Atheism growing in Turkey 150

President Erdogan’s refusal to see Trump’s envoy, John Bolton, when he visited Turkey recently for the very purpose of talks with him, adds to a history of Turkey behaving more like an enemy than a NATO ally of America. It would seem sensible, indeed necessary, for NATO to expel Turkey from the alliance.

But what if Turkey were to change when Erdogan goes? Is the country showing signs of changing?

It seems from this report by Deutsche Welle that Erdogan’s policy of returning his country to fundamentalist Islam – undoing Ataturk’s secularization – is itself causing many Turks to turn against Islam, even prompting a significant number to become atheist!

If the report is true, it is a good sign that Turkey could return to the Western model Ataturk embraced.

According to a recent survey by the pollster Konda, a growing number of Turks identify as atheists.

Konda reports that the number of nonbelievers tripled in the past 10 years. It also found that the share of Turks who say they adhere to Islam dropped from 55 percent to 51 percent.

“There is religious coercion in Turkey,” said 36-year-old computer scientist Ahmet Balyemez, who has been an atheist for over 10 years. “People ask themselves: Is this the true Islam? When we look at the politics of our decision-makers, we can see they are trying to emulate the first era of Islam. So, what we are seeing right now is primordial Islam.”

Balyemez said he grew up in a very religious family. “Fasting and praying were the most normal things for me,” he said. But then, at some point, he decided to become an atheist. …

Diyanet, Turkey’s official directorate of religious affairs, declared in 2014 that more than 99 percent of the population identifies as Muslim. When Konda’s recent survey with evidence to the contrary was published, heated public debate ensued.

The theologian Cemil Kilic believes that both figures are correct. Though 99 percent of Turks are Muslim, he said, many only practice the faith in a cultural and sociological sense.

“The majority of Muslims in Turkey are like the Umayyads, who ruled in the seventh century,” Kilic said. … “The Umayyads regarded daily prayer as a form of showing deference towards the sultan, the state and the powers that be.”  [In Turkey] the relationship between church and state endures. “Regular prayers have become a way to signal obedience toward the political leadership … and prayers in mosques increasingly reflect the political worldview of those in power.” …

For nearly 16 years under Recep Tayyip Erdogan, first as prime minister and since 2014 as president, Turkish officials have increasingly used Islam to justify their politics — possibly increasing the skepticism surrounding faith in government.

“People reject the predominant interpretation of Islam, the sects, religious communities, the directorate of religious affairs and those in power,” Kilic said. “They do not want this kind of religion and this official form of piousness.” This, he said, could help explain why so many Turks now identify as atheists.

Selin Ozkohen, who heads Ateizm Dernegi, Turkey’s main association for atheists, said Erdogan’s desire to produce a generation of devout Muslims had backfired in many ways.

Ozkohen cited the unsuccessful coup in 2016, in which followers of the preacher and religious scholar Fethullah Gulen were accused of rising up against Erdogan … The coup, she said, was a clash between opposing religious groups — which was followed by a major crackdown by Erdogan. … “Those who reflect rationally on this, turn to atheism. Today, people are more courageous and willing to openly say they are atheists.”

If atheism can grow in Turkey, is it too optimistic to suggest that it could grow in other Islamic states?

Well … yes.

Posted under Islam, Turkey by Jillian Becker on Thursday, January 10, 2019

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