July 12, 2012, Thursday

Religious Affairs Directorate on brink of illegitimacy

The developments over the last decade have certified that the military’s involvement in political affairs was illegitimate.

 The critical stage in these developments was the mental revolution that took place which enabled the initiation of the Ergenekon and Balyoz cases, as opposed to the cases themselves.

The strength of the administration that did this stemmed from two sources: First, that it became the biggest political party in Turkey, and second that the Islamic circles went through a process of self-criticism in the aftermath of the Feb. 28, 1997 coup. In other words, what enabled the Justice and Development Party (AKP) to take action against the military was the confrontation that it started in order to expand its own sphere of legitimacy. In response, the military resisted this, pushing itself into a crisis of legitimacy.

In a world where democracy is the general norm, eagerness to impose guardianship over civilian politics and to singularly address fundamental problems was no longer acceptable. It should be recalled that we are still talking about a country where the state is unable to check the military’s activities, and nor is it asked for by Parliament or by the people. In other words, we are not concerned about the legitimacy of the military in its sphere of action and authority. Exceeding the boundaries of legitimacy emerges out of the desire of the military to expand its sphere of authority at the expense of others.

This unique perception of legitimacy is consistent with the Ottoman past. In this patrimonial system where politics spin around a central authority, every institution and group within this institution is used to viewing politics as a tool to expand its sphere of authority in order to get closer to the center. Perhaps it is for this reason that the idea of democracy is perceived as the creation of a just and mutual balance between institutions rather than the participation of the people and their determinative role.

All in all, this means that the institutions that mind their own business and do not disrupt the balance between the institutions will survive, based on the democratic customs in Turkey, even if they become useless and idle. However, it will not be surprising to see that those who violate this rule will face a crisis of legitimacy. Most recently, the Religious Affairs Directorate has come to face such a position. While it is administered by a competent scholar and this makes a constructive change within the institution possible, it is called to take action outside of its sphere of competence under the influence of the AKP administration.

The image of the directorate was undermined when it was forced to deliver its view on the issue of abortion. Being forced to deliver a religious verdict on the abortion issue damaged the directorate because a view that could be deferred to by a portion of Sunni Muslims alone was presented as though it was a general truth in the discourse of politicians and then the bill relating to this issue was attributed to the directorate. We could conclude that the directorate was aware of this because they abstained from making a new statement on the abortion issue. The same is taking place in respect to the Alevism issue. The directorate was asked to express its view on the construction of a cemevi in Parliament; it said Alevism was not a sect and that it had to be considered part of the Sunni path, therefore implying that the Alevis should use mosques for worship. There is no problem of legitimacy in this position of the directorate. As an institution that interprets Islam from a Sunni perspective, it is only normal that it adopts this position. However, it is not legitimate to expect that this view will be accepted and endorsed by Alevis and others because this means the directorate is involved in the working of Parliament, which causes erosion in the boundaries that preserve the dignity and legitimacy of the institution. The gist of the matter is that the directorate’s ability of representation is fairly limited and that it gains legitimacy based on the perception of the people. In other words, the legitimacy of the directorate is based on the people who view this institution as an authority in religious matters; however, not all people have this view. The directorate only has the right to speak to the people who see it as a proper guide.

Alevis do not attribute a positive meaning to the views expressed by this institution or even to the institution itself. Therefore, it will not be wrong to say that the directorate will travel along a slippery path towards a state of illegitimacy as it gets more involved in the Alevism issue. Democratic sensitivity requires that the directorate offer its services to the Sunnis only and that the boundaries of this service are determined by the Sunni community. The directorate may have a view on Alevism. But it cannot express this view. This is the business of political actors; and the ambition to subordinate the Alevis to the Sunni path by reliance on the directorate will move the AKP to illegitimate ground.

Previous articles of the columnist