Speaker of the Turkish Parliament Ismail Kahraman has called for an "Islamic constitution" and secular Europe cringes. But the real problem lies somewhere else, says Daniel Heinrich.
The narrative that the conservative Justice and Development Party (AKP) wants to turn Turkey into an Islamic republic is too simple to resist. Middle-class Western citizens are haunted by the image of a humorless President Recep Tayyip Erdogan as a sultan-like Turkish leader that seeks to reinstate Sharia law - and that just a three-hour flight from Germany. The Turks at the gates of Vienna pale in comparison.
But one thing is conveniently ignored in this narrative: The fact that it will never happen. If the AKP ever did attempt to dismantle the Kemalist myth of the modern secular state, a mass of Turkey's citizens would riot in the streets. When it comes to Kemal Atatürk, the father of the republic, all kidding is put aside. That goes for AKP supporters, too.
A personal monument for the republic's 100th birthday
What's true is: The AKP is working on a constitutional proposal for a presidential system with Muslim characteristics. Erdogan wants to create a monument to himself for the republic's 100th birthday in 2023. The country's Kemalists are naturally opposed to the power tactics of the potentates in Ankara. And with proposals for the codification of religious principles in the constitution, the AKP will alienate every last one of its liberal supporters.
The Gezi Park protests in 2013 provided a small taste of what happens when conservatives overplay their hand: Hundreds of thousands of Turks from across the country, mostly young and from various parties and social classes, took to the streets in solidarity against the pretensions of power by Erdogan & Co.
As swift, as numerous and as angry as those protests were, the AKP will not have soon forgotten them. And taken together with the results of the last elections, they prove one thing above all else: The AKP will never attain the two-thirds majority that it needs to change the constitution. Kahraman and Erdogan can jump through as many hoops as they like, it will never happen.
Religious freedom in Turkey?
Speaking of the "Islamic State of Turkey" - one piece of advice to all of the Turkish opposition politicians in the anti-Erdogan camp that see themselves as being on the side of the true democrats in the country: Real laicism has never existed in Turkey. The state has always been much more interested in putting its own mark on religious interpretation, that is why the "Presidency of Religious Affairs" was created shortly after the republic was founded. With an annual budget of more than 1 billion euros ($1.1 billion), the ministry is technically only second to the Ministry of Defense in terms of its budget. Imams in Turkey are state employees, and only Sunni Islam is actually supported.
Those who suffer most in the country are Muslims themselves: There are 20 million Alewites in Turkey. And the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg has just confirmed that they are being hindered in practicing their religion on a massive scale.
The real problem of religious freedom has nothing to do with whether "Allah" appears in the constitution in the future or not. That will not happen anyhow. The real problem is that there has never been true religious freedom in Turkey.
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