İHSAN YILMAZ

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İHSAN YILMAZ
January 02, 2013, Wednesday

Meritocracy and practicing Muslims

Practicing Muslims have been proudly claiming that their religion gives much emphasis to meritocracy and justice. If you talk to them about this issue, they can give several examples from the life of the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him), arguing that when it comes to business or work, a Muslim's first and foremost criterion is merit and never religion or the religiosity of the individual. Nevertheless, there is a discrepancy between Islam's beautiful creed and the practice of its believers, ranging from prophet-like saints to serial sinners. In Turkey, this discrepancy could easily be observed with regard to the lack of meritocracy.

One of the biggest mistakes of the Kemalists was their blatant disrespect for meritocracy. They have made an effort to create a sort of bonding social capital around the Kemalists' palatable citizen, the LAST (Laicist, Atatürkist, Sunni Muslim, Turk) and did not trust any of the non-LAST others. Whatever the merits the non-LASTs, they would not be allowed to receive good positions in sensitive state institutions, universities and so on. Even today, there is not even a single general or captain who openly practices Islam, who has a manifest Kurdish identity or who is manifestly not an Atatürkist.

Despite the late President Turgut Özal's meritocratic efforts and the Justice and Development Party's (AKP) anti-hegemonic inroads, this is still the case in the military and to a great extent in the middle and upper echelons of the Foreign Ministry and the judiciary. In the (pseudo-) civilian realm, including media, art and business as well, favoritism and nepotism are widespread. This ideological incest and disrespect for meritocracy have suffocated the Kemalists and caused them to lose their intellectual rigor and agility, among other losses. Today they are extremely upset with the fact that the AKP has been in power for more than a decade, yet they are able to devise no credible, sound or robust ideological alternative. They are not aware that this is a simple result of decades of self-neglect, stemming from the lack of meritocracy. It will take a long time for them to recover, even if this is likely.

As the children of Kemalistan, the others -- those with manifestly different non-Kemalist or non-LAST identities but who have latent Kemalist identities -- are adamant to repeat the Kemalists' mistakes instead of learning from them. If state-centrism, nationalism, top-down social engineering, militarism and authoritarianism are some of these mistakes, nepotism, favoritism and lack of meritocracy are others. Make no mistake: I am not only referring to the politics, politicians and state jobs, tenders and so on. It is observable in every field of life. Let me give an example from my own profession: the academia. If an administrator of a public or private university who is a practicing Muslim continuously protects the position of an unsuccessful academic just because he is also a practicing Muslim, the university will be unable to reach top quality academic standards. These unsuccessful academics, who will be very loyal to the administrator who had defended them despite their academic incompetency, will consistently create trouble for the truly successful academics to the degree that they can be silenced on matters of academic quality or, even better, quit the university. This lack of meritocracy also represents an injustice and sin, as students will be deprived of a good education from quality academics who would normally be present but in this case avoid the university in question.

Due to the present political conjuncture and the weak intellectual caliber of the Kemalists, practicing Muslims may be surfing the favorable tide. But no one knows if and when a strong opposing wind will emerge. The great father of sociology Ibn Khaldun has been repeatedly and consistently proven correct in his analysis of the cycle of civilizations. If Turkey's overconfident practicing Muslims continue to ignore their religion's emphasis on justice and meritocracy, they are destined to lose not only in the long run but in the medium as well -- not only in this world, but in the hereafter, too.

We cannot build a civilization based on injustice and a lack of meritocracy. 

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