The precarious relationship between religion and political representation

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1 Politico-Religious Blackwell Oxford, MUWO The April ORIGINAL 2002 Muslim 2003 Hartford UKPublishering ARTICLE World Seminary Ltd The Muslim World Discourse Volume 93 of Political April 2003 Islam in Turkey: The Parties of National Outlook Discourse of Political Islam in Turkey: The Parties of National Outlook Ahmet Yıldız* Turkish Grand National Assembly Library Research Service Istanbul, Turkey The precarious relationship between religion and political representation has been generating much political controversy and intellectual challenge in Turkey. After World War II, Turkey experienced a transition to multi-party politics. Political parties started to attach more importance to religious claims and interests within the multi-party electoral system. As a consequence, religiously-oriented voters have been able to carve out a legitimate space for political representation in Turkey. Politics and prayer rug have begun to intersect in the political fields and ballot boxes. Since the Democrat Party (DP) ( ), religiously oriented voters have formed the backbone of the center-right parties. The political arena was ready in the 1970s for the representation of the religious interests articulated first by the National Order Party (NOP) ( ) and later by the National Salvation Party (NSP) ( ). NOP played a key role in the re-politicization of Islam by enlarging the channels of political representation. Forming its political discourse on religious tenets, the Welfare Party (WP) ( ), the reformulation of the NSP, assumed the position of political spokesman for religious votes. It became the locus of the populist version of political Islam adopted to the formal democratic procedure. Necmettin Erbakan, founder of the movement of the National Outlook, 1 has considered the WP as the political expression of the Turkish part of the umma or global Muslim community. Ironically, political circles fostering a militant understanding of secularism had the same perception of the position of the WP within the entire political spectrum. This, however, does not necessarily provide us with an adequate frame of reference to understand the nature of 187

2 THE MUSLIM WORLD VOLUME 93 APRIL 2003 the WP s policies. In most cases, the underlying motives were pragmatic and functional, that is, socio-economic rather than cultural, namely, religious ones. So was its religious discourse. In this regard, WP was a protest movement; it successfully mobilized the reactions of those voters who saw themselves deprived by the privileged class of so-called White Turks. For the voters of WP, citizenship was an empty concept; they believed that the pretext for their exclusion from access to power through the closure of the parties they were supporting was their religious allegiance. It was not surprising that WP drew upon a discourse of just order. The discourse of just order was not directly religious. The core audience of the just order was mainly an entire class of the deprived. 2 The fact that WP targeted such an audience by instrumentalizing Islamic idioms and symbols in its political campaigns, and that it defined the establishment as having an anti-religious form of laicism, was used as a pretext by the military elite for the coup in Also known as the February 28 process, this coup brought about the resignation of the incumbent government and non-democratic, strict state control over all aspects of religious life. The religious discourse of WP was also partly shaped by the currents of the identity politics at the time. In order to address the political demands of those who take the Kurdish identity seriously, WP emphasized the wellestablished theme of Islamic brotherhood. This theme was expressed in such mottos as the coalescence of state and nation and 60 million are brothers of one another. In doing so, WP tried to integrate anti-systemic ethno-political currents into the Turkish democratic system by using Islam as a supra-identity. WP sought two objectives: first, such a policy would mitigate concerns of state elite vis-à-vis the territorial integrity of the country; secondly, WP would be able to promise, to some extent, the possibility of the expression of ethnic identities at the political level without undermining integrity at the national level. In this study, I will critically examine the religious discourse of WP around two axes: (1) doing service to religion; and (2) enabling the political representation of the religion. The basic determinants of the WP s religious discourse will be elaborated with special reference to (1) the party s concern for legality, that is, its survival reflex, and (2) the double discourse generated by this survival reflex in light of the legacy of the National Outlook. Virtue Party (VP) ( ), the apparent heir to WP, is considered here as the forerunner of a new political line; since it represents a rupture from the National Outlook tradition, it will be treated separately. National Outlook and the Religious Discourse of WP National Outlook is a generic title expressing the specific tradition which has produced various political parties with religiously informed agendas in 188

