Unsecular Turkey

Here’s an interesting corrective to the notion that Turkey is a “secular state” as so often described in Western media reports.

The Diyanet (the Turkish Directorate of Religious Services) has long been one of the largest government departments, and is devoted to Sunni Islam. In Turkey, clergy are government employees. With recent expansions, the number of people employed by the Diyanet will go up to 130 thousand. Before the current Islamist ruling party took power in 2002, this number was around 70 thousand. According to some estimates, the country has more mosques than schools.

About Taner Edis

Professor of physics at Truman State University

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10965786814334886696 Infidel753

    Disappointing, and surprising. I would be curious to know whether the Diyanet was part of Atatürk's original design for the state, or whether it was added later, as religious encroachments on separation of church and state have happened in the US over the last few decades.

    I saw the earlier post about women in Turkey keeping headscarves in their cars to put on in case they're stopped by the police. It seems that it wouldn't be a very comfortable place to be an open atheist, whatever the laws say.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16009016049947278898 Tom

    While one definition of secularism might be the separation of church and state, another is the supremacy of the state over religion. The latter definition seems to be operative here.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03932419322314950738 Jeffrey A. Myers

    @ Infidel

    I don't know that there are any places in the Middle East where it would be comfortable to be an open atheist. Hell, there are times in the United States where it isn't comfortable to be an open atheist. It pretty much guarantees that you can't be elected to political office, for example.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10778996187937943820 Taner Edis

    The Diyanet has, to my knowledge, been there from the beginning of the Republic, even in its most apparently secularist phase. It carries on the Ottoman tradition of the clergy legitimating the state, and the state controlling and supporting the clergy.

    Turkish Republicans intended that the Diyanet should support a half-assed reform version of Islam, decoupled from the traditional class of religious scholars. But the Diyanet always pushed a barely watered-down version of Sunni Islam.

    Turkey is not a great place to be an open atheist. One journalist attracted some minor attention lately when she objected to the routine informal harassment nonbelievers like herself experience in everyday life. Perhaps that's a sign that things will get better—with Islam becoming increasingly secure as the centerpiece of public culture, atheists are becoming so obviously irrelevant that they may one day achieve some measure of tolerance. I wouldn't count on it.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07559081710058635050 Pulse

    "According to some estimates, the country has more mosques than schools."

    This isn't exactly that amazing. Take the US for comparison.

    According to the Hartford Institute for Religion Research, there were about 335,000 religious congregations in the US in 2005. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, there were only about 93,300 public schools in the US in that same year. Add to that about 30,000 private schools and 5,500 higher education institutions (my estimates), and you still don't come anywhere near the number of churches in the nation.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10965786814334886696 Infidel753

    I don't know that there are any places in the Middle East where it would be comfortable to be an open atheist.

    My expectation would have been that Israel and Turkey were the only places in the Middle East where one could be a known atheist without one's life being in danger. In most Middle Eastern countries, it's hard to imagine the journalist Taner mentions even daring to complain. It's just too bad that Turkey is heading in the wrong direction.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16641266062186767500 Keith Parsons

    I saw in yesterday's paper an article about a Christian woman in Pakistan who has been condemned to death by hanging for "blasphemy against the Prophet." Apparently, she got into an altercation with some Muslim neighbors who then vindictively charged her with blasphemy. The local Imam denounced her and she was arrested and charged. Needless to say, this law is often used to intimidate religious minorities in Pakistan.

    I must confess, at the expense of sounding like a north Florida redneck preacher, that stories like this give me an almost ungovernable urge to blaspheme against the Prophet.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14435279632050039266 Charles

    If it takes a state agency to enforce religiosity or spirituality, the people’s faith is not genuine. People show piety or rather compliance because they are afraid of the punishment. Christianity is about human’s relationship to God. It is voluntary. No authority can force people to come into that relationship. Atheism denies God because of the existence of evil. Pantheism denies evil because of the affirmation of God. Theism explains that God permits evil so that a greater good can be produced and that the world is free.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16641266062186767500 Keith Parsons

    By chance I happen to be currently grading some papers on John Locke's A Letter Concerning Toleration. Locke makes some of the same points Charles does. In fact, Locke says that tolerance would be the most reliable mark of true religion! One who is sincerely convinced of his own faith will tolerate all other beliefs because he recognizes that sincere conviction is something that cannot be compelled, coerced, or cajoled. He will attempt to spread his own belief chiefly by setting a good example. As Locke says, you cannot think that someone cares much for your salvation if he apparently cares little for his own.

    Locke was the kind of Christian that terrifies the shallow hypocrites of the religious right–Tony Perkins types. Locke was politically progressive, a lot smarter than they are, and a much better Christian. If we had more Christians like Locke and fewer like Dobson, Robertson, etc., there would be a lot less for us atheists to criticize.


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