What are we to do with Islam? The case of Turkey

Issue: 151

Ron Margulies

The question of the relationship between socialists on the one hand and Muslims and Islamic organisations on the other is of burning relevance both in the West and, even more so, in the countries of the Middle East.

In Western Europe and the United States the issue is straightforward. Official ideology demonises Islam and Muslims. Muslims in the West, with insignificant exceptions, are poor and working class. The fight against Islamophobia is thus a major element of the struggle both against racism and for working class unity. Organisations that make concessions to Islamophobia, in the name of secularism, modernity, civilisation or freedom of speech or expression (or anything else), will find themselves on the side of the state against a particularly poor section of the working class, on the side of racists against a generally defenceless and unorganised immigrant section of the population. No such organisation can hope to build any united working class struggle.

All of this should go without saying but, alas, it does not. The argument by parts of the French left, that the state was right to ban religious garb in schools, utterly failed to acknowledge that what was under discussion was not religion in general but Islam, not religious symbols but Islamic dress, not what French kids could or could not do but what members of a particular minority could or could not do. The issue was not one of secularism, but of racism. This is so clear as to have made any discussion of the matter unnecessary but, of course, it did not. The issue remains a live one, and not only in France.

Nevertheless, my concern here is not with the West, where the issue has been the subject of considerable debate and discussion,1 but with the Middle East. Mistakes in the West can have serious enough results, such as, for example, the alienation of Muslim migrant communities from the left and from organised politics in France. In the Middle East mistakes can cost thousands of lives, as with the destruction of the Iranian left after the revolution of 1979, or the current situation in Egypt, or what would have happened had the Turkish military succeeded in overthrowing Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in the first half of the 2000s. I shall concentrate here on Turkey, which I know best and am actively involved in, but the parallels, particularly with Egypt, will, I hope, be clear.

Modernisation and the exclusion of Islam

Almost all of Turkey’s citizens are Muslims. There are something like 60,000 Armenians, 20,000 Jews, less than 2,000 Greeks, and even smaller numbers of Assyrians and others in a total population of around 75 million. It might therefore be assumed that, as far as religion is concerned, the Turkish state has no problems with Muslims and Muslims have none with the state. It would be assumed wrongly.

A very large part of Turkey’s population did not fit the founding cadres’ idea of the ideal Turkish citizen when the republic was founded in 1923. The new Turkey was to be a nation-state, modern, secular and Western (the three terms were practically synonymous for Mustafa Kemal Atatürk and his comrades), and it was to be the Sunni Muslim Turk’s nation-state. Given that the country was founded upon the ruins of the Ottoman Empire, and was home to a multi-ethnic, multi-lingual, multi-religious population for much of which religion was of defining importance, no group of citizens was to the liking of the Kemalist cadres, who would no doubt have preferred the country to be inhabited by people who looked and lived like the French, whom the leading Kemalists (including Kemal himself) knew quite well and learned much from. Thus the very large Kurdish minority, being non-Turkish, did not fit; the large Alevi minority, being non-Sunni, did not fit; and the smaller Christian and Jewish minorities, being neither Turkish nor Muslim, certainly did not fit. But what about the Sunni Muslim Turkish majority?

I once delivered a talk on “Living in Peaceful Co-existence” to a gathering of delegates from 350 Islamic NGOs in Konya, a province in central Turkey. After I spoke of the miseries visited upon the Kurdish, Alevi and non-Muslim minorities by the Kemalist state, a woman sent me a written question: “I know very little of what was done to the minorities in this country and have much to learn. But you said nothing of what was done to us Sunni Muslims.” I must confess to considerable surprise. I had not given the matter any thought at all. No urban, Westernised, irreligious person, having been through the Kemalist education system like everyone else, ever did, or does today. In fact, the Sunni Muslim majority also failed to pass the Kemalist state’s test of “modernity” and “favoured citizenship”. It was considered to be too religious, too “Eastern”, too “backward”, illiterate and badly dressed, and living in Islamic darkness and ignorance.