3 Turkey. It is a particular synthesis of religious and non-religious themes 3 and represents an attempt to reconcile traditional Islam and modernism at the political level. Therefore, WP s understanding of religion is not based on a fundamentalist critique of Islamic history but on a certain nostalgia for a heroic past. As such it reflects the Islamic past as a parade of magnificent pictures. In this sense, the historical, in particular the Ottoman Islamic version rather than the selefi or what is commonly known as fundamentalist understanding of Islam, constituted the WP s perception of the Islamic heritage. WP s discourse of religion established itself through an articulation of this heritage within the context of modernism. This modernism, nevertheless, was limited to scientific and technological progress and definitely did not include cultural/religious transformations. Relying on a Muslim version of the Weberian analysis of Protestantism, WP cadres held the idea that religion is the leitmotif of development and progress. One of the mottos of the party was spiritual development. The fact that religious and spiritual issues have been voiced as the spiritual development slogan highlights the deep impact of Enlightenment rationalist philosophy and its teleological ideas of progress and development. The post-world War II developmentalist paradigm has arguably had a significant influence on the formation of the political discourse of WP and other parties of the National Outlook. The party s name Welfare draws, in a similar vein, on a developmentalist repertoire. The crescent and the ear in the party emblem represents the spiritual and material aspects of economic growth and spiritual development. The intellectual sources and industrial connections of Erbakan and his associates formed an interesting amalgam of traditional Sunni-based Islamic culture and Sufi worldview embedded within a developmentalist discourse. National Outlook s heroic conception of history, its celebration of the glorious past and its continuous reference to the path towards the solution of contemporary problems were all expressed in the motto of a great Turkey once again. This was obviously part of a growth-oriented perspective of development and a territorially grounded Islamic nationalism. Spiritual growth, that is, Islam, was perceived as playing an indispensable role in the movement toward development. Thus, a zul-cenaheyn (two-winged) understanding of development constitutes the core of the political discourse of the National Outlook: (1) spiritual development (Islam) and (2) material growth (industrialization). In WP s discourse, the backward and impotent position of the Muslim world at large and Turkey in particular was associated with the domination of global Western imperialism, which makes anti-westernism an integral part of that discourse. NSP, the party of the National Outlook in the 1970s, was 189

4 THE MUSLIM WORLD VOLUME 93 APRIL 2003 inspired by a religio-national zeal and was a fervent proponent of heavy industrialization in order to break the chains of Western exploitation and domination. The main problematic of the National Outlook is inherited from nineteenth century Islamists whose intellectual agenda was based on an understanding of Islam vs. the West. The dilemma was to find an explanation for the rising fortune of the West over against the continuously declining power of the Ottoman Empire, or, more properly, the Muslim world. For Muslim intellectuals at the time, the West owed its powerful position vis-à-vis the Muslim world to scientific development and military superiority, which were brought about by the Industrial Revolution. Using this irresistible, relentless military-economic machinery, the Western world gradually took Muslim lands under its hegemony and put a humiliating end to the Pax Ottomana. The relative decline of the Muslim umma was symbolized in the colonization of Ottoman lands and dependencies as well as in the secularization of the legal and political imagination of the Westernized Muslim elite. The cause of this situation was seen to be the lack of commitment to the strict observance of Islamic precepts. These precepts were imagined to be the very progressive driving forces in the Muslim consciousness for a better spiritual and material world. Hence, the overall Western challenge could be countered by the embrace of science and technology, viewed as originally Muslim achievements. However, besides science and technology, the indigenous Muslim cultural dynamics were to be preserved. These cultural dynamics were basically seen as indispensable foundations, the contours and spirit of which were conditioned by the Islamic Weltanschauung. It was this constellation of ideas that Necmettin Erbakan called Milli Görüß (the National Outlook). The National Outlook was intended to promote an Islamic message in the guise of nationalistic expression. In so doing, it took the advantage of double connotations of milli in Turkish. Depending on the intention of its user, milli can mean both religious and national. The ideological core of the National Outlook is a combination of a traditionalist discourse and a modern, defensive, positivist conception of so-called Western science and technology. This science and technology is readily welcomed through its naturalization by reference to its Islamic roots. 4 According to this narrative, the Turkish nation has undergone a fundamental moral degeneration due to the emulation of the Western way of life. It was this emulation that was held responsible for the breakdown of the Ottoman eternal order. Therefore, regaining historical might is bound with appreciation of the importance of spiritual development. Accordingly, the contribution of the National Outlook to spiritual development and thus serving the religion turned out to be one of the key elements in WP s discourse. 5 Among the 190

