the Return of Religion

Omar Mohammed
Associate Researcher
Centre d’Études Turques, Ottomanes, Balkaniques et Centrasiatiques

July 25, 2016
Paris, France

My brief takes on the coup attempt

Personal insights:

Last June, in Paris, I was at lunch with a Turkish friend who is studying the Persian – Ottoman relations in the 17th century. Our conversation focused on the many changes that are taking place in turkey, and it seems that she shares the same views as many of the Turks that Erdogan’s foreign policy has played a significant role in imposing drastic changes to the internal affairs of Turkey. “Imagine that Erdogan is seeking to introduce Arabic language to primary schools!” she exclaimed, “He sought to abolish the legacy and heritage Atatürk built for the Turkish nation. The mistakes he and Ahmet Davutoglu made by intervening in Syrian civil war was the least to be called their biggest mistake, which led to a series of mistakes that led Turkey to involve directly in the Syrian crisis. Davutoglu persuaded Erdogan that the crisis would only last for a few months. He promised that Turkey would only allow the Syrians to enter Turkey, and they will return to Syria in the coming months, but what happened? The Syrian crisis is in its fifth year and I am no longer able to go to Istanbul as I find myself as a stranger there! Istanbul, my lovely city, has turned into a miserable city because of the refugees changed its face! More than 3 million refugees, Erdogan is using them to make changes within the Turkish society, how far can he go?” She asked.     

Maybe my friend is exaggerating a little bit, and most likely she is an Atatürkist.  But she was talking in terms of  the political disarray that Erdogan plays, which in her opinion, Turkey will pay an expensive tag price for that in the near future. And despite of her attitude toward refugees, she changed her mind and felt sympathetic about the idea of protecting refugees and helping them with their ordeal. However, she is against Erdogan’s intervention of other countries’ affaires, and that is a logical and acceptable point of view.   

However, her opinion cannot be relied upon in any way to generalize it, even though many Turks, whom in one way or another, share her views. For nearly eight months, which is the duration of my stay in Turkey, it was very clear that most of the Turks were influenced by the current trend of Islamic thought, and it was very clear to note the significant impact of the Syrian war and the emergence of the caliphate in Iraq and Syria has highly effected the Turks. In Istanbul, at Istiklal street in Takism square, I used to visit “Insan Kitap” bookshop to buy books, and I often end up in a conversation with the bookseller that is often related to the subjects of the books I was looking for as a researcher in Middle Eastern Studies. Many of these conversations led to subjects that got me interested in hearing people’s perspective on what is happening in the Middle East, as it has its value in enriching my knowledge to better understand and to catch first-hand account of life in Turkey directly from the Turks their selves. Therefore, with my poor Turkish, I was able to discuss some critical points, particularly Syrian Civil war and the conflicts in Iraq. There was not much difference between them and the Arabs when it comes to discussing how the Islamic State has stolen Islam, and how the Muslims are struggling to gain it back. In their opinion, Erdogan is the righteous one to protect Islam, and the debate always ends with what happened in Egypt and Massacre de la place Rabia-El-Adaouïa and their thoughts and prayers go out to Müslüman Kardeşler (Muslim Brotherhood).

As these discussions repeated over and over, my friends were always recalling the Ottoman Caliphate and its glory. “The Caliphate shall never be forgotten, I know of no reason Why the gâvur (meaning “infidel”, is an offensive term, a slur, historically used in the Ottoman Empire for Christians, such as Orthodox Christians in the Balkans non-Muslims.) treason should ever be forgotten!” exclaimed one of my Turkish friends.

In Istanbul again, I met Kurmanji İşadamı, a Businessman who is a member of the MP and is a very strong supporter of Erdogan. He made it clear “I am not a supporter of Erdogan but I support his Islamic Policy and of his rapprochement with Arab Muslims.” He was talking about Erdogan as if he the defender of Islam and his efforts to revive the Arabic language as it is the language of Quran and Prophet Muhammed, and what he has done to the Ilahyat is for the benefit of Islam. According to Kurmanji İşadamı, during the period of the Ottoman Caliphate, Turkey was the protector of Muslims. He was recalling Sultan Abdülhamid The Second with sigh and pain. When it comes to Ataturk, he is sparing no effort to express his anger at him. As if he was the one who partnered with the west to abolish Islam in Turkey by his Secularism. 

