Sunday, April 13, 2008

The EU and Secularist Dogma

Interesting also to Barroso's tour were comments the Commissioner made the night before he left for Turkey: "We are looking for a secular, democratic Turkey. You cannot impose religion by force, you cannot impose secularism by force . . . . Since Turkey is an EU candidate country, we cannot be indifferent to this type of development." Some in the press have used tham as grounds to attack the closure case and as evidence that the EU is not at all comfortable with the Kemalist treatment of secularism. To this effect, see Mumtaker Tokone's column that appeared in Saturday's Today's Zaman (excerpt):
The type of secular understanding emphasized by Barroso for its liberal and democratic nature respectful of religious faiths is the one rejected by those who maintain that the AK Party should be closed. Their interpretation of secularism is based on a completely totalitarian and repressive understanding.

Today, the greatest obstacle preventing a real secular constitutional order from being settled in Turkey is this type of totalitarian secular interpretation. Barroso's approach provides an opportunity for comparing our secularism with its EU counterparts.

We can see the daunting reality of this totalitarian secularism in the indictment of the chief prosecutor of the Supreme Court of Appeals and in the previous rulings of the Constitutional Court. You can change the word "secularism" in the definitions and interpretations of the high judiciary with any word that has an ideological tone. What we are, then, faced with is an imposed "lifestyle," a "philosophical belief" and a harsh stance on utterly bad terms with the religious faiths of the society, in lieu of a legal principle meant to hold Turkey's "fundamental skeleton" together. Attempting to perpetuate this "thing," which is definitely not secularism, is possible through defending academic (or scholarly) thought and a totalitarian order. Asserting that the academic (or scholarly) understanding peculiar to the 19th century, which claims that the methods and principles of the positive sciences can be applied on society, is in fact a form of secularism, would be tantamount to defending a "scientific social order," which would make the entire world laugh at us.

One could defend such a thing only by taking on the approach of academics that there is only one knowledge system and that this system is based on unquestionable authorities. Adding arguments to an indictment -- every single one of which can be criticized scientifically -- before everything else means imprisoning the society in a medieval academic system prior to shutting down the AK Party.

Academic thought can be eliminated only through concepts. In the face of the never-ending secularism debates, the EU is itself a concept. Now, try to defend secularism as a "lifestyle," a "philosophical belief" and "opposition to religion," within EU standards. The things touched upon by Barroso indicate that secularism defined as a lifestyle would be treated as an iron curtain ideology.

Turkey is holding onto its power struggle through the principle of secularism, which is so fragile and precious that it cannot carry this load on its back. Those seeking legitimacy for their demands for power are, as usual, hiding behind their defense of secularism, whereas the real secularism which should live and be perpetuated is the secularism in effect in the EU. Furthermore, it is very obvious that those who see secularism as a lifestyle and who defend it as a philosophical belief against religion are an obstacle to Turkey's modernization, even when they have some sort of power, let alone their running the country.

Turkey is face to face with a crisis generated by the judiciary. The judiciary has transformed democracy into a guardian administration by establishing a guardianship over Parliament. Their reason for doing that is the effort to impose a totalitarian ideology on the society and then keep that ideology as strong as possible.
While it is true that Turkish secularism is particular and diverges in many ways from European treatment of religion in state and society, it cannot be said that Europe itself has a uniform understanding of secularism. France maintains the laicist practice of strictly separating religion from the public sphere, whereby French citizens are to appear to each other in public argument devoid of religious particularities. French laicism is most akin to Turkish secularism as evidenced by the fact that the very word for "secularism"—lailik—was directly lifted from the French laïcité. Meanwhile, Germans take a more American approach and instead seek separation of religion from the state sans restricting religious arguments in the public sphere. A critical difference between the French and German concepts of secularism is that while French laïcité asks citizens to abandon their religious identity when participating in politics, the German concept of secularism recognizes religion as a component of personal identity and makes accomodation for the role of religion in public life. In Germany's case, this does not mean that religion is not to be separated from the state, but rather that religion might be exercised in the public sphere in accordance with the German constitution's free exercise clause.

Turkish secularism is unique in that it is still very much grounded in a certain reverence to the natural sciences and Enlightenment absolutism that in France was undermined by later philosophical movements. As a result, there is indeed, as Tokone argues, a certain Newtonian dogmatism present in the thought of the Kemalist the elite. The rigidities of Enlightenment empiricism aside, Turkey will largely be expected to sort out competing versions of secularism for itself. The EU expressed that it is not in its domain to issue opinions as to the Turkish interpretation of secularism nor its application to the türban. Although sympathy has been expressed by Rehn and other EU politicians, such sympathy should not be read as constituing a firm European opinion. However, Europe does indeed offer a firm grounding for such a new coalescece of religion and politics, and EU institutions promise to hold in check the "rule from above" mentality that concluded in Europe with the end of enlightened monarchism.

Although Barroso did not spend a great amount of time addressing secularism, the fact that he touched upon it and that his comments have been picked up by papers like Zaman means that they might well bulwark support for the EU among those religious Turks who seek to re-work the state's approach to religion.

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