The Kemalists’ crusade against the Islamic movement is becoming more vicious. Last month there was another assault when an issue of the Selam Islamic weekly was confiscated. Nureddin Sirin, its editor, is already serving a 17-year sentence for condemning the Zionist occupation of Palestine, especially Al-Quds; one sub-editor, Ayden Koral, left the country after being sentenced to 152 years in jail, no less. Ordinarily, governments in the Muslim world, however secular, would applaud such people for condemning Israel, to get some some political mileage because they voice Muslims’ feelings. Not so Turkey, which has effectively become a colony of the Zionist State. Ankara has forged close ties with Tel Aviv, and Israeli aircraft regularly fly over Turkish airspace, close to the borders with Syria and Iran. This is something that even Egypt has not permitted. More critically, Ankara has dealt a severe blow to the Islamic movement.
The trial and sentence of Abdullah Ocalan, a Kurdish nationalist, received widespread publicity in the west. Despite his horrible record - Ocalan is responsible for the murders of at least 30,000 people in Turkey - there have been calls to commute his death-sentence. This stands in sharp contrast with the west’s indifference to the persecution of Islamic activists, especially women, who are denied the right to wear hijab and to express their opinions. The case of Sister Safa Merve Kavakci made headlines in May because she refused to take off her hijab to occupy her parliament-seat. Unable to force her to do so, the Kemalists stripped her of her Turkish citzenship because she had become a US citizen without the ‘permission’ of the authorities.
The case of Sister Huda Kaya, a journalist at Selam, and her three daughters is even more striking. Together with 70 others, they are charged with “attempting to change the constitution by force.” What precisely that means was not explained. One of her daughters, 16-year-old Gulan Intisar Saatcioglu, is accused of reading a poem called ‘Song of Freedom’ at a rally. That Turkey’s generals should be scared of a 16-year-old reciting a poem, or believe that a journalist can overthrow the state, reflects their paranoia. All of them face the death sentence.
The plight of Sisters Kavakci, Kaya and others illustrates an important point: the cause of Islam cannot be advanced by participating in party politics. The regime has come down hard on even the mildest manifestations of Islamic awareness. Wearing hijab is treated as a crime; criticism of the zionist occupiers of Palestine has become a treasonable offence. Seldom in history have governments persecuted their own citizens for criticising another country, one moreover which occupies Muslim sacred lands and places. One cannot help but compare this attitude with what Sultan Abdul-Hamid said to the zionists when they tried to buy land in Palestine: you can have any part of the earth, but I cannot give you even an inch of Palestine because it is a sacred trust.
The battle-lines are drawn. The Islamic movement, represented by such voices as Selam, has come out in defence of Islam. The Fazilat (formerly Refah) Party also needs to make a clean break with secular politics. Its humiliations should warn its leaders of the futility of their current approach. Fazilat’s unsatisfactory performance in April’s elections was the result of the Kemalists’ heavy-handedness and of disenchantment with the dilution of Fazilat’s message. Party-politics have never led to Islam being implemented anywhere. Fazilat leaders may argue that they are not struggling for an Islamic State in Turkey: then they must abandon the pretence that they have anything to do with the Islamic movement, so that there is no confusion left in the minds of Muslims, whose overwhelming majority wants an Islamic state.
It also needs repeating that when Turkey upheld Islam, it was the leader of the Muslim world; once it adopted secularism, it became the “sick man of Europe” and has had nothing but humiliation from the west. The people of Turkey deserve better. They are capable of restoring the glory of Islam provided that they are clear about the issues facing the Ummah today. Without such conceptual clarity, they will continue to be insulted by the westerners whom the Kemalists want to emulate but who have repeatedly slammed the door in their faces. The choice is theirs.
Muslimedia: August 1-15, 1999