Not so far from Istanbul, in a small town called Yalova, a city located north-west of Turkey, near the eastern coast of Marmara Sea. With a population of 100,863, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk occasionally lived in Yalova during his final years. In one of his speeches he famously said: “Yalova Benim Kentimdir – Yalova is my city.”, Nowadays, it is sought to be one of the main strongholds of AKP, with many of İlahiyat schools. In the last election of June 2015, I was lucky to attend the celebration of AKP’s supporters in town. There were many people who celebrated their victory. Some Yalovians told me that this town was a torch for Secularism, now it is becoming, day by day, an Islamic city.

As I travelled and lived in many Turkish cities. One can easily feel the presence of Islamic trends, whatever forms those Islamic trends may be, people in Turkey are leaning toward Islam substantially. One might ask, what would drive the Turks to lean toward Islam? What is Behind the “return to Islam” banner in turkey?

Clearly, the Struggle in Iraq and Syria has the major efforts on Middle East Societies. It is true that the population of Iraq and Syria are the most effected by the results of the conflict. Yet, Turkey is the closest target of the social changes that took place in recent year which was, for many reasons, effected politically and religiously since the proclamation of the Caliphate in June 2014. Erdogan’s policy toward Islam was a clear result of the Sunni leadership struggle in Middle East. I shall quote Nibras Kazimi, who wrote in his recent article “The jihadists of the Islamic State have had a lot to say about the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. They do so because they see themselves locked in a rivalry with it. At the heart of the rivalry is the question of who gets to pose as the defender of ‘Sunnidom’ in the face of Iranian expansion in the Middle East, a perception both rivals share and agitate over. The Islamic State argued that the House of Saud has lost the legitimacy and efficacy necessary to mount such a civilizational defence. They cited the static nature of Saudi inaction, one that did not correspond to the alarmist rhetoric emanating from Riyadh concerning Shi’a transgressions against Sunnis. The jihadists may believe that this disconnect between rhetoric and action is accelerating the disaffection of Saudi citizens with their rulers. They may hope that this disaffection would welcome the expansion of the Islamic State into the Saudi heartland—a goal that is critical to the long-term survival of their state, or so they may believe” (1).

As for Erdogan, he went so far in his Islamic agenda. He found it a great opportunity to bring about the fundamental changes in Middle East and tip the scales, and he might go that far. He is so close to the point of no return by putting Islamists in power is as dangerous as he might not think, once you release them, they will accuse you as ṭāġūt, and the Quran makes it clear “The believers fight for God’s cause, while those who reject faith fight for an unjust cause. Fight the allies of Satan: Satan’s strategies are truly weak. 4:76 “.


Coup d’État

         On a sunny day in Paris, July 15, the day before the Turkish Coup, I met with some Turkish friends whom I knew from school. Since I am an associate researcher in Centre d’Études Turques, Ottomanes, Balkaniques et Centrasiatiques, it is easy to meet with Turks in the middle of Paris through school. We immediately engaged in a conversation about the crisis of Middle East, which is the common subject among middle easterners nowadays. Our conversation ended up with the note of Erdogan and his foreign policy, particularly the ongoing struggle in Iraq and Syria. They showed their fear of the unknown future that awaits Turkey due to the ongoing conflicts in the Middle east, and their impact on the Turkish society. “Turkey has enough problems to deal with” one of the friends said, “and Erdogan is leading our country to an unknown future”. Many changes and restrictions were imposed on academics. We had long discussions about them, and at the end we concluded that Erdogan’s policy should be focusing on solving the problems the Turkish nation is suffering, which are on the rise.

The Next day, 16th of June, the coup d’État took place in turkey. I was observing the event closely while keeping an eye on the responses about the coup in the Arab Media. Since I am not an expert in Turkish affairs, I cannot give an opinion of it, whether it is worth it or not. But one must say, after the failed coup and the emergence of – most likely – ready-made lists of deracination, it was obvious that somehow the political and social atmosphere and circumstances were setup to lead to the coup. It already happened, but its effects shall remain for a long time.

