Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Turkey, Pakistan and Secularism

As the Turkish Supreme Court prepares to decide on a petition to ban AKP, the ruling party in Turkey, is it reasonable to compare the secular zeal in Turkey with the religious zeal in Pakistan? It probably is. However, the situation in Pakistan is the mirror image of that in Turkey. Just as the religious orthodoxy in Pakistan is strong but limited to a small but vocal, radical minority of Pakistanis, it seems that the secular orthodoxy in Turkey is just as powerful but shared by a small, radical and vociferous minority of Turks.

While Turkish military and the Ataturk Thought Association act as zealous guardians of the secular creed that guides Turkey, the majority of the Turks have long been voting for AKP party, and its predecessors, with "Islamist" leanings. I am using the word "Islamist" rather loosely here, because AKP would be considered a very moderate middle-of-the-road party, like the Muslim League, in a country like Pakistan.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Ataturk's Thought Association's chairman, a retired four-star general, is now in jail. Its offices -- plastered with portraits of modern Turkey's founding father, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk -- have been raided by police. Several of its computer hard drives have been seized by investigators. They're hunting for evidence of plots by hard-line secularists to topple Turkey's mildly Islamic government, according to the Journal.

The hard core secularists in Turkey have been concerned about the demise of Ataturk's legacy almost since he died 70 years ago. A relentless modernizer, big drinker and fan of the fox trot, Mustapha Kemal Pasha, the father of the Turkish Republic had issues with Islam. He closed Islamic schools, banned Islamic dress and opened a German brewery in his new capital, Ankara. It was obviously not the path of least resistance in a country that is 99% Muslim, once ruled Mecca and was for centuries home to the Islamic Caliphate. Yet Ataturk's legacy prevailed for decades.

Pakistan's founder, Quaid-e-Azam Mohamed Ali Jinnah, was also of secular persuasion. However, he was not hostile to religion. His idea of secularism was very different from that of the Ataturk.

While Ataturk subordinated Islam under the state, Quaid-e-Azam believed in separation of state and religion. Here is an excerpt from Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah's most important speech laying out his vision for Pakistan: "You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place of worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed that has nothing to do with the business of the State." Quaid-e-Azam M.A. Jinnah in address to first constituent assembly, Aug 11, 1947

The Quaid-e-Azam was not just secular, he was a secular democrat who believed in freedom of religion and personal choice. For example, he never advocated either requiring or banning the wearing of the headscarf by women, which seems to be where the battle lines are drawn today between Islamists and Secularists in Turkey.

Unlike the Ataturk Thought Association and the Turkish military who are strong defenders of Ataturk's legacy in Turkey, however inflexible and flawed it may be, there has not been a similar effort in Pakistan to defend the legacy of the Quaid-e-Azam. Not only has Quaid-e-Azam's idea of separation of mosque and state been set aside, there have been active attempts by the religeous parties to hijack the national agenda and the country's constitution in favor of a theocratic state based on their extreme interpretation of the Shariah laws. The efforts of the religious parties, a minority in parliament, began with forcing the adoption of the 22-point objectives resolution just a few years after the death of Quaid-e-Azam. The religious elements completely whitewashed the vision of the father of the nation and declared Islam as the ideology of Pakistan. Fortunately, though, the recent Pakistani elections have shown that the vast majority of Pakistanis reject the extreme agenda of the religious parties in Pakistan.

For the Ataturk Thought Association, a bastion of Turkey's secularism, the key Ataturk speech is a 230-word address to Turkish youth. It warns against "malevolent people at home and abroad," and urges ceaseless struggle against any "traitors" who worm themselves into power. According to the secularists, that dark fear has taken shape in the form of the AK Party.

Ataturk's secularism is not a simple formula. Unlike America's founding fathers, who separated church and state, Ataturk did not so much separate Islam from the state as make it subservient to the state. He abolished the position of the Caliph and put all mosques and imams under a government ministry. At the same time, he purged religious influences from other state agencies.

