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Lessons from Turkey


By Imtiaz Gul

Friday Times , June 14, 2013


Two distinguished scholars from Turkey, Dr Nuri Tinaz and Dr Ali Murat Yel, identified insufficient quality education as Pakistan's biggest problem - something responsible, in their view, for the confusion that surrounds the role of religion in the society. 

Their deduction was based on the intensive interaction with students and teachers at University of Peshawar, FC College Lahore, the National Defence University Islamabad, and some discussions with the Pakistani intelligentsia at think tanks such as Centre for Research and Security Studies. The Turk scholars spoke on the broader theme of "State, Religion and Democracy," from a Turkish perspective.

Both professors were vociferous in their advocacy for state control of education. Prof Ali Murat for instance, explained that free, compulsory and standardized education became the key to the present day Turkey where state control of curricula is producing equal and productive citizens. Similarly, Prof Nuri Tinaz said that the religious affairs directorate has played the central role in preserving sectarian and social harmony in the Turkish society. The Directorate - known as Dayanet - basically regulates the functioning of all religious issues, including university education and training for the clergy. It issues the license for appointment of Imams after the intensive training. Compulsory and free education has been extended to every corner of the state in order to achieve the policy of democratization and secularization and this has helped contain unnecessary radicalization of minds.

Brushing aside several perceptions with regard to the rule of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) since 2002, Tinaz and Murat pointed out that while Islam may be visible in public sphere and while there is a rise in individual religion and spiritualism, it does not threaten the secular edifice that Kemal Ataturk had raised in the 1920s. Turkey is not slipping into theocracy, Nuri Tinaz underlined. There is no compromise on the fundamentals of the constitutional framework provided by Ataturk because people at large have internalized secularism. Islam is part of life but not part of the state business in Turkey. It is borne by several surveys according to which less than seven percent of its population supports the sharia-based political system. He also highlighted the fact that most Turks agree the sharia should not be the foundation for the constitution.

One could easily sum up the instructive observations of the Turkish scholars the following way: Pakistan, both professors argued, seems to lack quality education and there is insufficient awareness on religion. Solutions to problems do not flow from mere religious sloganeering. Religion may be the first and foremost duty of everybody but individuals should be free to practice it the way they wish. A certain group or state must not impose Islam on others. Allah has given us the choice to decide what is right or wrong. Nobody can take that freedom away from individuals. Most Turks agree that sin is a matter between God and the individual while punishment for violation of the law is the duty of the state. 

On the civil-military relations, both Dr Murat and Tinaz concurred that while the Turkish military remained a powerful institution and enjoyed the trust of the people, it has certainly been upstaged by the civilians, ie parliament, which is trusted the most. This, the scholars said, also reflected the fact that the common Turkish man wants change and better governance. Both played down the possibility of the creeping craving for Islam and sharia under AKP rule as galvanizing the society. Dr Murat reminded Pakistani interlocutors that it was essentially voter fatigue with other parties since the coup of 1980s, and more importantly the worry for bread and butter, that brought AKP to power and has kept it afloat with almost negligible opposition.

Quoting Turkey's example, the scholars cautioned that the Republican elites - in overriding self-interest - had created the Ataturk cult and at times even abused the Kemalist principles to legitimize their wrongdoings. Dr Murat suggested that while Turkey or other countries may serve as an inspiration, Pakistan should not follow any other country. Every nation needs to have its own model, based on its own socio-cultural context. Turkey is not following the west. It has constructed its own model according to its own needs. 

Create your own niche instead of following others, they said, and avoid making and following cults in this fast-moving performance-oriented age - in the context of Nawaz Sharif and Imran Khan.

Imtiaz Gul is the executive director of the independent Centre for Research and Security Studies, and the author of the recently released book Pakistan: Before and After, published by Roli Books, India

Email: imtiaz@crss.pk