SHAMIM SIDDIQI observes that the election of Abdullah Gul as President of Turkey is a turning point towards Islam in due course of time.
Turkey is predominantly a Muslim country of Asia holding a significant enclave in the Continent of Europe since its days of glory during the Ottoman Caliphate which was abolished by Mustafa Kamal Pasha in March 1923. Ata-Turk practically abandoned Islam from the political arena of Turkey altogether, abolished the Arabic language, and adopted secularism as his cult and made military establishment its guardian. Since then, all efforts to change this ultra-secular pattern of government into an Islamic one have been thwarted four times from 1962 onwards by forceful intervention by the military establishment. Turkey’s military and its secular constitution are zealously protecting the secular characteristics of the Republic, come what may. This situation had been the hanging sword on the head of Islamic forces for the last 84 years.
As such, time and again the Islamic forces in Turkey have tried to change the flow of secularism but failed. A president was put to gallows while another was dismissed and jailed in this process. Now secularism seems to have become the country’s need till Turkey gives up its desire to be the member of European Common Market which currently appears next to impossible. The newly elected President Abdullah Gul is its greatest and ardent advocate who talks secularism but lives like a Muslim with his wife Hayrunisa wearing headscarf, wrongfully being taken as a symbol of “Islamism” in Turkey, Europe and America. To Turkish secularists it is a landmark towards the “restoration” of Islam in Turkey but he is appreciated very much by secular Europe except President Sarkozi of France who is not prepared to accept a Muslim Turkey to its European Christian Club. However, Turkey, with Abdullah Gul elected as its President on August 28, 2007 has touched a climax, a turning point towards Islam in due course of time.
President Gul is the candidate of Justice and Development Party [AKP] which is rooted in the banned Justice Party of ex-PM Necmettin Erbakan. It has successfully brought an economic revolution and given stability to its market condition. Due to attaining economic stability and bringing prosperity to Turkey’s middle class, AKP has recently secured 340 seats in the house of 550 and thus created a broad based vote bank of its own. It augers well for the future. It guarantees stability in state policies and pledges to continue secularism as its creed. The newly elected President Abdullah Gul, in his inaugural address, declared that he represents the cross-section of Turkish people, will strictly abide by the principle of secularism and the public will be completely free to practise and observe what they would prefer to do in their private life. Maintaining the principle of secularism, the Government will not interfere in their private affairs. In fact, this is the real spirit of secularism. The AKP will carry it out as an axis of state policies. It would not disturb the “secular apron” of Ata-Turk but help in flourishing the Islamic character of Turkish people by strictly observing the spirit of secularism.
In my recent visit to Turkey in March 2006, I noticed with concern clear signs of division of masses in two different camps: one Islamic and the other secularist. It looked as if the country is on the path of polarisation in two antagonistic cultures. The pattern of educational system in Turkey is totally secular in government sector whereas in private sector Islamic education is gaining ground. For some time this difference will remain visible but ultimately the private sector is likely to grow more and more Islamic, giving the true “inherent” colour to the Turkish society. The secularism defined by President Gul will help develop Islamic institutions at an accelerated pace in the private sector. It would help the Turkish people to carve out their collective life as Islam ordains without any “interference” or “support” from the state. It would help the Muslim masses in maintaining and promoting the Islamic values and building the Islamic character of the people in greater spectrum.