If, as expected, the anti-Islamist Turkish constitutional court rules to ban AKP, it will not mean the end of its government. The AKP legislators will most likely reconstitute themselves into a new party by a different name that would easily win the vote of confidence in Turkish parliament. Turkey will continue to move in the direction of a moderate Muslim state with modern ideas of democracy and personal freedoms that it shares with its European neighbors. Based on the results of recent elections in Turkey, the vast majority of Turks clearly endorses this direction and rejects the Ataturk version of secularism which is incompatible with democracy.


Anonymous said...

Its very clear that secular orthodoxy is light years better than theocratic orthodoxy.The Turkish youngsters got the whiff of theocracy like creeping in of headscarf in universities and protested against it. A stitch in time saves nine.Otherwise AKP will step by step introduce one thing after the other and before you know it, its worse than Taliban.I think people should keep their religion or spirituality at home and flaunting it is a sign of insecurity. Sadly today in conflict prone Asia people just cant distinguish between spirituality and religion. Organized religion is tool used by clergy in Abrahamic religions to have an Iron grip on the hapless sheep herds.We should reject a Bal Thackeray or a Benedict or a Mullah Omar from certifying who is a "true" follower and who will burn in hell..
Its very strange that some people can't see through these hypocritical bast*ds.
I love the orkut entry for religion "spiritual not religious" i.e. Follow in spirit and not in Letter.
Peace! Peace! Peace!

Riaz Haq said...

The key to survival is in adaptability. I think the Ataturk version of secularism is too rigid and ananchronistic, because it conflicts with democracy and personal freedoms. No state should have the power to ban or manadate the wearing of headscarves. This is too intrusive for my taste. I think the separation of church and state is the best form of secularism that is compatible with democracy.

Anonymous said...

Some examples of "right to religion":
The Sikh Welsh girl insistence on traditional bangle to college is in my opinion way too stubborn exploitation of liberal western democracies.When Asians go to the West,we must be humble ambassadors of our religion and culture. Being a d*ck, only enhances stereotypes of intolerance and hatred. There is also a recent case in Indian Air Force where muslim guys are insisting that they want to grow beard.The funny thing is that these guys didnot sport a beard when they joined IAF and later became "enlightened" and claimed that Muslims have to sport a beard. These are the cases, which clearly shows that they just want to be a b*tt-plug! Courts rightly turned the request down.

Riaz Haq said...

The Turkish Supreme Court has denied the petition by Kemalist secularists seeking a ban on AKP, the Turkish ruling party accused of undermining Turkey's secular character. In its ruling, the Constitutional Court penalized the Justice and Development Party, known by its Turkish initials, AKP, with financial sanctions that represent a loss of about half the party's subsidy from the government treasury. But the penalty was not expected to significantly curtail the AKP's ability to function because the shortfall can be made up at least in part by private donations, according to a report in LA Times. The decision was hailed by AKP as a victory for Turkish democracy.

Riaz Haq said...

Here are excerpts from a piece by Beena Sarwar on secularism debate in Pakistan:

First of all, the very fact that this discussion is taking place in a mainstream newspaper -- even though it is in English, which limits its outreach -- is something to appreciate.

Secondly, the discussion is taking place at a time when Pakistan, indeed the world, finds itself polarised as never before. Never before have we seen such extremes jostling for ascendency at the same time. In Pakistan, the extremes are most visible in the attire people, particularly women, wear out on the streets (from jeans to burqas), the gatherings and functions they attend (from religious gatherings to musical evenings, fashion shows and wild underground parties), what they are reading (religious literature to Communist readings that would have landed them in jail in the Zia years), the television and films they are watching (religious shows to uncensored films on DVD, and Indian films at mainstream cinemas), and how they express their views (through writings, art, music, seminars and peaceful candlelight demonstrations to violent protests and suicide bombings).

