Debate following the 16 April referendum has been dominated by the question of how various groups that voted ‘No’ will continue to stand together. This time round, the steps that the ‘No’ block takes in the face of the AKP-MHP block’s desire to govern the country under the 16 April constitution that provides for an authoritarian presidential system will be really critical. Apart from this matter, I also discussed the Islamist-Pelicanist debate that has broken out within the AKP and the place reached by Islamist politics with Prof. Dr. Cihangir İslam, one of the leading names in Islamist politics who was removed from his post at university under a state of emergency decree with the force of law. İslam, who has had a successful career in the field of medicine and is at the same time a graduate of the department of Islamic Science and Philosophy is not only one of the founders and executive board member of the Association for Human Rights and Solidarity with the Oppressed, but also numbers among the founders of the Felicity Party and People's Voice Party. İslam, who also acted as chief advisor to former Prime-Minister Erbakan, has engaged in independent politics for five years as a member of the ‘Justice-Grounded Platform’.
- The AKP said it was a conservative democratic party when it came into being. However, at the current juncture, the prevailing opinion is that it is an authoritarian Islamist party. Where do you place the AKP’s practice in ideological terms?
Remember that the AK Party had a single visible goal when it was founded in 2001: To follow in the footsteps of people in the National View ranks in disregard of the late Erbakan and occupy the position of the centre right that had caved in. Inspired by Christian democrats, they defined themselves as ‘conservative democrats’. They announced that they had divested themselves of their National View garb. Obtaining not just approval but support from the West, they set out on their way. The AK Party has at no time in its history been Islamist and it is not now, either. Nor did they have any such intention. I do not say this purely with an eye on their inconsistencies in terms of politics, principles and morals. I am stating that the qualitative characteristics of the road they chose, and also their statements, and also their policies have never been along these lines. Those who criticise the AK Party – some of them perhaps in the desire to hit two birds with one stone – but the great majority – let us politely call it a material information error - for this reason perceive or wish to perceive the AK Party as Islamist.
The AKP resembles the MHP
- Do you accept the view that in Turkey Islamism is a vein of nationalist statism?
In its current state, the AK Party is a nationalist, conservative political party that is moving a significant portion of the masses who possess Islamic sensitivity of all kinds to the right. When characterised in these terms, it resembles the MHP far more than the Felicity Party. Turkey underwent the first programme of transition to the right when it transformed to multiparty political life. The masses who had moved to the right imagined the state to be theirs. This policy both came as a solace to the state and conferred an exceptional degree of legitimacy on NATO membership in the people’s eyes. It became our national policy. In the 27 May coup statement, there was a strong emphasis on our ties to NATO and CENTO. The AK Party, at the present juncture, is a Bonapartist, authoritarian, Jacobin, nationalist, Machiavellian, right-wing party that is a vehicle for the global capitalist system. Its relationship with Islam, or in fact with Islamism, is through symbols and is instrumental. It has nothing to do with notions like justice, rights and the law or embraciveness. Statist ideologies appear in the form of nationalism and this has taken hold in the AK Party nowadays. Islamism, conversely, is initially an objection. It is an objection to injustice and unfairness that is embracive, excludes absolutely no community, places cohabitation at the fore and creates policies based on principles not ontologies. For example, I find the propositions set out by Mr Temel Karamollaoğlu to be closer to Islamism.
Right-wing party of the system
- AKP columnists confess that the AKP’s initial period was basically a period in which the real goals were kept hidden. Has the AKP deceived society and democrats?
The AK Party does what it says. The AKP Party stated in all the messages it issued in those days that it had set out to be a ‘right-wing party of the system’. It said on countless occasions that it had no basic problem with the global capitalist system and would engage in political realism. I look at their name and you will notice that they eschew the word ‘justice’ but frequently raise the matter of ‘development’. They do not differ in their actions from past right-wing parties.
- We saw during the AKP’s initial period how Kemalists’ warnings about things such as democracy and secularism were subjected to ridicule or even belittlement by the liberal hegemonic discourse. Today, conversely, Kemalists appear to be ahead of many groups when it comes to defending democratic rights. Do you think that the ground has been laid for democratic Muslims to redefine their relations with Kemalists?
At times when the AK Party attended to the system’s structural problems, they secured the support not just of liberals, but of wider sections of society. This was also the case in the solution period. I have never supported the AK Party as a party, but I personally gave my unconditional support to the democratisation efforts and solution process. If they were engaging in deception, how was I or anybody else to have known that? What facts did the Kemalists have for not supporting these efforts? Certain groups also continued at that time to attack the ontologies of Mr Erdoğan and people in the AK Party, and more specifically the Anatolian Muslim populace. The ‘short, hairy legs’ of people from low-income groups who did not have air conditioning at home and were sweltering and so came down to the coasts to have a barbecue became the target of ‘criticism’. Let me now speak more frankly: the opposition waged by Kemalists that was identity-based and in which their own ideology was portrayed as being absolute, apart from being subjective, aided the AK Party politically every time. Does secularism amount to the state, while having no official religion or ideology, being on equal terms with all faith and ideological groups, or to the state and its ideological machinery adopting the mission of uprooting all things sacred? The closer you come to the first definition, the less room there is for anything being absolute, and this is the way the vast majority of people in Turkey understand it. Democracy, then, has to do with preventing people or groups from assuming dominance over one another. It is hard to know the extent to which Kemalists were affected, but the referendum period saw people once more forced to position themselves in one camp or another. Those who came out of camps, people who had no knowledge of one another, assembled around ‘no’ out of similar motives. This is a harbinger of hope for the future. When people in Turkey can combine their own identities and ideologies with such principles, we will have solved the problem to a large extent.