Instead, I rather focused on the Arab responses to the coup, which was widely received among the Iraqi people, both Sunnis and Shiites, and many other Arab countries.

the Return of Religion: how the Turkish Coup revived the yearning to religion


The Reaction toward the coup in Turkey among Iraqis and Syrians was interesting to observe. It was divided between the Sunni and the Shiite. The Sunnis made it clear; their argument was “We Support Erdogan who has always been of a great support to us. He protected the refugees, and he stand with MB in Egypt. He cried when Egyptian security forces raided two camps of protesters in Cairo. Erdogan is a Sunni leader and his attitude toward Sunni people is in many ways better than the Iraqi government”. The Shiite were apparently against Erdogan and his government. Their argument was that “Erdogan and his regime had been the biggest supporter of ISIS”, and they made it as clear as Sunnis “Erdogan is against Asad. We are standing with Asad and Iran, we are Against Turkey.”

Apparently, the Iraqis both Sunnis’ and Shiites’ points of view were based upon the conflict in Iraq. Thus, the Turkish coup has shown the acute division within the Iraqi societies.


Was the response political?

One might consider the political conflicts in Iraq is the real reason behind the way Iraqis’ reaction of the Turkish coup. This may be true, but, what are the true roots of the political dispute essentially? The conflict in Iraq is a religious conflict to begin with; it is a split between Sunni loyalty to another Sunni state that represented the Sunnis and the Islamic caliphate for a long period of time in history. In contrast, the Shiite allegiance to Iran that was in a constant conflict with the Ottoman Empire. This struggle from the Sunnis’ and the Shiite’s perspective, is a struggle amounts to the first event which led to the division of Muslims into Sunnis and Shiites, that is a conflict over the succession after the death of the Prophet. A simple review of the Ottoman – Persian conflict through its multiple stages and its effects left on the Iraqi society, due to its strategic location in the heart of those conflicts, one can comprehend the implications have deeply rooted in the Iraqi society and the cultural history that was generated during that era that become the pattern of thinking which become difficult to get rid of it. In fact, there is no idea about getting rid of it because it is not perceived as a contingency, but it is deeply rooted into society.

I do not want to get into the Sunni-Shiite conflict, because it is not the subject of this study, as there are many studies have interpreted the Sunni-Shiite disputes and illustrate them in thorough details, but what I wanted to research is that religion in the Iraqi society today has obviously become a new identity and it is no longer related to Sunnism or Shiism, or Muslims only, but all factions of the Iraqi society started their search for religion. Religion today, in light of the political crisis, has become a source of confidence to its followers. This search for religion is a search for a new identity.

Many studies published recently under different titles indicating “The return of Religion”. All are suggesting that religion is registering a strong comeback to societies, eastern or western, and the main factor is playing a role behind this comeback is the rise of the Islamic caliphate once more, and its reproduction of the sacred texts in an innovative way. All the ancient religious texts were reproduced again, evoking history very strongly with it.

The conflict now is based on the principle of searching for the missing safety, as politics has failed to meet the needs of its societies, and democracy in the perspective of many, is alienated from its essence. Many observers believe that societies are leaning toward abandoning religion. That might be true, but are they tended to agnostism? This is the question we are supposed to ask, and other questions in the form of “What religion should we disregard?”  

The seculars in the Iraqi society failed to construct a clear and precise system of thought, and their intellectual systems suffer of being backwards and reactionary because the religious were able to adapt and adopt secularism and civility. Religion is now capable of adapting and adopting secular patterns and subjugating all the other ideologies to its system of thought. The deficiency in producing renewable secular ideas in the Iraqi society is obviously a result of the power of the search for religion and the renovation of religion in the collective mind and because of the presence of the search catalysts of religion. The vast majority of the society express openly about their lack of interest in religious commitment, such as prayers, fasting, and other ordinances. Yet, religion, on the other hand, is important to them as it is no longer seen as worship and traditions, but more of an identity of reference representing communities and distinguish them from others. Today, religion is a differentiation identity and also a tool to identify others.