The entire gamut is there, from the extreme left to the extreme right, from wild permissiveness to ultra-conservatism -- the latter apparently on the rise not just in Pakistan but around the world. In fact, this ascendency of the Right is so strong that the demons of religion-based militancy unleashed during the Zia years can take down even those who adhere to the late General's world views: a Zaid Hamid can lose even as Gen Zia wins, as the UK-based researcher Anas Abbas interestingly posited it. The charismatic right-wing cult leader, who had sucked into his fold youth icons like the fashion designer Maria B and rock singer Ali Azmat, had to go into hiding not because progressive Pakistanis prevailed against his virulent pan-Islamist, anti-India world view, but because he offended his own.

This is a time when the 'blasphemy laws' as they are applied in Pakistan are causing a worldwide uproar because of the injustice they perpetuate; ......

We're talking about secularism at a time when supposedly educated people, including parliamentarians and politicians are 'warning' the government not to tamper with these blasphemy laws, or else face the 'consequences'. It is ironic that such a warning was issued recently by Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, President of the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q)....
We can now have this debate in the pages of this English-language newspaper, 20 years after Gen. Zia's departure, because those who hold these violent beliefs consider us to be irrelevant. So is the situation hopeless for people like us? No, because these discussions are not taking place in a vacuum. There is a lot of questioning going on in Pakistan at various levels about religion and its role in the state. These discussions are taking place in many languages and at many fora. Thousands if not millions of activists, political workers and ordinary citizens in Pakistan share the belief that religion should be a private matter, which should not be imposed violently.

The rise of the Internet -- according to one estimate, as many as 18 million Pakistanis have Internet access -- means that people have other alternatives to share information that the dominant news media sidelines. Blogs or facebook pages like SecularPakistan or SayNoToTheStateReligion may not have millions of followers but their readership is growing. Amidst the cacophony of jihadist views that regularly find space on radio and television networks are also voices that courageously question the role religion has been given in Pakistan. The trickle may not become a flood anytime soon, but neither is it about to dry up and disappear.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Haq,

Here is one point I got from this article--

"....Unlike America's founding fathers, who separated church and state, Ataturk did not so much separate Islam from the state as make it subservient to the state..."

"...Pakistan's founder, Quaid-e-Azam Mohamed Ali Jinnah, was also of secular persuasion. However, he was not hostile to religion. His idea of secularism was very different from that of the Ataturk. While Ataturk subordinated Islam under the state, Quaid-e-Azam believed in separation of state and religion"

Let us examine these ideas further--

1) You say that Jinnah (like the American Republican Revolutionaries) merely believed in separating Religion from the State, while Ataturk (like the Russian Communist Revolutionaries) believed in subjugating Religion to make it subservient to the State.

Yes. This is true. But why is this so?

The answer lies in the difference between the KIND of system Jinnah (or the American Republican Revolutionaries) INHERITED versus the kind that Ataturk (or the Russian Communist Revolutionaries) inherited.

British Colonial-America and British India-Pakistan did NOT have any OFFICIAL religion. The clergy/ulema in both places were mostly lay-people who had very little say in the politics or governance of these places.

On the other hand, Tsarist Russia and Usmania Turkey DID HAVE AN OFFICIAL RELIGION. The clergy in both places had enormous power, constantly interfered with court-matters and had a direct & obscurantist impact on policy and governance.

In fact, if you look closely, the Russian Communist Revolutionaries used violence and suppression mainly against the top clergy of the Official Russian Orthodox Church. They were relatively more lenient toward minority churches, rabbis in small synagogues and imams in the far away mosques of central asia. The main reason for the subjugation of the OFFICIAL Russian Orthodox Church is because the Official Church had held considerable political power in the Russian Empire for a very long time and was not about to let go easily or quietly.

Same is true of Usmania Turkey, where Ataturk's subjugation was largely focused on the OFFICIAL Sunni Clergy, and the minority non-official small Ismaili, Alawi, Druze, Greek Orthodox and Jewish institutions and their clergy were largely left alone.

So obviously, the EXTRAORDINARY efforts to remove religion from public life in both places were REQUIRED because these two places HAD a long tradition of compulsory religion in public life for a long time.

On the other hand, since British India-Pakistan and British Colonial America did not have this problem of Official Religion, this subjugation was neither necessary nor carried out.

