Turkey’s attempt to steer a middle ground between secular nationalism and Islamic revivalism appears to be faltering, threatening both religious freedom and its much hoped-for integration into the European Union, writes political scientist Elizabeth Prodromou in the Brandywine Review of Faith & International Affairs (Spring).
With the election of the Justice and Development Party (JDP) in 2002, Turkey adopted a “Muslimhood model” of democracy that eschewed both its secularist nationalist, or Kemalist, past (which prohibited any public religious expressions) and the establishment of an Islamist government. But this moderate Muslim model seems to be in jeopardy, at least judging by Turkey recent treatment of such minorities as its Greek Orthodox community.
At first, the Greek Orthodox community was promised a restoration of rights (involving regaining property and permitting seminary education) but the JDP has stalled or reversed itself, partly over new security and terrorist fears. The government also has been pressured by those fearing that the JDP‘s moves toward religious liberalization is a plot to Christianize Turkey.
The worsening condition of the Greek Orthodox could be seen in a recent demonstration by both Islamic and secular hardliners opposing the rights of foreigners to purchase property in Turkey. For many JDP supporters, the vote against secularism was largely limited to an expansion of public space for Islam, rather than the pluralization of public life.
The Kemalist secularists who voted for JDP were mainly voicing their dissatisfaction with the failures of the traditional center-right parties rather than rejecting secularism. This catch-all nature of the JDP poses challenges for the stability of religious pluralism in Turkey. Prodromou concludes that for Turkey to fulfill its Muslimhood model, both EU and Washington will have to press the country toward compliance with its own treaty obligations on religious freedom.
(Brandywine Review of Faith & International Affairs, P.O. Box 14477, Washington, DC 20044)