Report: Seminar "Secularization, Religion, State" 13th Session

14 November, 2009 HANEDA Masashi, Secularization, Religion, State

On November 9th we held the 13th session of the seminar “Secularization, Religion, State".

In this session, Prof. Haldun Gϋlalup of Yulduz University, Turkey, who visited our program, gave a lecture titled “Secularism, Democracy and the AKP in Turkey”. Prof. Gϋlalup is a well known specialist in the study of secularism in Turkey as well as the comparison of laicite or secularism between the Turkish case and European countries. We were very much looking forward to listening to his lecture.
Gϋlalup began his lecture with an analysis of the claim that Islam is an exceptional religion. First he referred to the views of two very famous scholars of Islam, Ernest Gellner and Bernard Lewis. According to Gϋlalup, Gellner belives that Islam cannot be secularized, and Lewis regards Muslim societies as having an unchanging essence with Islam at their center. Prof. Gϋlalup believes that these views involve major problems. It is very problematic to explain everything by “Islam”. For example, both scholars explain the Wahhabi movement and the Iranian Islamic revolution through the common notion of “Islamic movements”. Moreover, many scholars who are very critical of Islam generalize Islam and Muslim societies based on the viewpoint of radical Islamist movements. At the same time, some Southern European and South American countries are not secularized. Thus Prof. Gϋlalup insists that it is impossible to explain an entire history by religion.
Based on these points, Prof. Gϋlalup moved to the Turkish case, which is quite often discussed from the viewpoint of the relationship between Islam and Democracy. Although Gellner thinks that Islam is unique among world religions, he regards Turkey as the exception within the exception. His argument seems contradictory. Thus Prof. Gϋlalup argued for the compatibility of Islam and democracy based on the analysis of the progress of the AKP (the Justice and Development Party) in recent day Turkey. The AKP is regarded as an Islamic party.
Prof. Gϋlalup showed that the support base for the AKP is mainly working class people. The voting of a wide range of the middle class resulted in the AKP’s progress throughout several national elections. On the other hand, as for Islam, we should note the Military’s pressure that caused the overthrow of Elbakan’s coalition cabinet in 1997, and the AKP’s emphasis on human rights and other universal catchwords, which are compatible with Turkey’s national principle of Secularism.
One of the main reasons for the AKP’s progress is its friendly attitude toward Western countries. Second, its positive negotiations for Turkey becoming a member of EU. And third, the AKP government’s economic accomplishments. In comparison with past Islamic parties, the AKP won a great vote in the national elections. In 2002 it gained 37 percent of the votes, and 47 percent in 2007.
The AKP regards Islam as an “identity” and their policy toward religion is very liberal and tolerant. Their stance is widely accepted by the Turkish people who are almost all Muslim. Prof. Gϋlalup pointed out that the AKP’s progress shows that Islam and democracy are compatible. Lastly, he suggested that the fact that Turkey adopted economic growth together with political liberalism, while Turkish people preserve their Muslim identity, can modify the Euro-centric developmental model that is based on secularism.

Let me now move to the discussion. The first question was whether or not the concept of a Muslim society is adequate. Prof. Gϋlalup introduced the argument that a “Muslim society” does not exist. He added that Western European society, which is Christian, includes many varieties, and thus it is very difficult to conceptualize a society from the viewpoint of religion. Nevertheless, religion is also a very important factor. The second question was why should we answer the question whether Islam and democracy are compatible or not, since that to answer this question is itself a kind of admittance that Islam is exceptional. Prof. Gϋlalup approved this idea.
Thirdly, one of the participants referred to the fact that the scarf is regarded as an Islamic symbol, but wearing the scarf seems to contain some gender aspects. The question is how to divide religious belief and cultural identity. Prof. Gϋlalup admitted that this question is very meaningful, and that gender is also a very important issue. He added that some female Islamists use the scarf in order to show their religious belief publicly.
In order to prepare for Prof. Gϋlalup’s lecture, we have already discussed, based on Sawae’s book, the topic of Turkey’s Islamic parties, and the political history of recent Turkey. Prof. Gϋlalup’s arguments were very clear. We thus “experienced” the great divergence in the relations between Islam and democracy, as well as secularism in Turkey. At the same time, we feel our next task is to analyze the other areas and periods in line with Prof. Gϋlalup’s achievements.

(Reported by Naofumi ABE)

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