Islam and democratization in Turkey: secularism and trust in a divided society
The history of Turkish modernization has been inextricably linked with the question of secularism. From the advent of the Turkish Republic in 1923, Islam was held responsible for the underdevelopment and eventual demise of the Ottoman Empire. Based on the laïcité of the Second French Republic, the secularization programme of modern Turkey's founder, Kemal Atatürk, entailed the full subjugation of Islam to the State, its eradication from the public sphere and its limitation into a very narrowly defined private sphere. The transition of Turkey to multiparty politics in 1946 was linked with a rising role of Islam in the public sphere. Islam became a crucial element in the political vocabulary of peripheral political forces which challenged the supremacy of the secularist, Kemalist bureaucratic elite. While a number of military coups aimed - among other things - to control religion, Turkish political Islam showed remarkable resilience and adaptability. Most recently, the transformation of the Justice and Development Party (Adalet ve Kalkinma Partisi - AKP) into the strongest proponent of Turkey's European Union (EU) integration brought Turkey closer than ever to EU membership, challenged the monopoly which the Kemalist elite enjoyed as the representative of Western political values and suggested a novel liberal version of secularism. Yet Turkey has been embroiled since 2007 in successive political crises which had secularism as their focal point. This article argues that the transformation of Turkish political Islam has produced an alternative, liberal version of secularism; yet, it has not resolved deep social divisions. Building a liberal consensus between religious conservatives and secularists is imperative for the resolution of deep social divisions in Turkey. The European Union as a guarantor and initiator of reform could play a major role in building trust between the secularist and the religious conservative segments of society. © 2009 Taylor & Francis.