Muslim backlash threatens the secular state that Ataturk built

WHILE maverick Turkish author Aziz Nesin was besieged by a crowd of angry Muslim fundamentalists in an eastern Turkish hotel, he had one bitter message for the rulers of the Muslim world's first and most advanced democracy: 'These reactionaries have been fed and grown by the state. They will come for the government next.' Nesin, born in 1915, is very much a child of the Turkish Republic that Kemal Ataturk founded on the ruins of the Ottoman Empire in 1923, writes Hugh Pope.

Sweeping away the decayed Ottoman caliphate, Ataturk chose as his guiding principles many imports from Western nations: dictatorship, modern dress, a Latin alphabet and legal, criminal and commercial codes translated directly from those of European countries.

Ataturk quickly identified the clerical class as a principal source of domestic opposition. He banned religious courts, and in 1928 he launched Turkey as the first secular state in the Muslim world.

He even made the muezzins translate into Turkish the Arabic call to prayer, which is chanted five times a day from minarets all over the Islamic world.

The country's ruling ideology was Kemalism - a complex mixture of secularism, single-party statism, self-sufficiency, Turkish nationalism and Westernisation, without being dependent on anyone.

Ataturk died in 1938, and in 1950 a right-wing government came to power and began to dilute the pure spirit of Kemalism, restoring the Arabic call to prayer and, keen to shore up its rural vote, redressing the balance in favour of the country's Islamic roots.

Secularism turned out to be a double-edged sword. Religious control was carried over from the Ottomans.

Instead of being led by a Sheikoleslam chosen by the sultan, the republican clergy is organised under a presidentially appointed director of religious affairs.

Church and state are far from separate. Mosques may often be built by public subscription, but more than 60,000 such buildings are maintained by the state, and the clergy is financially supported by the government, as is a whole infrastructure of religious publishing.

Islamists first entered Turkish government as small but key coalition partners in the 1970s, often taking 'soft' ministries, such as education and the interior, and gradually achieving the Islamic tendency that Aziz Nesin often complains of today.

While the Turkish private sector and Western city folk are resolutely European in style, some government departments - including the police - and some schools are already influenced by a new generation of bureaucrats and teachers who, although few, believe in the reimposition of full Islamic law.

(Photograph omitted)

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Experienced Bookkeeper - German Speaking - Part Time

£23000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This firm of accountants based ...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£30000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are a financial services c...

Ashdown Group: Field Service Engineer

£30000 - £32000 per annum + car allowance and on call: Ashdown Group: A succes...

Recruitment Genius: Sales & Marketing Co-Ordinator

£15000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Well established small company ...

Day In a Page

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk
Nepal earthquake: One man's desperate escape from Everest base camp after the disaster

Escape from Everest base camp

Nick Talbot was sitting in his tent when the tsunami of snow and rock hit. He was lucky to live, unlike his climbing partner just feet away...
Adopting high fibre diet could dramatically cut risk of bowel cancer, says study

What happened when 20 Americans swapped diets with 20 Africans?

Innovative study in the US produces remarkable results
Blake Lively and 'The Age of Adaline': Gossip Girl comes
of age

Gossip girl comes of age

Blake Lively is best known for playing an affluent teenager. Her role as a woman who is trapped forever at 29 is a greater challenge
Goat cuisine: Kid meat is coming to Ocado

Goat cuisine

It's loved by chefs, ethical, low in fat and delicious. So, will kid meat give lamb a run for its money?
14 best coat hooks

Hang on: 14 best coat hooks

Set the tone for the rest of your house with a stylish and functional coat rack in the hallway
Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?