The anachronistic Kemalist ideology

By Khalid Amayreh 12 June, 2008

Underscoring the ideological rigidity of the ultra-secular
but undemocratic Kemalist ideology, Turkey’s Constitutional
Court this week ruled that Islamic headscarves violated
secularism and can’t be allowed to be worn at universities
and other public institutions.

The verdict overrides a recent decision by the Turkish
parliament allowing the hijab at universities as a matter
of personal and religious freedom. It also sets the
controversial court above the parliament and even above the
collective will of the Turkish masses.

Indeed, it is more than mind-boggling to see female Muslim
students granted full freedom to attend universities in
Europe and North American with their headscarves on while
Turkish students are denied the same freedom in a country
where Muslims constitute nearly 99% of the population.

The military-dominated Kemalist establishment, which has
been steadily losing public appeal as is evident from the
outcome of the two latest general elections, claims that
the hijab constitutes a mortal threat to the safety and
survival of secularism in Turkey.

This rationale, however, is as irrational as it is silly,
since it is beyond the pale of common sense to think that a
small piece of cloth covering a woman’s hair poses a threat
to the survival of secularism. In fact, one might argue
that a secular regime that can’t tolerate, let alone
survive, a woman’s headscarf is not worth maintaining.

Besides, true secularism shouldn’t really interfere with
people’s choices and personal freedoms.

Nonetheless, it is obvious that the Turkish court as well
as the military establishment and their allies in the media
and business sectors have long come to view secularism as a
kind of religion whose raison d’etre is to counter and, if
possible, eradicate Islam.

To the chagrin of the anti-Islam Kemalist establishment,
however, nearly nine decades of fundamentalist secular
inquisition have utterly failed to realize this sinister
goal. Turks continued to express their respect of and
adherence to Islamic teachings and ideals.

Fascist ideology

While paying lip service to democracy, the Kemalist
ideology actually shows little respect for genuine
democracy and human rights. Kemalism (the political
philosophy of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, founder of Modern
Turkey) emphasizes the ideals of secularism, republicanism,
nationalism, authoritarianism and patriotism. However, the
ideals of democracy, human rights, civil liberties, civil
society are discouraged and, if necessary, crushed, often
through direct interference and intervention by the

The Kemalists say their goal is to “secularize and
westernize” every aspect of Turkish life. However, these
pseudo agents of western culture have utterly failed to
adopt the basic western concepts of democracy and human

Instead, they repeatedly acted to suppress and repress the
will of the people whenever free elections produced
governments the military establishment deemed incompatible
with the Kemalist philosophy.

This military establishment had carried out at least three
military coups against civilian governments in 1960, 1971
and 1981, leading to the dissolution of well-established
political parties.

In 1998, the same notorious constitutional court
rubber-stamped a decision by Turkish Generals to ban the
country’s leading political party, the Refah (welfare)
Party for “constituting a threat to the secular order.”

Prior to the decision, the military establishment waged a
war of attrition against Prime Minister Necmettien Erbakan
on several fronts, including the media, the all-powerful
National Security Council and the courts. The military also
pursued a foreign policy of its own by forging a strategic
military alliance with another pseudo democracy in the
Middle East, Israel.

This happened in a state which hypocritical western leaders
kept referring to as the “other democracy in the Middle

Now, in addition to once again banning the hijab from
university campuses, the constitutional court is flying in
the face of the vast majority of Turks by threatening to
ban the ruling and most popular party in Turkey, the
Justice and Development Party (AKP), headed by Prime
Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Earlier this year, AKP once again won an overwhelming
election victory following a standoff with the Kemalist
establishment which had been organizing massive street
protests in an effort to bring the government down.

However, it is obvious that the secular fundamentalists in
Turkey are unfazed by the clear popular mandate granted to
AKP by the Turkish masses, which explains their continued
plots to corrode democracy and defy the will of the Turkish


Unlike Marxism, for example, Kemalism is not an all
encompassing ideology that provides explanations for such
issues as history, society, man, God, ethics and nature.
Hence, it lost much of its appeal especially in the past
two decades as many societies and individuals reverted to
religious ethos to ensure moral integrity and social

In addition to its intellectual bankruptcy, the Kemalist
establishment has also been quite opportunistic. In 1980,
the leaders of the military coup, staged a military coup to
stem the rising tide of violence between right-wing
ultra-nationalists and militant Marxists.

Then, the establishment saw the great merit of encouraging
Islamic ideas and education as an antidote to Marxism. In
1982, the military government made the teaching of Islam
compulsory in secondary education, something that had been
optional since 1967. (See Turkey: Erbakan’s Legacy, Middle
East International, 11 July, 1997)

However, when Islamic or quasi-Islamic parties arose, which
really don’t differ much from Christian Democratic parties
in Europe, the Kemalists hastened to suppress them, arguing
that secularism came before and overrode democracy.

Crossroad Today, Turkey stands at a crossroad, which leads
either to true democracy, development and modernity, or
takes the country back into the throes of military
dictatorship that would hang prime ministers for the
pettiest deviation from the Ataturk line of thinking.

Mustafa Kemal, his worshipers must realize, was not Prophet
Muhammed or Jesus Christ. And his ideals and principles
don’t constitute a holy scripture.

Hence, the free will of the Turkish people should always
override malicious efforts by the diehard Kemalist
old-guards to perpetuate a sacrosanct ideology that had
outlived its usefulness a long time ago.

In short, the Turkish people have every right to shun the
anachronistic Kemalist ideology and free itself from the
claws of its reactionary symbols, including the
constitutional court.

Otherwise, Turkey will remain under the mercy of its
self-serving generals and anti-democratic elites who so
contemptuously and impetuously continue to disregard the
will of the people.



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