So as it turns out, Ataturk was not trying to PERMANENTLY subjugate religion. He was only trying to free his people's minds from the obsessive grip of Official State-Sanctioned Religion. Once Turkish society manages to break free (as it has largely done), then subjugation may not be required and religion can reclaim an equal but separate status with the State (as it seems to be doing in Moderately Muslim Turkey). Note that the same is true of Russia today; the Orthodox Church is back, but it does not have anywhere near the social or political power that it did in Tsarist times and people take their religion much more lightly now.

To summarize, then, Jinnah was NO WISER than Ataturk. They were both wise men, who inherited very different systems and so obviously reacted to them in different ways. Ataturk's method was not seen to be necessary in British-inherited Pakistan of 1947; and Jinnah's concept of secularism would not have worked in Usmania-inherited Turkey of 1922.

Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Haq,

To continue from the previous comment, Jinnah's Secularism (on the American Model) was appropriate for the type of system that Pakistan inherited from the British in 1947. But if religion becomes more and more embedded in the political discourse and Clergy begin to exercise ever growing power in State matters, then Pakistan will become like Usmania Turkey or Tsarist Russia. Once that point is reached, it is difficult to reverse. The only way to bring secularism to a state in which religion has ALREADY grabbed political power is to use SUBJUGATION of religion to the State. There is no other way to separate Religion from the State once the clergy has grabbed political power by firmly gripping the minds of the people in the name of religion.

In light of this, here is another point I got from this article--

"....the recent Pakistani elections have shown that the vast majority of Pakistanis reject the extreme agenda of the religious parties in Pakistan"

Let us examine this further--

You say that the electorate in Pakistan has clearly rejected the extreme agenda of the religious parties in Pakistan.

This is verifiably true.

I see that all the religious parties combined have got only 7 out of 340 seats in the National Assembly. All the major winners (PPP, MQM, ANP, Muslim League N/Q/F, Independents etc) are supposed to be secular parties with rational agendas. This is excellent.

But then how do we explain that the SECOND AMENDMENT to the constitution has still not been repealed? I mean we could argue that nobody realized how much trouble it would cause when it was inserted into the Constitution long ago. But what is stopping all these secular parties from getting together to REPEAL IT NOW?

The religious parts have only 2% of the seats. With 98% in secular hands, it should be child's play to get the 2/3 majority need to amend the constitution and get rid of it. Why is it not being done?

Dr. Haq?

Are these secular people with their 98% seats in parliament AFRAID of the 2%? Do they say that they would like to get rid of that shameful amendment but that they are terrified of what some religious parties are calling "rivers of blood flowing in the streets of Lahore"?

But if the 2% of elected representatives can subjugate the 98% of elected representatives by the threat of physical violence, then what is the meaning of parliamentary democracy?

Unlike India where the Thackeray/Modi parties get elected, we often say with great pride that our fanatics have little say in Parliament because our people do not vote for them. But what does that really mean if 98% of our secular representatives are living in deadly fear of the capacity of the 2% of the religious fanatics to unleash death and destruction? Regardless of whether it is secular or not, what kind of democracy is this?

I think this issue of the 98% secular representatives living in CONSTANT FEAR of the 2% religious representatives needs to be addressed RIGHT NOW. If it is not addressed, I fear that this issue will continue to HAUNT our country for generations to come.

Thank you.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's an excerpt of WSJ review of "Islam Without Extremes" by Turkish author Mustafa Akyol:

Mr. Akyol, a pious Muslim and a classical liberal, begins his case by proposing a serious rereading of the Quran. "The idea of freedom—in the theological, political, or economic sense—was not unknown in classical Islamdom, as some have claimed," Mr. Akyol writes. He notes that the Quran, compiled in the seventh century, broke with the traditions of its time and place—by mandating protections for property, appealing to the judgment of reason and promoting the idea of a rule of law (as opposed to rule by the whim of despots). Taking inspiration from the separation of church and state in the American constitution, Mr. Akyol suggests that a liberal democracy can be built on Muslim soil as long as neither Islamists nor secular strongmen are allowed to mix religion with politics.