Dilemmas, Diagnoses, visions

Secular or Sacred? Turkish and Polish Dilemmas

Ayşe Çavdar
State, Religion, and the AKP: Islamism or a Blessed Neoliberalisation

The Justice and Development Party AKP is the most powerful political party to appear in the history of modern Turkey. Its political investment is based on an assumption of two types of (abstract) majority: first, the electoral majority, as the AKP represents the 50 per cent of all votes. Second, the demographic majority: this 50 per cent represents a greater religious/conservative Sunni majority (Turkish – including partly conservative Kurdish, but certainly excluding seculars, Alevis or non-Muslims). Thus, the AKP legitimises its policies through a discourse based on the representative power of this party realising the will of these two abstract majorities. It seems, according to the AKP, that the quality of democratisation is determined by the state’s ability to serve these two types of (abstract) majorities.
The AKP and Tayyip Erdoğan are rightfully proud of ending laicist military tutorship on civic politics during their term. However, the end of military tutorship on civic politics does not necessarily mean democratisation. Indeed, in terms of the creation of exclusionary mechanisms, the AKP type of democracy is just a replica of Kemalist democracy. Only one thing has changed: while the Kemalist democracy privileged secular segments of society, the AKP now privileges religious ones. However, in both cases the subject of democracy is not people, but the state. The political will of the people (even though they have a 50 per cent majority) is abstracted by the state – as the source of absolute, unquestionable power – instead of included and authorised. Hence, it is not the nature of the state, but the u(tili)ser of its too powerful (bureaucratic) apparatus changes.
Now, the question is why Islamism (AKP) cannot create any (better) alternative (real democratisation), although it has the power to do so?
Contrary to general acceptance, Islamism is a modernisation project (just like Kemalism) rather than a criticism towards modernity. Although it has a critical standpoint about the laicist Kemalist modernisation project, this criticism has not been on modernity or modernisation itself, but laicist oppression. Thus, Kemalism and Islamism have always been contesting for the same thing; this is the (modernising) authority over a Muslim society…
In the 1990s, in Muslim, Islamist intellectual circles, political discussion always had titles with two concepts linked by an “and” or “in”: Islam and Democracy, Islam and Capitalism, Islam and Socialism, Islam in the New World Order, Islam and Globalisation, Women in Islam, and so on... These were parts of a huge struggle to find a place for Islam in the contemporary world. They were also the signs of endless negotiations not only with the “other” (secular) parties of this contestation, but also different understandings of Islam.
However, these discussions could never develop enough, because everybody was busy with the very heavy agenda of daily political contestations. For example, we never know what Islam says about the current relationships of production, how a Muslim boss should determine wages, how Muslims should deal with the ecological future of the earth… Instead of focusing on these kind of fundamental problems, Islamist discussion produced many practicalities to integrate Muslims into the contemporary global economic mechanisms (so-called neoliberalisation): interest-free banking, giving zekat through charity organisations of the political party, going on the hadj with a credit card etc.
The AKP emerged as not only a political party, but also a coalition of middle-sized powers representing different religious communities and networks in Turkey... The aim of the AKP in its first governmental term was to repair the economic and social damages caused by the war in Southeastern Anatolia, the postmodern coup d’etat of 1997, the economic crisis of 2001 etc. In its second term, however, the AKP changed its priorities: now its aim is to re-cast the social and economic balances of society by changing welfare distribution policies. Following this period, the AKP took a new path and started to legitimize economic neoliberalisation policies through its “Muslim” identity. Because of this new path, the AKP has been responding to all the criticisms towards its social and economic policies referring to its right to have power and use it in the name of the (abstract and absolute) “religious majority” of Turkey, excluded by the laciest elitism during Turkish history.
In other words, bureaucratised Islamism (the AKP) in Turkey served the neoliberalisation process of the market economy and state by blessing this process with the power of an abstract religious (consumer) majority… Thus, we will judge in the future, whether the state served Muslims u(tili)sing neoliberalisation, or to neoliberalisation u(tili)sing Islam.