could not be enforced, and depended on voluntary compliance among Muslims.  It has now emerged that sharia courts with these powers have been set up in London, Birmingham, Bradford and Manchester with the network’s headquarters in Nuneaton, Warwickshire. Two more courts are being planned for Glasgow and Edinburgh. (Abul Taher, The Sunday Times, September 14 2008)

In U.S. “a few American cities now have religious bodies that help adjudicate family-law disputes and other personal matters among believers through binding arbitration. But these are Jewish religious bodies and the believers are Orthodox Jews who adhere to the Halakha, the Jewish religious law. In any case, these verdicts have to be accepted by the disputants and are enforced by American courts that ensure that they won’t violate U.S. laws” “And the relationship between Islamic religious law and American law would probably require urgent attention if this country were being flooded by millions of Muslim immigrants.” (Leon T. Hadar, 2011)

These are consequences of new norms (multiculturalism and a new civil society notion) imposing a change on the current form of secular governance and no doubt it will resonate in Turkey and in Islamic world. Again, another normative change in the West is about to cause a change in distant places. A vibrant civil society, of religiously committed and active citizens, will turn “individualized” religious practices into a social phenomenon and in democracies, this latter will cause a change on the state behavior. A state still can be secular while also adopting legal pluralism.

It must be clear that the future of laicisim and/or secularism in Turkey will be determined not only by local forces but also global forces, trends and tendencies. And in intellectual circles in Turkey, there are many who are ready to discuss legal pluralism with a positive sense. With the imposition of liberal values, Turkish laicism is in transition period from French version to Anglo-Saxon secularism. Legal pluralism was among the hot topics before years when there was no official party willing to listen. But with a more powerful civil society actors operating in a flexible secular political environment, supported by the private capital and an official party willing to listen the demands for legal pluralism, the debate may end up with legal pluralism while still saving the secular character of the Turkish state.

Habermas say that “It is a well-known fact that the Catholic Church first pinned its colors to the mast of liberalism and democracy with the Second Vaticanum in 1965. And in Germany, the Protestant churches did not act differently. Many Muslim communities still have this painful learning process before them” but it is a well known fact that there is no authority in Islam that can revise the Quran; any reform attempt through interpretation of Quran by a religious community will also backlash and mainstream Muslims will list the name of that community under the category of “Deviant Sects” in the History of Sects. Shortly “a reformed faith won’t be true faith” of mainstream Muslims. Instead of a mission impossible, a retreat from militant or fundamentalist French laicism toward Anglo-Saxson secularism in which legal pluralism is possible, would be seem to be a better choice and much easier task. If Muslim conscious do not experience a heavy tension between sacred and profane in a secular system, the future of that system may be longer and relatively peaceful for both seculars and Muslims.

Now that secularism and legal pluralism within a pluralist political enviroment is possible then in Turkey, it is highly likely that Muslim agents of change in pluralist political environment won’t challenge the consept of secularism but lead to transformation from awkward laicistic vision of state toward Anglo-Saxon secularism that is less aggressive and demand legal pluralism. For Jacobin laïcite, this amounts to a breakdown of secularism but in reality the demand for legal pluralism is to promote and enhance secularism of the time because legal pluralism has the capacity to boost the viability of secularism.
Again, these will be the results of a normative shift.

Last week, on 18 January 2011, Mehmet Ali Şahin, The Speaker of The Grand National Assembly of Turkey was calling for immidiate measurements to reduce judicial workload. And then there is Arbitration Act waiting for two years in Parliamentary Justice Commission...



CGA Scenarios, “Turkey 2020”, accessed on 15 January 2011, //
Rodney Stark, Secularization, R.I.P., Sociology of Religion 60, No. 3, 1999
Rodney Stark and William Bainbridge, The Future of Religion: Secularization, Revival and Cult Formation (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985, p. 366.
Scott M. Thomas, The Global Resurgence of Religion and the Transformation of International Relations,New York: Palgrave Macmillian, 2005, 40.
Hank Johnston and Jozef Figa, "The Church and Political Opposition: Comparative Perspectives on Mobilization against Authoritarian Regimes," Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 27, No. 1, 1988, pp. 32-34
Jürgen Habermas, Religion in the Public Sphere. First published in English as chapter 5 of Between Naturalism and Religion, Cambridge: Polity Press, 2006. Originally published in Zurischen Naturalismus und Religion (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp Verlag, 2005.Leon T. Hadar, Fearing a Muslim Planet, American Conservative, January 2011.

Güncelleme Tarihi: 26 Ocak 2011, 09:29