Islam challenges secularism in Turkey’s east

Islam challenges secularism in Turkey’s east

As I have long noted, any secular, democratic or republican or semi-democratic government in the Islamic world — indeed, any government that does not fully implement Sharia — faces mounting pressure from forces that believe that no non-Sharia government has any legitimacy at all. And that is true even in the country that is most often held up as the model and proof that Islam and democracy can coexist (despite the fact that its secularism was established in an atmosphere of war with Islam): Turkey.

“FEATURE-Islam challenges secularism in Turkey’s east,” by Paul de Bendern for Reuters:

DIYARBAKIR, Turkey, Oct 30 (Reuters) – In the heartland of Turkey’s southeast, plagued by decades of conflict between separatist Kurdish rebels and the state, a new threat to secularism is emerging — Islamist groups.Local politicians say these organisations are becoming more active in the poor region that borders Iraq and Syria, and some fear this could fan fundamentalism, especially among young people who have grown up with violence.

As in the rest of predominantly Sunni Muslim Turkey, practising one’s religion here long took a backseat to a public espousal of the secularism of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the republic’s founder.

However, since the AK Party, which has roots in political Islam, swept to power in 2002, Muslims are now being more open about their faith.

We feel much freer to practise Islam,” said Engin Aydin, a teacher and physics graduate who was selling religious books near Diyarbakir’s 11th century Ulu Cami mosque. “It’s getting better by the day.”

In the southeast’s largest city, mosques are welcoming more worshippers, non governmental organisations (NGOs) with a religious overtone are helping the poor and the number of unofficial prayer rooms is on the rise, say politicians and lawyers.

“In every poor neighbourhood, new radical Islamic associations are giving hot food, they have meetings at people’s homes. They pay for students to go to school,” said Firat Anli, mayor of a district of Diyarbakir and member of the main Kurdish party, the Democratic Society Party (DTP).

I’m very worried … I fear they’ll become more powerful and could turn to violence like the (Turkish) Hezbollah,” he said, referring to a defunct armed group, active in the 1990s.

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