Should a state design its institutions and policies to create a “religious generation”? Even if it does this, can it achieve such an objective? On both accounts I think Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who has described his government’s objective as “bringing up religious generation,” is mistaken.
Pursuing such an objective is obviously an attempt at social engineering. It assumes a hierarchical relationship between the state and society, and assigns the state the duty and power to shape the minds, beliefs and lifestyles of the next generations. This is what the Kemalists tried to do for decades. Their mission was to “enlighten” the people with positivist ideas that were expected to erode the influence of religion over society and thus make it easy to generate loyalty for the new secular regime. They dictated to the people what to think, believe in and how to dress. To do this, the Kemalists designed education, public institutions and law. And in doing so, the Kemalists destroyed the right to choose, the right to be different, and thus strangled democracy and pluralism.
Does the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) now want to follow the same path as the Kemalists? I hope not. However, as a conservative political party they may wish to see the spread of a conservative way of life. This is natural. But once they use state authorities and public funds to generate such a society they fall into the trap of authoritarian top-down social engineering. From this moment onwards they will lose the moral ground to criticize all other attempts of social engineering at the hands of the state. No one has the right to interfere in society to create his own “imagined” society. This indicates not only an authoritarian but also a totalitarian mindset.
In the long run it is futile and also not practical. The Kemalists failed in creating their own “loyal generation.” If they had succeeded we would have all been Kemalists, positivists and non-religious. We are not. Such policies do not create new generations of either Kemalist or religious masses but only destroy pluralism and democracy. At the end of the Kemalist indoctrination that lasted for decades an ex-Islamist politician is the prime minister today.
So social engineering does not work. The AK Party leadership should know this the best. But the issue is not whether it is possible to generate a “new generation,” the issue is that a government trying to do this will turn into an authoritarian one, dictating its own worldview to the people by using state authority and public funds.
It is more an issue of democracy and pluralism than secularism. Yet it clearly contradicts the notion of secularism defended by the AK Party itself as freedom of religion and conscience and neutrality of the state vis-à-vis all religions. Once the government asserts that “bringing up religious generations” is its governmental objective, this will constitute an intervention in the consciences of people. Here the term “religious generations” obviously refers to Islamic religiosity and a particular Sunni interpretation of it. Thus a state with such a mission violates the neutrality principle of secularism. In a normal secular state, even in the one so far advocated by the AK Party, it is not the duty of the state to bring up religious or non-religious generations.
You may wish to live in a society in which religious values and practices are upheld. This is perfectly fine. Individuals, civil society organizations, NGOs and religious circles should be free to spread their word.
The problem is that once you try to do it by using state authority and public funds, you may end up with a state with a religious mission.