AKP seems intent on keeping ‘Diyanet’ for Sunni supremacy

Each and every statement and move by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoilu and other top figures of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) comes as a confirmation of the real political intent around what they call the quotNew Turkeyquot: personalization of power, surrounded by the traditional security dogma of Kemalist republicanism and consolidated by all the quotusefulquot principles inscribed in the current Constitution and the state instruments that were established decades ago, in order to implement a regime based on tutelage. The AKP’s increasingly harsh battle to cling to power has now focused on one of the top authorities, which Erdogan and Davutoilu find most influential and powerful to transit from one tutelary system to the other: The mighty Directorate of Religious Affairs, known as the quotDiyanet.quot The row — which, due to creeping political Islamism, favoritism of Sunni segments, seemed inevitable — that broke out between Selahattin Demirtai, co-chairman of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), and the leadership of the AKP about the quotexistencequot of the Diyanet has also spread to the very chairman of the institution, politicizing it, as with everything else these days. In a series of election speeches, Demirtai keeps on pounding the institution, pledging to abolish it. quotJust like the National Security Council [MGK] and the Higher Education Board [YOK], it is an institution that feeds on the hegemony of the state,quot he said. quotIt is shown as if it serves religion, but it is used to create loyalty to the state. The mosques are run like places not ruled by God but by the very state. We aim at lifting all the state oppression of religion. We can perhaps establish a sort of a department of faiths, but will never give up on abolishing the Diyanet. The approach of serving only the Sunni parts of society is a source of unease and discrimination. Can there be any logic for compulsory religion courses?quot Demirtai also accused the Diyanet, whose annual budget exceeds $2 billion and equals the budgets of more than 10 ministries put together, of being severely abused by Erdogan and avoiding issuing a quotfatwaquot against quottheft.quot Erdogan and Davutoilu jumped on those statements, countering with implications that Demirtai and the HDP intended to ban religion altogether. And most recently, Mehmet GOrmez, the director of Diyanet, intervened (arguably he was persuaded to do so), breaching his position to stay away from politics, claiming that quotthose who discuss the Diyanet must know about religion, prayer, hutba [sermon], etc.quot The way the AKP now clings to the Diyanet leaves no doubt — for all who might still have the benefit of the doubt — that Turkey under the AKP rule will ever be delivered a democratic constitution that guarantees true secularism a state staying out of the domain of faith and establishing respect for diversity of creed and non-creed. The recent debate over the Diyanet is the ultimate proof that political Islam here is set to obstruct any intent for democratization. This is what I wrote in an article dating back to late 2013: quotThe issue is that there doesn’t seem to be any intention in Ankara to review the Diyanet’s role and structure. It does seem well-suited to the current powers’ appetite to further tailor and design society, as their military-guided predecessors did. quotIf so, this will cause lasting damage to democratization, widen tears in the social fabric and lead to a very dangerous polarization. The Diyanet as it exists now, so empowered, is the perfect tool for those tempted to implement majoritarianism. As an obstacle before a modern form of secularism, it demands more attention.quot More proof over how the AKP abruptly abandoned its spirit of reform is to be seen in the 2009 Progress Report of the EU, in the following segment: quothellip No concrete steps have been taken to follow up the opening in relations with the Alevi community in 2009. Cem houses were not officially recognised as places of worship and Alevis experienced difficulties in establishing new places of worship. The Turkish Presidency of Religious Affairs (Diyanet) took the view that mosques are the only place of worship in Islam.quot