5 contributions of the National Outlook when the NSP was the junior partner of the coalition government between 1974 and 1978 were the following: the prevention of governmental oppression of believers, 6 lifting the ban on wearing the headscarf, opening the way for the Hajj via overland route, prevention of the confiscation by semi-official organizations of the skins of religiously sacrificed sheep, and mentioning of the phrase spiritual growth in the 4 th Development Plan for the first time. 7 It is now clear that Islam is at the center of the National Outlook ideology. Nevertheless, parties of the National Outlook have been very cautious with respect to justification of their policies and discourses. They have avoided explicit reference to Islamic terminology and have been extremely careful not to transgress the legal limitations devised by the Kemalist establishment. 8 The parties of the National Outlook faced many legal obstacles constraining the political representation of Islam. These parties were frequently charged by their secular adversaries and the ideological state bureaucracy with having a secret agenda (takiyye), which in turn led those parties to adopt a tactically motivated principle expressed as discursive transparency coupled with strategic confidentiality in dealing with politics. 9 On the one hand, the parties of the National Outlook were not radicalized because of their conception of politics as a strategic legal process. On the other hand, they felt compelled to make certain symbolic gestures concerning secularism and Kemalism. Hence, Erbakan s claim that should Ataturk have been alive, he would have been a Welfarist is not mere hypocrisy but a conclusion derived from the interpretation of Kemalism from the vantage point of the National Outlook. By referring to the two foundational mottos of the Turkish Independence War ( ), istiklal-i tam (full independence) and hakimiyet-i milliye (national sovereignty), this position is an opportunistic (maslahatkarane) effort to define Ataturkism in relation to the political discourse of Mustafa Kemal Pasha s of the period of the National Struggle, which, for contextual reasons, embraced strong religious overtones. 10 In the 1990s, with its populist and pragmatic grasp of politics, the National Outlook became an eclectic ideological program using the discourse of the just order. This discourse employed such Islamic injunctions as social solidarity and prohibition of interest (riba). In fact, the just order appeal was a critique of capitalism at the macro level. Like other propositions of the National Outlook, it was based on the interpretation of Islam as preached by Erbakan and his close associates, yet was not justified in Islamic terms. Taking their legitimacy from Islam and their legality from the political establishment, the parties of the National Outlook gave birth to a double discourse that suffered serious contradictions. 191

6 THE MUSLIM WORLD VOLUME 93 APRIL 2003 The Islamic References of the Just Order The main motto of the Welfare Party had been the national consciousness (milli ßuur) until the 1987 General Convention. In October 7, 1990, at the Third General Convention, the motto of the Just Order was given voice for the first time and since then it has been used as the fundamental slogan of the party in all its activities. 11 As a radical criticism of the capitalist socio-economic formation, the Just Order rhetoric did not confine itself to economic propositions. Islamic ethical norms were basic to the Just Order rhetoric: Social solidarity, the prevention of wasteful expenditures, justice in taxation, equal treatment of all in the allocation of state credits, the abolition of interest. In consequence of all this, the securing of social peace, social welfare and justice in income distribution were tenets based on but not specified as Islamic injunctions. 12 In all the policy suggestions prescribed by the WP, not contradicting Islamic teachings was one of the most basic, necessarily constrained by the concern for keeping legality. 13 The statements of WP speakers giving priority to political coolness and rationality were in total agreement with the legal rules, while their heroic speeches represented an Islamic posture transgressing or at least spoiling the legally devised political constraints. 14 The religion discourse of the WP was shaped in accordance with this duality of legality Islamicity or cool rationality heroism. The former was parallel to the religious discourse of the center-right parties, while the latter was closer to the posture of political Islamism. We can see the manifestations of these features in the election slogans of the WP. The most striking characteristics of these slogans were that they were the restatement of unspecified Islamic injunctions and reflected a heavy emphasis on the issue of spiritual development. 15 The religious discourse of the National Outlook is based on the notion of negative freedom at the least, and the positive conception of freedom at the most. Over time, especially after the mid-90s, when WP came to power by widening its popular support base, the negative conception of freedom dominated and WP s discourse on religion was confined to lifting the obstacles and difficulties in the practice of religion at the personal level. This liberalizing tendency, though shadowed with the symptomatic manifestations of some heroic speeches embodying the strong implications of a positive grasp of individual freedom of Erbakan and other public orators of WP that disregarded the concern for legality, would regain the upper hand in the Virtue Party. Parties of the National Outlook and Political Representation of Islam According to Necmettin Erbakan, the National Outlook had been formed on the basic principles embodied by human rights and contained by the

