chapter  7
23 Pages

Political Islam and Islamic capital: the case of Turkey


Introduction In July 2008, the Constitutional Court of Turkey voted to come to a decision on banning the Justice and Development Party (AKP), Turkey’s ruling party since 2002, as the ‘party was seen a hub of anti-secular activities by the Constitutional Court’.1 Six of the eleven judges of the Court voted to close the party, one fewer than would be required by the Turkish Constitution. Thus, rather than banning, the final verdict of the Constitutional Court was a warning to the AKP. It entailed a financial penalty: cutting state financial aid to the party. The Court’s final verdict ended a long period of uncertainty which was based on the possibility that the ruling party – democratically elected by an overwhelming 46 per cent of the votes cast nationwide in 2007 – would be banned and its popular leaders prevented from standing for office. This contentious case had begun with the so-called ‘judicial coup’ of spring 2008. The chief prosecutor of Turkey had prepared an indictment of the ruling AKP for violating the principle of secularism of the Turkish Constitution by allegedly undertaking a number of anti-secular activities. In its defence, the AKP, a party with Islamist roots, denied the charges of violating the Constitution’s secular principles. For some, this signified the ‘victory of democracy’ over strict secularism championed by both the military and the judiciary of the Turkish state establishment; both consider the AKP government a serious threat to secularism in Turkey.2 According to the secularist state establishment, in line with its close allies such as the Republican People’s Party (CHP), the AKP’s main opposition in parliament, the AKP is an agent of political Islam which cannot, in their view, coexist with secularism. These actors anticipate that although the ruling party does not openly associate itself with political Islam, it nevertheless allegedly aims to end or redefine secularism in the country, eventually Islamising Turkish society, politics and institutions. In sum, Turkish society is currently divided over various contentious political issues, including: the link between politics and secularism, the appeal of political Islam and its relationship with democracy. This situation is reminiscent of that which Ben-Porat describes in his chapter in this collection in relation to Israel: a situation of political polarisation in the society and state, which Kurtz (1995) refers to as a ‘culture war’.