Fazıl Say to exile himself; Turkish “secularism”

Since earlier I mentioned the trouble Fazıl Say, a famous Turkish pianist, has run into due to his open atheism, here’s an update. Apparently he has decided Turkey has become too intolerant of religious dissent, and that he would live in exile in Japan. (Where, let’s face it, a classical pianist will be much better appreciated anyway.)

And still, at the end of the news story, there’s the obligatory lazy comment that “Turkey is an officially secular country.”

Well, maybe. Under some loose definitions of secularism, I suppose.

But even before the Islamization starting in the 1980’s, Turkey’s “secularism” included officially organized and supported Sunni orthodoxy (with a slight reform twist). Turkey had, and still has, a powerful Directorate of Religious Affairs through which the state and religion are closely intertwined, an extensive parallel religious schooling system organized by the state, and a pervasive understanding throughout state institutions, including the military, that “our religion” is Sunni Islam. Turkey has never been a state that belongs to all of its citizens equally, regardless of religion.

On top of that, add three recent decades of state-sanctioned—often state-imposed—Islamization. Turkey is not a secular country. Don’t confuse a history of violent conflict over issues such as the role of the de facto clergy in government with a move toward really separating mosque and state.

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