AKP gov't isolates secularists by boosting religion in Turkey

19 Aralık 2008 - 13:26Son Güncelleme : 19 Aralık 2008 - 13:53

The social structure of Turkey has changed and been changing under the Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP) as government policies isolate secularists with increasing religious pressure on society, a recent research study showed.

The results of the research, conducted by the Open Society Institute and Bogazici University, overturned the indicators that emerged from similar studies conducted in the past.

 

In 1999, 42 percent of Turkish people believed that "devout Muslims had been under pressure," while this fell to 17 percent in 2006, recalled the study titled, "Being Different in Turkey - Alienation on the Axis of Religion and Conservatism."

 

Polls conducted in 2008 showed the grievances voiced by conservative segments of Turkish society had reduced, as the uneasiness of the country’s secularists had risen, the research said.

 

The AKP government's policies to support the religious sect economically and to help them to expand their cause, has lead to an isolation of secularists from the society. Moreover such policies expose secularists to religious pressures, the research underlined.

 

The ruling party’s rhetoric and policies are contradictory; on the one hand it says that people in Turkey have the right to be divergent and should respect different choices, while the local administration does otherwise, according to the research.

 

Prejudices in the society are nothing new, the researchers said.

 

"However some social pressures, such as the government-origin discrimination and compulsion against the secularists, the activities of the religious sects in education, the isolation of secularists from economic life, alcohol bans, intolerance towards people who do not fast during Ramadan, and compulsory attendance at Friday prayers, show the presence of a new atmosphere which did not exist."

 

NEW PROTOTYPE

The researchers noted that many people have felt forced to act "like them" in order to keep their businesses running and to avoid being marginalized in Turkish society.

 

People have started to attend Friday prayers or to close stores during prayer times to give the impression that they are at the mosque, to use Arabic words instead of their Turkish synonymous, to refrain from consuming alcohol in public places, to have their wives wear a headscarf, to pretend to be fasting during Ramadan, to buy conservative "Zaman" newspaper for their offices and to resign from leftist unions to join the pro-Islamic ones, the report said.

 

Such attitudes have emerged to ease the pressure felt from local administrations, society and religious sects in the country.

 

The pressures are higher in small cities and rural areas, according to the research.

 

The respondents underlined that education, local administrations and the bureaucracy have been dominated by the sect of Fetullah Gulen, Turkey's most controversial sect leader, the research added.

 

"The attitude of 'democrat and moderate' that the opinion makers (of the Gulen group) in cities and its media organs adopt is replaced by a conservative, repressive and discriminative approach in rural areas and we consider that such activities strengthen the existing repressive conservatism in Anatolia," the report said.

 

It also mentioned that schools and dormitories run by the Gulen group are not subject to any official controls or inspections and this situation is deemed as "unacceptable", the report added.

 

The research was conducted with one-on-one interviews in 12 cities and some migration-intense districts of Istanbul in December 2007-July 2008. The researchers interviewed 400 people in each city.

 

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