The Death of Political Islam In Turkey
“Erdogan should separate his road with radical Islamists and those maniacs on Mavi Marmara”
Above sentence is not mine, it’s quoted from one of the prominent figures of the pro-government media, Cem Kucuk, who explained his opinions in a TV show in late April (right after the constitutional referendum) in a provocative way. It was not directed to anyone and Kucuk did not give any names but continued as follows: “There are those who are against Israel, against West, against everything… There are those bizarre types. The road should be separated with these. And I think Erdogan will do so. We should get rid of these and heal our relationship with USA”.
Of course, these words can be seen as just another crack within the pro-gov media. Where there is money and power, the struggle will arise, even between those who support the same party/system/leader etc. But this time that “crack” is also confirmed by Erdogan himself. In his speech on 3rd of May, he said: “They say Islamist journalists are removed. It is wrong to define people as Islamist or non-Islamist for a political party’s agenda. We are not looking for disciples for our tekke” (Tekke is a small Islamic school or the place where followers of a certain sect gather).
Erdogan basically says that regardless of your background, whether you are an Islamist or define yourself different, as long as you comply with his work and plans, you can work with him. This was different before; from the top advisors for the PM to the chief bureaucrats in different governmental institutions, Islamists or people with Islamist background enjoyed the power within their hands. They were so popular that, journalists, academicians or politicians who did not have such history started to fight about who is more Islamist. Tweets were deleted, various Hajj visits to Mecca happened (even in groups), the rhetoric they used swayed to a more religious tone. The internal struggle actually started then. Old Islamists tried to reject these new ones to hold onto their positions but also because they did not actually believed them. Who were they to now sit next to them when they gave this fight for Islam for decades, spent years in jails, kept the struggle (or let’s say a low-profile jihad) going on in poverty without any means and always feeling the cold breath of the secular state on their necks?
This kind of struggle -and I repeat, it was very silent and internal- was to some extent sustainable. However, things started to change when it became crystal clear the radical ideology of Islamists could not offer an alternative for political power. In fact, with Erdogan extending his power over his own party and creating a regime which you could call “Erdoganism”, they were not needed anymore. With political power embodying in one person and in his charisma, his ability to control masses and public opinion, the ruling elite got rid of the ideological mask it used. A natural result with a lot of examples from political history: When a radical ideology of opposition gains power and starts ruling, it eventually strips itself off the ideology and becomes a caricature of its former self to sustain power and widen its area of effect.
Late April, again after the referendum, Turkey experienced some thing for the first time in fifteen years. An Islamist group called Furkan Movement (nice name) suffered a violent police attack when they wanted to peacefully demonstrate against AK Parti and Erdogan. Scenes we remember from Gezi Park or other secular/leftist/pro-Kurdish demonstrations were repeated. Tear gas was used, demonstrators -regardless of their gender- were beaten and around fifty people were arrested. This was a first in AK Parti’s rule, an openly Islamist group was confronted by the police (if you don’t count Gulen Movement, of course. But no one considers them as an Islamist group, anymore). It was a clear sign that supporting or tolerating Islamist groups in the outer circle of the ruling elite was over and whoever opposed Erdogan was to be silenced regardless of their ideology or background.
The example of political Islam being removed from the political arena in Turkey is, indeed, very interesting, especially with an Islamist party in power. It requires to be followed, further analysed and conclusions should be drawn for other Muslim countries. When political Islam gained power in Turkey and when it became official, it started being something else then Islamic. Because the political power could not design an Islamic version of the regime other than instrumentalizing Islam and the Islamist ideology; just like secular ruling elite that was in power before AK Parti instrumentalized Ataturk and Kemalism, instead of actually designing the country in accordance with its ideology. In fact, it is worth pointing out that the current global conjuncture doesn’t allow anyone to apply an Islamist agenda openly. But in Turkey’s case, it is safe to say that neither Erdogan nor his party is very interested in an Islamist agenda, anymore.