Ideologically speaking, too, Kemalism is dead. The two faces of Kemalism, namely radical secularism and ethnic nationalism, desperately need facelifts. Secularism as a mechanism to exclude and oppress the conservatives cannot be sustained. It should be included in a democratic content that enables all faith groups to exercise full freedom for their activities. An imagined “single nation of the Turks” is not convincing, even for nationalist Turks. Recognition of the Kurdish ethnicity and identity is a must to build social peace and political order.
All of these would be good for the practice of democracy in Turkey if only the “new elite” were immune to the bad habits of the old elite. We see continuities in the usage of the state apparatus to construct a “particular type of person”. It seems that “state-made citizens” is the constant objective of governments in Turkey, be them Kemalist or conservative. The end results they seek may be different in form and in terms of values, but the means used and objectives sought have not changed.
What I am trying to say is that social engineering at the hands of the state is somehow continuing with the Justice and Development (AK Party) government. This has become visible in the field of education and in cultural policies. It seems that Primer Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's stated objective “to raise religious generations” is shaping the government's educational and cultural policies. The use of state power to “form” the minds, habits and lifestyles of citizens obviously cannot be reconciled with liberal values. For the AK Party, such a policy would be defended as part and parcel of its conservative identity.
But the problem is that once the AK Party uses the state apparatus to construct “conservative citizens,” by, for instance, reorganizing the educational system “to raise religious generations,” it appears to be following the path of Kemalism, which for years sought to create “secular and Turkish citizens.”
Such a path is not only unethical but is also impractical. One should also not forget the tension and conflict generated by cultural policies to create uniform citizens by state intervention.
It is futile to construct “identities” through state institutions and policies. If a particular identity is imposed by the state, it will either fail or succeed. If such a project were to fail, it would mean the resources used to this end would have been wasted. Additionally, there would be the cost of the conflict likely to erupt between the society subjected to identity transformation and the state imposing its own values.
If such a policy succeeds, you end up with a society subservient to and dependent on the state that has lost its dynamism, creativity and plurality.
This has been the case in Turkey since the formation of the republic, when the Kemalist state imposed its own secular and ethnic values on the masses and the people resisted these state-imposed identities.
So, it is futile to try again, with the state this time imposing conservatives values that are “nationalized” by the state.
Besides, such a state would not only be dictating conservative values to “secular” people, it would also be imposing a particular set of conservative values on the conservatives who may be denied their own choice of conservatism. The teaching religion in all schools, as envisaged by the recent change in the education system, will empower the state over society and grant it greater presence in religious affairs, which is supposed to belong to the realm of society.
A state that teaches the people their religion steps into the realm of society, which is where religion belongs. Out of this, a hierarchical relationship will be built between the state and society, in favor of the former.
In short, using the same Kemalist means and methods “to create a conservative society” will result in a post-Kemalist tutelage, not a post-Kemalist democracy. Conservative social forces will not be better off under such a regime because the state will occupy all social space, eliminating independent social forces, including the conservative ones.