Modern Turkey: Islams Stifled

Turkey is a bridge between Europe and Asia, but bridges are only necessary to patch divides and tears (Göl, 796), which are very prominent in Turkish society, as is made apparent by the difference between that which the Turkish people are able to present publicly and that which they actually feel. In addition, incredibly high, unjust incarceration rates and police brutality keep the citizens quiet, which has a huge impact on the growth of Islam in the modern age. Turkish Muslims are forced to live their lives under an oppressive umbrella in which their beliefs are mutated. In this blog, I seek to examine the divide within Turkey and its effects on the people and the formation of their modern Islamic practices.

To an American, the idea of Turkey as constitutionally secular country comprised of 99% Muslims (International Religious Freedom Report for 2014: Turkey, 2) that seeks to bridge Europe and Asia is confusing to say the least. The haze through which Americans see Islam is so great that an ongoing argument I have with a friend is based on the strangeness of a Muslim present at a recent Democratic debate. This friend does not regard his view as problematic or closed minded, which shocks me—especially as a religion major—but in the past, I have seen and heard a substantial number of arguments on the subject that conclusively proves many Americans don’t understand Islam at all. A study conducted in 2014 by the Pew Research Center showed that 82% of Republicans are “very concerned” about the rising tide of Islamic extremism in the world, compared to the still high 51% of democrats. While extremists have had a large global presence recently with DAESH, this fear is understandable, yet significant in a country where there is very little violence comparatively. If the idea of a Muslim who lives a normal life and participates in society is seen as contradictory and foreign, then Turkey is the pinnacle conglomeration of many of these confusing ideas.

That said, as Americans we have the freedom to argue about these topics and research an endless amount of questions that interest us. The internet is a spewing fountain of varying viewpoints from around the world that can produce hours of reading for curious minds. Recently in Turkey the freedom of speech, belief, and access to the internet has been restricted in multiple instances (Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2014: Turkey), causing both uproar and fear throughout the country and the world. In the 14 years after the purging of Turkish prisons in 2000, the total number of convicts and detainees has gone from 49,512 to 154,197, including a 34,967 jump between 2005 and 2007, and a 13,105 jump between 2009 and 2010 (Penal Policies and Institutions in Turkey: Structural Problems and Potential Solutions, Table 5). The enforcement of an Anti-Terror Law has given the government rationale to arrest countless innocents under the guise of protecting the state from the, “weakening or destroying or seizing [of] the authority of the State… [and] fundamental rights and freedoms… by means of pressure, force and violence, terror, intimidation, oppression or threat” (Anti-Terror Law, Article 1:1). “Prosecutors use a broad definition of terrorism and threats … [to prosecute] hundreds of political prisoners across the political spectrum, including journalists, political party officials, and academics” (Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2014: Turkey, 19).

As a student, I would not be able to write this blog post if I feared legal repercussions for criticizing aspects of society I knew were wrong. In Turkey, self-censorship has become common (Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2014: Turkey, 1), which ultimately closes the door for discussion within the country between the people, who experience the greatest effect. Because “the law still does not distinguish between persons who incited violence, those who are alleged to have supported the use of violence but did not use it themselves, and those who rejected violence but sympathized with some or all of the philosophical goals of various political movements” (Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2014: Turkey, 19), the difference between critically evaluating the state and causing people physical harm is negligible in the eyes of the law. With this in mind, it is easy to imagine how heavy the air must be as intelligent Turks stifle their qualms and ignore their “religious, political, and cultural viewpoints” (Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2014: Turkey, 2) for the sake of being able to live their lives.
The forced silence in Turkey not only punishes candid speech, but prevents pursuit of valuable concepts through use of fear. Through this “control of religion by the state… the repression of Islam and suppression of Muslim identity” (Göl, 804), the Turkish government has shaped modern Turkish Islam. While being Muslim in a secular state is very much possible, Turkey’s secularization has proved more detrimental than beneficial. The quelling of “Muslim ‘public selves … as ‘reactionary’ for [their] potential subversion of the system” (Göl, 804) would be understandable if civilian actions were truly dangerous and ‘reactionary,’ but objectively examining ones state of personal and collective freedoms mainly stands to produce means of improvement. Without freedom to scrutinize the social sphere there is no room for healthy growth. The suppression of any public Islamic colloquium both intensifies and narrows religious ideas, which are especially interesting to analyze through the lens of John F. Wilson.

When Wilson’s schema of religious responses to modernity is applied to the Turkish case, the responses are warped. The “advocacy of new religious ideas” (Wilson, 6110) becomes isolated and uninformed; the “self-conscious accommodation of religious traditions to modern society” (Wilson, 6110) cowers ever increasingly as that society scorns its fluid existence; and “the determined attempt to preserve continuing tradition” (Wilson, 6110) is all but extinguished as the environment is purged of its oxygen. The fundamentalist stance is heightened, yet somewhat stripped of its power, as the other adaptions begin to appear extreme as well. Wilson’s final reaction is the generation of wholly new traditions, which indubitably exist in Turkey, but they have grown up malnourished in the darkness. The denial of chances to practice openly and evaluate necessary changes has made modern Turkish Islam significantly stinted in a struggle that is incredibly muffled by the State. Tactics of violence and fear are effective ways to ensure subjugation, especially when they are unspecified and widely enforced.

Modern Turkish Islam has been forced to exist like a tree growing through a crosshatched fence, distorted as it forces its way through painful cookie-cutter gaps leading to the coveted shore beyond.


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