By Mumtazer Turkone
May 25, 2015
Political Islam's long stay in power in Turkey with the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) has been an obstacle to the rise of radical Islamism in Turkey, despite the fact that it has enjoyed unparalleled growth all across the Muslim world.
The AK Party had to soften its radical theses in order to secure the support of liberal groups and come to power. To undermine military tutelage, pluralistic social groups continued to throw their support to the AK Party. After getting rid of military tutelage, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan didn't need other groups' support. This time, the party's once-hidden Islamist theses became more prominent. To defend himself against serious graft charges, Erdoğan pursues the strategy of drawing a line of defense by promoting the rise of radical Islamism. He tries to radicalize his supporters.
Political Islam is a broad concept. Every ideological interpretation that sees Islam as the main reference for competition falls into this concept. Thus, the difference between coming to power through elections to enforce Islamic rules and implementing those rules through violence as done by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) is only about the different strategies adopted. If you approve one method, then you are prone to endorse the other. Oddly enough, political Islam treats Islam only as a tool for legitimizing political activities. The “religionization” of politics is no different from the politicization of religion. In both cases, religion is used as a simple tool for establishing ties with religious groups. Nowadays, the craziest images are coming from Erdoğan, who waves the Quran in his hand during rallies.
What he said in his Urfa rally is the most obvious examples of how religion can be used as a tool in competition for power and how it is inevitably politicized. After questioning the ties of opposition leaders with the Quran and their religious beliefs, Erdoğan moved on to list the fundamental thesis of political Islam: "You must comply with whatever the Quran commands. Indeed, the Quran is not a simple ornament. The Quran wasn't revealed to be recited for the dead or to tell fortunes." These populist remarks from the president -- who violated his impartiality to urge citizens to vote for the ruling party -- differs from the radical politically Islamist view adopted by ISIL only in terms of whether to resort to violence. Erdoğan repeats the same theses while in power and as part of the ongoing democratic experience.
It follows that Erdoğan is trying to use political Islam as a savior in order to fight his growing isolation and loss of popular backing. Now, we must ask the following question: Will Erdoğan's strategy of clinging on to power by relying on political Islam create radical trends in Turkey? It is hard to snap a "yes" to this question. During the office of the AK Party in power, radical Islam has become marginalized and less popular. Erdoğan's refreshed interest in this radicalism as a buoy to save him from the fall will not give this credit back to radical Islam. Rather, this exaggerated political abuse may lead to new problems regarding its credibility.
Professor of Islamic law and Yeni Şafak daily columnist Hayrettin Karaman, who happily defines himself as an Islamist and works hard to invent Islamist references for the AK Party, now complains about the "parasitic" self-seekers who have flocked to the ruling party. It does not sound convincing to use radical theses to mobilize voters. Political opportunism is what Erdoğan does as he waves the Quran in his hand in rallies and asks citizens to vote for the AK Party. This exaggerated abuse of religion is not enough to boost the AK Party's share of the vote. Secular groups are conscious enough to refrain from reacting to this abuse of Islam so that a new axis of polarization is not created. It is only Erdoğan who ends his political career with Islamism after starting his career in Islamism years ago.
Therefore, it is very unlikely for radical Islamism to rise again after getting rid of the dirt and corruption of the years when the AK Party has been in power.