7 and 1982 Turkish constitutions. Its core formulation does not change with changing circumstances. 16 The categorical rejection of ideological change is closely related to the connection, even identification, of the National Outlook with Islam itself. 17 The popular image of WP was heavily characterized by religious appellation. This was due to its political discourse as well as the legacy inherited from the NOP NSP tradition, 18 and the fact that party cadres consisted of believers. In the process of embracing Turkish voters at large, WP kept an obediently religious profile of its core cadre intact. In the history of that profile lay the identification of religion and party reflecting the assertion that elections are the counting of Muslims in Turkey. 19 Erbakan s claim that other parties have voters whereas WP has believers was another overt statement of this position, 20 The Prophet Adam was Welfarist. Likewise, all the past prophets were partisans of WP, so was the Sultan Mehmet II (The Conqueror). 21 As a matter of fact, like the Nationalist Action Party s trio of leader, organization and doctrine, the parties of the National Outlook have been structured around the trio of community, organization and obedience. 22 At least for some segments of its partisans in the countryside, the National Outlook movement has functioned as the political messiah and, accordingly, its leader, Erbakan, has been considered to be the undisputed leader of the political jihad. 23 The Qur anic injunction the Truth has come and the Wrong has become nul 24 appears in the upper logo of the semi-official daily of the National Outlook, Milli Gazete, showing that parties of the National Outlook have viewed themselves as the truth and others as the wrong, in juxtaposition to the agnostic and hence partialized conception of the democratic truth. Ahmet Akgül, a strong partisan of the National Outlook and an admirer of Necmettin Erbakan, admits that the right-left divide in Turkish politics was transformed into the truth-wrong divide thanks to Erbakan. 25 Islam is thought to represent the truth both on the global scale and in the abstract sense, and hence the parties of the National Outlook represent its national manifestations. Erbakan s view of other political parties 26 and his grasp of the Western world 27 is based on this understanding. What all this conveys is that the political party means the religion and, accordingly, those Muslims who have not belonged to the party or lent support to it have been warned that they may be subject to spiritual sanctions/hazards. 28 The Official vs Unofficial Discourse of WP: Falling Between Two Stools According to the official discourse of WP, the aim of the party overlaps to a great extent with the official ideology of Turkish state, Ataturkism. In line 193