They abandoned the principles of Islam
- Islamism, which organises the masses around the demand for justice, has turned out to be contradictory in practice. Can Islamism secure social justice?
Everybody says different things about Islamism. The side of the AK Party that invites criticism, i.e. injustice, absolute devotion to the leader, absolute obedience, economic injustice, nepotism and self-seekingness do not arise from their attachment to the principles of Islam but from their having abandoned such values. Can the claim to be a follower of a prophet who died without leaving a legacy be reconciled with a palace culture, pomp, imperialist aspirations and the creation of bourgeois billionaires? Is this what Erbakan’s practice over eleven months amounted to? He set out by attending to low-income groups, stopped the siphoning and protected the people’s money that was being spirited into certain pockets with the pool system. There was an immediate move in the direction of investment and production. What does Mr Temel Karamollaoğlu say? We are close to the ‘social democratic’ viewpoint. The thing we call sharing is an approach that targets justice, equality and equalisation in economic terms. You find this idea and its roots in implementational terms in the revealed religions which reject classes and posit and lay down the equality of people and a voluntary transition in this direction. You find the roots of socialist thinking in the revealed religions. The AK Party rulership did not target these things; it brought global capitalism to Turkey. If you compare this with their discourse at the outset they are consistent, but they fell victim to inconsistency with the principles of Islam. One tally that has multiplied over fifteen years is the number of dollar billionaires.
‘No’ voters have raised the scale of values
- If we accept Supreme Election Council figures, the ‘no’ vote came close to 49%. What does this signify, in your opinion?
A significant ‘no’ vote came from Islamic circles. The conclusion of the AK Party wing that ‘no’ supporters are mutually unrelated groups is correct, and they derive their strength from this. These people are people who have rebelled against polarisation and tribal irascibility and are trying to remain true to principles, so they need to maintain common denominators for cohabitation without becoming engulfed in fresh polarisation. The body of ‘no’ voters has raised the scale of values. This is a great harbinger of hope.
System creation in 2019
- What kind of method must be followed in a presidential election to be conducted in 2019 or earlier?
The changes that have come into being after 16 April have the potential to augment problems and block the system. The society-rulership balance has been upset to the detriment of society. This system is open to abuse independently of people. The most important thing that ‘no’ circles can do having obtained 49% is not just to abolish these changes but to embark on a system-creating effort in 2019 through thrashing out a constitution from beginning to end. For these circles to embark on efforts towards a shared solution without polarisation or confrontation and while preserving their identities and to give indication of this will increase their contributions to this end. However, the AK Party may hold a shock election. This could well be in the offing, both to circumvent such organisation and to ‘tighten up’ the ranks of the AK Party.
My fourth dismissal
- Can you guess the reason for your dismissal under a decree with the force of law? Can this be explained simply by the signature you placed in support of the Academics for Peace declaration?
I do not want to talk too much about my personal situation. However, this is my fourth dismissal. The Rabia, so to speak. I underwent the third in the 90’s and the fourth coincided with the AK Party. There are people who are in a much worse situation. There was an ongoing investigation into me for a year for signing the second declaration. None of us knows the true reason because there was no sentence read in our presence or sent in writing. When you look at the situation, everything is possible in these affairs and it is a chain stretching from a rector’s enmity to the Palace. No submission - on with the struggle.
The AKP uses those it finds useful and throws them to one side
- A legacy left by political Islamists’ practice is that the issue of Islam and democracy has ceased to be spoken of with hope as it once was. Is there a way to repair this relationship?
From an Islamic perspective, what renders a government legitimate is not purely its respecting rights and freedoms, and not purely its obtaining the people’s consent, but governing in compliance with both. These principles are most explicit. The increasing opposition from Islamic circles in the referendum harks to this. We have a shared history and a shared culture in which analysis and criticism are very weak. This is a burden imposed by history, not Islam, and, in a cultural sense – I am speaking with reference to the majority of the people – this can be overcome within culture under Islam’s codes. It is hard to say that the only problem here is the AK Party moving away from democracy – while this is very important. Five of the six coups or attempts that we have experienced in various intensities are imbued with a Kemalist spirit. We have trouble with democracy as a society.
- Can the AKP part ways with the Islamists, as some suggest?
There are no Islamists within the AK Party. Even if they joined, they abandoned that identity on joining and adapted to the type of relations there. The AK Party’s view of people and groups is instrumental. It uses those it finds useful and throws them to one side once their function finishes. The quarrel between groups is nothing more than a quarrel over interests. It makes no sense to exert too much intellectual effort over it.
The son-in-law Kavurmacı affair
- What has been the effect of the 15 July coup attempt on the Islamist wing?
There is a 15 July as it appears from the Palace and we have no information about the details of events. A commission is operating that is so far removed from seriousness that key figures are not summoned and heard. I am interested in the 15 July of the street. People of all persuasions went out into the street and there was mass resistance to a scheme that aroused indignation. We lost 250 of our people. We have 2,500 of our people who were injured or maimed. 40,000 people are in jail. 150,000 people have lost their jobs. We do not know the reason. If we leave those involved in the coup to one side, it is a tragedy for low-level employees and people who have no effect on government to lose their jobs. There are very painful stories. There are 37 suicides from among these people. Hundreds of journalists are behind bars. Many press and publishing entities have been closed. Companies are confiscated. The personal property of imprisoned people is confiscated. A town of fear. And, then, you have the Kavurmacı affair. This is its effect. This is probably the desired effect.
Prof. Dr. Cihangir İslam: The AKP has nothing to do with justice or rights. It uses those it finds useful and throws them to one side