Turkey and Secularism: Myth or Reality?

By Lee J Walker

The nation of Turkey is often praised for being a secular role model for other Islamic societies. It is claimed that the land of Turkey is a beacon of hope and that democracy and secularism can exist within a mainly Muslim nation state. But is this based on reality?

If we concentrate on the founding father of modern day Turkey, Ataturk, then it is clear that he himself supported the destruction of Christianity via the Assyrian, Armenian and Greek Christian genocide of 1915. Turkish nationalism was the potent force behind modern day Turkey and secularism is tainted by its anti-Christian nature, and also by its anti-Kurdish nature. Turkey was founded on Turkish nationalism and secularism and it did not protect the Christians of or give them equal rights.

Despite this the myth of modernity and secularism remains and Western nations stick to this mantra. Yes, Ataturk faced many difficulties and from a Turkish point of view he was very astute because he preserved a Turkish state when it was threatened by others. Yet in order to do this he crushed millions of Christians via massacres, starvation, and by destroying countless numbers of Christian villages and communities.

Ataturk did implement many reforms in order to modernize Turkey and he did lay the foundation for a secular state. In this sense he crushed thoughts of a Sharia Islamic state and he gave more rights to females. But his legacy of modernity and secularism is tainted by the events of history and by overt nationalism. Therefore, we must never forget the Assyrian, Greek and Armenian genocide of 1915 and the continuing legacy of anti-Christian forces in modern day Turkey.

So if secularism means having the right to crush Christian minorities, moderate Muslim minorities like the Alevi, and ethnic minorities like the Assyrians Armenians, and Kurds, in modern day Turkey, then it is not the secularism which I support. Turkish secularism is tainted by this overt nationalism and the Sunni orthodox mindset means that religious inequality is the norm.

The rights of Christians and the Alevi Muslims are not equal in today’s Turkey. In recent times many Christians have been murdered. For the more numerous Alevi Muslims, it is clear that they face huge discrimination. Secular Turkey is a myth because under the surface we find a different Turkey based on preserving the dominance of orthodox Sunni Islam.

So why do democrats and secularists praise Turkey for being a shining example and evidence that democracy and Islam can work together? Turkey favors Islam over any other religion and religious equality does not exist. On the contrary, modern day Turkey supports Sunni orthodox Islam and persecution of minorities is endemic. Given this, Islam still controls society and Christians and other minorities face harsh times.

It is apparent that many Western democrats and secularists are ignoring the reality of Turkey. Turkey is tainted by Sunni Islamic thought, which are based on mass discrimination. If Turkey is secular and moderate, what does this say about the rest of the Islamic world and equality?


Lee Jay Walker serves as Tokyo Corrsepondent of The Seoul Times. He specializes in international relations and geopolitics. He is also involved in analyst work and research on business. After finishing BA degree in East European Studies at the University of London, He earned MA degree in Asia Pacific Studies in Nottingham Trent University. He also studied business at London Institute.
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Religious Persecution in ‘Secular’ Turkey

Religious Authority Warns Women against Perfume, Flirtation (Turkey)

Secular Turks say the government’s religious authority has gone too far by advising women not to flirt with strangers or wear perfume outside their homes. The article is expected to further inflame a debate about the role of religion in the secular nation.

Is wearing perfume a sin? Or casting a flirtatious gaze at a man? According to an article recently published on the Web site of Turkey’s directorate for religious affairs, Diyanet, it is.

The article, which is drawing criticism in Turkey and raising attention abroad, essentially chalks women up as walking aphrodisiacs and puts the onus on them to cover up and prevent themselves from sexually stimulating men in any way outside their homes.

“Women have to be more careful, since they have stimulants,” the article states, according to a report in the Guardian. “The women communicating with strange men should speak in a manner that will not arouse suspicion in one’s heart and in such seriousness and dignity that they will not let the opposite party misunderstand them, that they should not show their adornments and figure and that they should cover in a fine manner.” It even goes so far as to equate flirtation with adultery, according to critics.

The article also discourages women from wearing perfume. “His highness the Prophet Muhammad did not think kindly of women who put on perfumes outside their homes and go strolling and saw this as immoral behavior,” it continues.

The article also reportedly said women should not spend time together with men in private unless married and questioned the virtues of mixed-sex workplaces.

Generally, Diyanet has promoted a moderate form of Islam and the article threatens to further inflame a roaring debate about the role of religion in what is constitutionally a secular state. The Islam-rooted Justice and Development Party of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is currently facing a legal challenge in the country’s highest court, accused of undermining the secular principles upon which Turkey was founded, and faces the possibility of a ban in the future.

“It’s like a comedy,” writes Yusuf Kanli, a columnist with the pro-secular Turkish Daily News, “but the article appeared on the Web site of a state institution that is supposed to regulate the practice of Islam in the country according to the teachings (as perceived by the Turkish government) of Islam rather than those of some Islamist orders or brotherhood organizations. … Is this mentality different at all with that of the Taliban that placed Afghan women behind chadors?”

Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey, established Diyanet in 1924 to ensure that Islam did not interfere with the country’s strictly secular government. Although Diyanet has no legal authority, it is highly influential as the custodian of the Muslim faith in the country. It is in charge of the country’s 70,000 clerics and is also responsible for appointing Turkey’s imams.