8 THE MUSLIM WORLD VOLUME 93 APRIL 2003 with official secular Ataturkist injunctions, WP aims at to elevate the Turkish Republic, to surpass the level of contemporary civilization, to establish a powerful and prosperous Turkey as a free state of law which is democratic, laic and respectful to human rights and to bring happiness to Turkish people. 29 According to the Welfare Party s Defense presented to the constitutional court during the closure suit, Welfare Party is a service party, a political organization, not a religious or philosophical school. 30 According to the narration presented in the defense, that is why the Welfare reality cannot be classified under the rubric of political Islam. WP does not have any connection with political Islam whatsoever. 31 The popular favor towards WP, which carried it to power, resulted not from the misuse of religious feeling by WP, but from the service it has done for Turkey. To think that the people capable of undertaking democratic responsibilities may be deceived through the misuse of religious feeling is nothing but to despise its democratic consciousness and maturity. 32 The WP s honest and believing cadres, experienced enough to solve the problems of Turkey, have dedicated themselves to its development and done so with religious zeal and endeavor. 33 To see the National Outlook as the best possible formulation of Islam adapted to the secular rules of the democratic political system developed by Necmettin Erbakan and his associates has doomed WP, like other parties of the National Outlook, to a double discourse. At the official legal level, the WP program introduces WP as a party best representing the gist of the constitution. 34 In its Esas Hakkında Savunma, it was argued that WP gave priority to the respect for plurality of beliefs rather than a scholastic understanding of religious teachings. The socio-political organization deemed the provision of the real necessities of people under the light of science, reason and contemporary development as essential. 35 Yet, Oguzhan Asiltürk, the General Secretary of the Welfare Party, admitted that when some politicians (including Korkut Özal, brother of the late President Turgut Özal, Ali Coßkun, a former president of the Turkish Chambers of Commerce and Stock Exchange, and Abdulkadir Aksu, former minister of Internal Affairs) were invited by the party to join WP, they stipulated that WP must be turned into a mass party while the party insisted on remaining a party of belief. 36 Determinants of WP s Discourse of Religion In order to better appreciate the importance of the content and form of religious themes in the political discourse of WP, one should take into consideration the official Islamization policies pursued during the 1980s, the universally oriented openings of the Islamist movements and changes that took place in the power relations between WP and other Islamic groups. The 194

9 religious discourse of WP during the 1990s was shaped by the following factors: (a) the halt of the rise of political Islam; (b) the efforts of WP to become a mass-based party, the incorporation of the have-nots concentrated in the suburbs of big cities into the game of democratic politics via the mediation of WP; and (c) Welfare s rise as the candidate for political power and the positive impact this has brought about. The containment of WP as an official policy resulted from the concern for survival felt by the military-civilian guardians of official Turkish ideology and the crystallization of that in the so-called Process of February 28. The religious right in Turkey has made two essential demands of symbolic importance in multi-party politics: the building of a mosque in Taksim Square in Istanbul and the conversion of Hagia Sophia Museum, the ancient Byzantine church, into a mosque, as was the case during the Ottoman Empire. WP perpetuated that tradition. When it was established, it immediately had to face its most important political rival, the official policies of Islamization followed by the military rule of the September 12 coup. The place of religious demands within the overall political discourse of WP remained initially limited to the question of the conversion of Hagia Sophia. 37 Religious themes were inserted into the political discourse without conveying their sources, that is, if they were based on a verse from the Qur an, a tradition or any other religious form of jurisprudence. Thus, it was possible to communicate with religiously oriented voters who would probably recognize the sources enigmas without transgressing relevant legal boundaries. The abandoning of Islamization policies at the end of the 1980s, the economization of the political discourse, the ultra-westernist policy adopted by Turkey during the Gulf War, the chronic deterioration of the economic situation of the middle and lower classes and the general moral degeneration observed in general moral conditions triggered the move of religious votes from MP to WP. The result of the 1989 general municipal elections in which WP got 9.8% of the votes cast was a clear indication that WP finally managed to take back its votes back from MP. 38 In the 1990s, the purge of religious segment from the ranks of MP (led now by Mesut Yılmaz), the use of a discourse that was troubling to religiously sensitive voters by the Tansu Ciller s True Path Party (TPP) (while having played the card of laicism to delegitimize the political standing of WP), the emergence of WP as the winner in the general local elections of March 24, 1994, and the following general elections of March 27, 1995, left WP unrivalled in getting the support of religious groups which already secured the votes of the discontented through the appeal of the Just Order discourse. NSP, the predecessor of WP, had to a great extent secured the support of Nakshibendi and some Nurcu groups. Necmettin Erbakan, Süleyman Arif Emre 195

