The famous ‘Muslim-meter’ returns
In its May 26 issue, The Economist wrote: “[Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan] is increasingly rude about the EU and has gone as far as to declare that Turkey no longer has a Kurdish problem. Even more controversially, he has taken to attacking Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the leader of the main pro-secular opposition Republican People’s Party, for being an Alevi, a liberal branch of Shia Islam with 20 million adherents in Turkey – with the subtext that he is not ‘a real Muslim.’ In Turkey Sunni Islam and nationalism have long gone hand in hand,” in an article titled “Turkish sex scandals: Feeling blue.”
Precisely. This is why every sensible constitution orders political parties to get their hands off religion in order to make elections a fair competition. But the political tradition Mr. Erdoğan comes from has the habit of producing votes out of religious sentiments, hence Mr. Erdoğan’s never-ending resentment over constitutional secularism.
At every political rally in the last month Mr. Erdoğan reminded crowds of Mr. Kılıçdaroğlu’s Alevi identity, although the opposition leader has never revealed his religious beliefs. We simply do not know, but Mr. Erdoğan is certain about his rival’s choice of faith. Mr.. Kılıçdaroğlu comes from an Alevi family, but this does not make him an Alevi. He may have chosen to practice as a Sunni, have secretly become an apostate, an atheist or an agnostic, and that is no one’s business. But sadly, it’s essentially Mr. Erdoğan’s business.
On Monday, Mr. Erdoğan, at another campaign rally, condemned Mr. Kılıçdaroğlu because the opposition leader had said, “he is not against imam schools” and “the number of such schools must be proportionate to the number of imams the country needs.” That is insane, an angry Mr. Erdoğan shouted, with the pious crowd booing Mr. Kılıçdaroğlu for prescribing just enough imam schools.
With that speech, Mr. Erdoğan is telling the electorate he is a real Muslim and Mr. Kılıçdaroğlu is not, since a real Muslim would wish every pupil to attend imam schools. On the same day, the “bipartisan” (read: Justice and Development Party) parliament speaker, Mehmet Ali Sahin, expressed his dream that “one day an imam could be the acting president of Turkey.”
Religion is the theme at the campaign rallies, and the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party is not immune to accusations of not being “Muslim enough” either. A few days ago, the always angry Mr. Erdoğan accused Kurdish politicians of “burning Kurdish children to stop them from being Muslims.” So, like the main opposition, the Kurdish opposition is not “real Muslim” either.
This is a most annoying ethos of the pious Turk who overtly or covertly believes only he and Muslims like him qualify as “real Muslims.” And this, despite the fact there are very strict commandments in the Quran that Muslims should avoid gauging other people’s “Muslimness,” for only Allah can judge.
In 2007, when the then-Parliament speaker, now deputy prime minister, Bülent Arınç angrily remarked that his party’s opponents “merely wanted to block the election to the presidency of a Muslim,” he was speaking along the lines of the same thinking. In Mr. Arınç’s, or Mr. Erdoğan’s, or other Islamists’ thinking, previous Turkish presidents were not Muslim, Muslim enough or real Muslims.
But at the same time this thinking is in serious contradiction with another oft-repeated line, one of the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, folks’ favorite points of information: Turkey is 99 percent Muslim. For decades, the pious teased the less pious by calling them “ID Muslims only,” a reference to the ID cards that proudly showed the word Muslim in a small box. The less pious, according to the pious, were Muslims only because their IDs said so, in reality, they were not. And that is because they did not practice Islam in exactly the same was as the pious did.Now, Mr. Erdoğan calculates that he can cash in more votes by presenting Mr. Kılıçdaroğlu as an Alevi, someone who is not a real Muslim. He may be right. But this is one of modern Turkey’s most predictable elections anyway. So relax, Mr. Erdoğan. And remember real Muslims do not walk about with a Muslim-meter in their hands