The religious identity that people are looking for in Iraq today is a reviving identity but it is usually the product of a previous struggle. One can list some of the reasons behind the desire of the Iraqi society in evoking its predominant religious identity over the other identities the Iraqi society has generated over time.

The declaration of the caliphate was not just a historical event concerning the current stage in history. Despite all the opinions and the differences in views about the caliphate, it is in one way or the other represents a significant state in the heart of the Muslim society. To revive this subject, that the Muslims did not forget after the overthrow of the Ottoman Empire, to the Iraqi memory, galvanizes the religious feelings and the desire to uphold the religious values that once was previously dominant. Today, the Muslims are confronting the idea of “filching religion” from its rightful companions, a shred of fear that drives the Muslims to restore religion to its natural course, along with all that, there is a continuous evocation of history associated with the caliphate and the sectarian jurisprudence conflict that occurred among Muslims previously. Whether it is the state of the caliph or the Shiite militia forces or the Iraqi society, they invoke a history that is still active and present within the society itself.

The use of history in constructing the narratives of identity, of common origins, of a shared experience, and of a soon-to-be fulfilled purpose is not new or unique. Sects, religions, ethnicities, tribes, political ideologies, and other corporate bodies borrow heavily from history to frame their trajectories, to propagate, and to undergird their authenticity. In this sense, history confers legitimacy and infers destiny. There are many examples to cite from the twentieth century as various ideologies and regimes in the Middle East constructed new identities for themselves(2).

Many intellectual historians who came of age in the middle of the twentieth century were influenced by a sociological tradition which assumed—following Marx, Durkheim, and Weber—a sharp division between traditional and modern societies. One of the key features of modernization, according to such theorists, was the decline of religion, magic, and superstition, and the rise of reason, science, and scepticism. Modernization and secularization marched hand in hand. Historians who bought into this secularizing teleology were inclined to write history as a story of progress in which reason and science in execrably displacing faith and dogma. Two of the main tasks of intellectual historians were to trace the development of “the modern mind” and to identify the origins of (for example) “the modern idea of the state.” Such a present-cantered approach tended to downgrade religious beliefs, for there seemed little point in studying ideas that were doomed to decline and of a little relevance to the modern world. Modernization theory (and the classic secularization thesis that arose with it) enjoyed its heyday in the 1950s and 1960s, and its impact can still be detected.

Many tweets were tweeted on twitter talking about this subject, and clearly supporting Islam through Erdogan utilization of the religious clergy and mosques’’ speakers to overturn the upheavalists.

And many of the tweets used hashtags like: #The_Failed_Coup , #Turkey_Wins_Over_The_Coup , and others.

The Sunni’s support of Erdogan is the result of the Sunni – Sunni conflict, between the Islamic State and the rest of the Sunni states. This effect of the conflict created a huge gap among the Sunni society. This gap forced the Sunnis to search, once more, for a force to rely on, and it was the quick invocation of the historical memory among the Sunni communities, to the point where many supported the execution orders against the upheavals.

The war has left a great effect on the Iraqi society to return to religion that Derrida talked about in many occasions. Societies, nowadays, are leaning towards the return to religion and holding up to it and encouraging to reinstate its practices.

The coming days will witness drastic changes on the social level in the Middle East. The religious states are reviving, and as long as wars go on, religion will revive again, and people will want to return to religion again as democracy fails and the despots take over democracies and change their patterns, invoking history and its big and effective stimulation, all of that are indications of the return of religion and its control over societies.

The ancient religions were created to meet the social need of human communities, and they evolved in response to economical, political, and environmental effects. Today, we are witnessing a return yearning of this need that urges societies to return to religion, or, the return of religion once again.

(1) Nibras Kazimi, Saudi Arabia’s ‘Islamic Alliance’: Major Challenge for Al-Baghdadi’s Islamic State, or Potential Opportunity?
April 29th, 2016 Current Trends in Islamist Ideology

One thought on “the Return of Religion

  1. I would broaden your “return to religion” interpretation slightly to include what is happening in many European and North American societies. I call it a “search for authenticity” and it often has the form of a revolt against contemporary morals and modern science and technology. It includes leaders like Donald Trump and Marine Le Pen.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s