10 THE MUSLIM WORLD VOLUME 93 APRIL 2003 and Hasan Aksay, the leading figures of NSP, had allegiance to the Iskenderpasha Convent (Dergah), a Nakshibendi sect. 39 In the first period of its establishment, WP tried to transmit the message to the voters that it is the legitimate heir of the NSP. In doing this, it gradually began to reject the spiritual tutelage of Sufi orders and other religious groups over the party. According to Necmettin Erbakan and his associates, it was necessary to differentiate between two swords, i.e., religious and political leadership. The influence and power of religious groups in the spiritual and social spheres should not be extended to the political sphere. Political leadership should be totally left to the party. It was out of the question to relegate political leadership to a secondary position by including it in a spiritual chain of hierarchy. This process culminated with the transformation of political authority into supreme authority. During the public debate between the late Nakshibendi shaykh Esat Coßan and Erbakan over the proper balance between the realms of political and religious leadership, Coßan accused Erbakan of saying that those who do not pay homage to me must look for another religion. 40 The claim of party rulership was that the mystical affiliation of their supporters was a matter of private importance. WP maintained equal distance from all religious sects and communities. 41 The Nakshibendi influence within rulership cadres lost its determinative impact while party affiliation became the main source of political identity over the process. The fact that WP cleansed itself of the appearance of a party controlled by a certain Sufi order or any other religious community was an important aspect of its discontinuity with NSP. Nonetheless, the frequent charge by party militants and occasionally by the party leadership that voters who sided with parties other than WP were the co-partners of oppression and were supporting oppressors, and infidels did affect its image, though in general it assumed a low profile in contrast to the political discourse of NSP. To Erbakan, WP was the party of all the believers and oppressed, and therefore ready to embrace all without differentiating among their old political preferences. 42 The fact that the WP s discourse did not exhibit great differences from that of the center-right parties invited the harsh criticism of Muslim radicals. 43 Although WP put a certain distance between this numerically few but intellectually powerful political group and itself, popular orators of the party did not hesitate from time to time to make speeches and act in ways that reflected their radical political positions. 44 Such a radical posture has reflected a political attitude based purely on a fundamental (selefi) refutation of the Western conception of democracy, and has been seen as having a double allegiance contrary to the principle of Tawhid. According to the radical 196

11 position, the Islamic character of a political party can be measured not by the religiosity of its cadres but by the Islamic legitimacy of its program, statements and policies. It is meaningless to try to find Islamic solutions for the problems of Muslims living in a secular political system without systemic change. The Just Order program of WP was an effort to devise Islamic solutions to the problems prevalent in non-islamic political settings and therefore was nothing but an intra-systemic effort. WP was not an Islamic party; rather, it was a party perceived to be Islamic. 45 From Erbakan s perspective, however, the National Outlook has an axiomatic certitude, 46 and accordingly is the best formulation of Islam under prevalent conditions. There is no room to doubt the validity and reliability/ functionality of having a double affiliation, one religious and the other political. Since he gave primary importance under all conditions to keeping its political posture within legal boundaries, he preached nationalization/ Islamization more in the socio-cultural field than in the political. 47 Instead of clashing with the Kemalist bureaucratic governance structured on the secularization of education and law, WP ascribed precedence to change in the socio-economical and cultural realms in order to legitimize its very political existence and to try to keep Muslim radicals from causing trouble. This stand also deterred WP from adopting the popular slogan Islam is the solution for everything, given the prior political experiences of NOP and NSP. The routes of Islamic radicalism favoring political violence and parties of the National Outlook never intersected with each other, even in the bloody confrontations between leftist and rightist extremists during the 1970s. The emergence of an independent religiously oriented political party was closely related to the divorce of the Muslim political identity from the nationalist. The axis of political cleavages at the outset of multi-party politics in Turkey was structured around the center-periphery relations that reflected in the mainstream political discourse as the dichotomy of renovationists vs. reactionaries. Islamic political identity had no appellation and, hence, independent existence. Islamic values and sensitivities were expressed under the rubric of Turkish nationalism. Nationalism and Islamism as distinct political affiliations participated in the competitive political system under the umbrella of the parties at the right of the political spectrum. The coexistence of nationalism and Islamism starting from the beginning of multi-party politics is an important reason why Islamism emerged in the form of Islamic nationalism even when it gained an independent existence. Thus, the conception of an anti-western Islamism structured by a national Islamism/Islamic nationalism, with a heavy emphasis both in NSP and WP, became one of the main leitmotifs characterizing their politico-religious discourse. 197

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