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Islam and Politics ( 25 May 2015, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Turkey, Pakistan and Islam





By Yasser Latif Hamdani

May 25, 2015

Both Hector Bolitho and Stanley Wolpert, Jinnah’s biographers, record that Jinnah had in 1932 bought Grey Wolf by H C Armstrong on the life of Kemal Ataturk, his contemporary and then the president of Turkey, which was to influence him greatly in his political thinking. It is not too hard to see what it was about the life of the great Turk leader that was so attractive. Jinnah’s own politics till that time had been in two boats. He was an Indian nationalist who was also very concerned about the political and economic future of his community, i.e. the Muslims. Ataturk, like Jinnah, had grown up in a multicultural empire where the relations between Turks (i.e. Anatolian Muslims) and other ethnic groups were tenuous at best.

More so in the British Empire, but even in the Ottoman Empire, Muslim elites saw a steady decline in their fortunes. Ataturk, as a young Ottoman officer, was extremely concerned about the future of his people, i.e. the Turks. Kemal Ataturk initially went along with the established narrative of the Turks as the defenders of the Khilafat and Islam, mobilising support not just in Anatolia but also amongst Muslims around the world, especially in the subcontinent. Throughout the war of independence Kemal Ataturk appealed to Islam and jihad, uniting the Turkish speaking Anatolian Muslims, Arabic speaking Hatay Muslims and the Kurds behind him. The identity of the Turk was rooted in Hanafi Sunni Islam. Turkey’s equivalent of Allama Iqbal was Ziya Gokalp whose tome the Principles of Turkism helped lay the foundation of the exclusively Turkish nation, which was defined around religion (Sunni Hanafi Islam), language (Turkish) and common history (Seljuq and Ottoman). This also led to the great population exchange under the Treaty of Lausanne, which was done entirely on religious lines, i.e. all Muslims in Greece were deemed to be Turks and all Christians in Turkey were deemed to be Greeks or Armenians. Thus, the world saw one of the largest transfers of population exceeded only by the haphazard migration during the partition of India and creation of Pakistan.

Consequently, Turkey, as it came into being in 1923, was an almost exclusively Muslim state. Once the revolution was complete, however, Kemal Ataturk unceremoniously dumped the appeals to Khilafat, Islam and jihad and sought to transform Turkey into a nation state based on secularism and modern republican values. Faced with the paradox of the fact that religion was the central plank of Turkish identity, Ataturk attempted to recreate the pre-Islamic past of Turkey by insisting that Turkish was the sun language and mother of all languages. Some of these projects were obviously shelved but what survived was Ataturk’s idea that the state must be secular in order for there to be progress. That became the basis of the Kemalist ideology, which galvanised the Turks for a good 70 years.

Throughout Jinnah’s pronouncements in the 1930s as the leader of the Muslim League, we find references to Kemalist Turkey as the example for the Muslims of India to follow. Speaking to a gathering Jinnah expressed the wish to be like Mustafa Kemal but that unlike the leader of the Turks he had no army and that his only weapons were logic and reason. Upon the latter’s death Jinnah eulogised him as the greatest man of the age by following whose example there was no reason the Muslims of India should remain in a quagmire. Turkey’s second president, Ismet Inonu, was in direct contact with Jinnah. Many years ago, I chanced upon the letters exchanged between the two leaders on the political situation of India in Columbia University’s library and was struck by the spirit of camaraderie and warmth between them. There was however one key difference between the Kemalist ideology and Jinnah’s vision. Ataturk’s ideas were shaped by the French idea of republicanism whereas Jinnah’s liberal democratic views were influenced by the turn of the century British liberal tradition. Between these two strains the British liberal tradition was more tolerant of having some role for religion, separate from the state, in the organisation of society. The French idea was to build a wall of separation. However, the objective was the same: the creation of a modern republic. Unlike Kemal Ataturk, who managed to stay on as president for a considerable number of years before his death, Jinnah died too early after the creation of Pakistan to allow his secularism to take root.

Many Pakistanis have long been enchanted with the Turkish model as the ideal model for Pakistan. Paradoxically, however, Turkey’s democratisation has opened the doors for political Islam in the country. Turkey’s current president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is probably the most charismatic leader this country has seen since Ataturk himself and while he is reverent towards the great father of the Turks, he has rolled back many of the salient features of the Kemalist project. However, it is unlikely that he will roll back its most essential feature, i.e. the secular state. Even the most religious of Turks understands that the prosperity of their state and their nation is inextricably linked to the idea that the state must be kept separate from religion. It is not that their commitment to Islam can be questioned. Secular Turkey has perhaps preserved Islam far better than our Islamic republic has; a visit to Turkey would amply disabuse our notions of what a secular state looks like. One would argue that secular Turkey is far more Islamic in spirit than Islamic Pakistan is because the Turks do not treat Islam like a commodity. There are no self-styled muftis and allamas wreaking havoc on an illiterate population as there are in Pakistan. Mosques in Turkey are houses of spirituality and not hate. The Imam Hatip schools (the equivalent of seminaries) produce first-rate scholars of Islam, not terrorists. Nor is Turkish Islam exclusively centered around what women should or should not wear. Perhaps, most importantly, the average Turk understands that whether you are a good Muslim or bad, it is none of his business.

It is for these reasons that as a Pakistani who wishes them well, I hope and pray that they are less like us and we are more like them.

Yasser Latif Hamdani is a lawyer based in Lahore and the author of the book Mr Jinnah: Myth and Reality. He can be contacted via twitter @therealylh and through his email address