by Binnaz Toprak, Professor and Chair of the Department of Political Science and International Relations, Bogazici University, Istanbul, Turkey
In April 2007 and the months that followed, there were several demonstrations, organized by NGOs, against what the demonstrators perceived as a serious threat to the secular foundations of the Turkish Republic. Directed against the policies of the ruling AKP government, and in particular its stand on the election of a new President, these demonstrations were a few weeks apart, the ﬁrst held in the capital city of Ankara, the second held in Turkey’s largest city, Istanbul, followed by others in various Anatolian towns. Although estimates diﬀer over the number of demonstrators—between 300,000 and one million people attended the Istanbul meeting—everyone agreed that these demonstrations, with their endless rows of crowds, were the largest in the history of the Republic. In the aftermath of events, the foreign press reported that the demonstrations revealed the division of the country into “two Turkeys.”
by Barry A. Kosmin, Research Professor in Public Policy and Law and founding Director of the Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society and Culture at Trinity College & Ariela Keysar, Associate Research Professor in Public Policy and Law and the Associate Director of the Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society and Culture at Trinity College
This volume grew out of a salon or conversazione on the theme of “The Prospects for the Secular State in the Mediterranean World in the 21st Century” hosted by ISSSC—the Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society and Culture. The event took place during June 2007 at Trinity College’s campus located on the historic and beautiful Aventine Hill in Rome, Italy. The purpose of this gathering was to assemble a diverse group of people from diﬀerent Mediterranean nations, academic disciplines and professions for a relaxed, multi-cultural exchange of information and opinion on one of the key political and intellectual questions of the moment, one which is on the agenda today in one way or another in every country in the Mediterranean region. How should the state and government respond to diversity of beliefs and worldviews in today’s society?
by Mine Eder, Professor, Department of Political Science and International Relations at Bogazici University, Istanbul, Turkey
Religion and Islam have long been powerful political instruments for most of the center-right parties in Turkey. Parties on the left—and the People’s Republican Party, in particular—have used secularism, and strict separation of Islam and the state, as the fundamental platform to get votes. This paper will argue that behind the secularism debate that has continued for two decades in Turkey lies the utter failure of both sides to address and solve the classic issues of political economy: rising unemployment and poverty, declining incomes in the countryside, and the failure of the state to provide basic public services such as education and health care. While issues such as headscarves, the status of religious schools, and alcohol consumption occupy the country’s social and political agenda, the most crucial issues have been left out of the public discussion. The fact that issues such as poverty, inequality, and social/economic exclusion require basic structural policy and priority changes can also explain why both sides might prefer quick appeals to their constituencies through debates on secularism. This paper suggests that a host of factors—depoliticization of the economic issues since the 1980s against a backdrop of premature economic liberalization in Turkey; the “obsession with identity politics” rather than economic issues as a global trend, particularly since 9/11; and the absence of a genuinely social democratic platform in the country, despite lip service from both the Islamists and the so-called leftists—can be blamed for the crucial absence of such political economy issues from Turkey’s political agenda.