With Atatürk as effective dictator, a one-party state proceeded to mould the population to its own design. Kurds were to be assimilated (and later, when that failed, their existence denied), the Alevi were ignored (and many massacred in 1938), and the non-Muslims were pushed out of the country. The Sunni majority, for its part, was forced into changing its way of life through a thoroughgoing programme of “reforms”. Laws were passed banning the traditional headgear (the fez), changing the alphabet (from the Arabic to the Latin) and the calendar (from the Islamic to the Gregorian). A State Symphony Orchestra, a State Philharmonic Orchestra and a State Opera and Ballet were founded and regularly sent touring the country, while the traditional Turkish musical instrument (the saz) was banned on state radio for a time. Departments teaching the traditional Islamic/Ottoman arts (calligraphy, illumination, the reed flute ney) were closed down at the School of Arts and at Istanbul University. There was a concerted attempt at “purifying” the language, revitalising its Central Asian and “truly Turkish” roots and purging it of Arabic and Persian words, the use of these being equated with backwardness and reaction. Official Kemalist discourse portrayed the Turks’ conversion to Islam in the 10th century as a misfortune, and the 600 years of Ottoman history as a period of Islamic darkness and stagnation.

No opposition was tolerated to any part of this programme of enforced Westernisation. More important than any specific policy, however, was the fact that the great majority of a largely peasant and deeply religious Sunni population were excluded from political and public life; they were looked down upon and patronised by an urban elite around the Kemalist bureaucracy. No woman wearing a headscarf and no man wearing the typical believer’s beard or peasant-looking clothes was ever allowed anywhere near the levers of power. While this was always an unspoken rule, there were even times when it was written into law—the headscarf was forbidden in the public domain, and women wearing it could not work in the public sector or attend school and university until recently. And this in a country where about three quarters of all women have always covered their heads in one way or another.

The left in Turkey remained in blissful ignorance of all this. And had it known, had it been at all interested, it would have approved. As early as 1925 Şefik Hüsnü, leader of the Communist Party, wrote: “Turkey faces two problems: The Kurdish problem and the problem of religious reaction.” The left was not much of a force until the latter part of the 1960s, and became a serious one thereafter, but Hüsnü’s two problems remained unchanging tenets. They had their political roots in Kemalism on the one hand and Stalinism on the other. The Kurdish problem was considered to be a threat to the integrity of the nation-state, and the problem of Islam to its “progressive” modernity.

For many decades, as the Kemalist state forcefully and successfully suppressed any political manifestation of Kurdish national aspirations and of Islamic resistance to Westernisation, the left could behave as if it was in a country where no Kurds lived and no one was a Muslim. Nothing needed to be said about the national question and nothing about religious freedom as, thanks to the Kemalist state, no Kurd and no believing Muslim could register a protest.

In my generation, and that which preceded it, all of us on the left read the national daily Cumhuriyet (Republic), the only paper with news about workers and trade unions, the paper that stood for the “enlightened” secular republic and against religious obscurantism, and, whenever the chips were down, called on the armed forces to defend Kemal’s legacy. This, we thought, and much of the left still thinks, is what it means to be on the left. Some of us may have felt that Cumhuriyet was a little too enamoured of the military, but it was still the paper of the left.

Islam enters the political stage

The roots of Tayyip Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) go back to Necmettin Erbakan and his National Outlook Movement in the late 1960s. Erbakan, a German-educated engineer, was chairman of the Association of Chambers of Industry and Commerce (representing small to medium Anatolian capital as opposed to Istanbul big business), favoured rapid state-led industrialisation, spoke up for the poor and the unemployed, stood for moral/national/Islamic values, and used strong nationalist, anti-imperialist, anti-Semitic language. He entered parliament in 1969 as a member of the ruling conservative party, which he left the following year to set up the National Order Party.

Within a year the party was prosecuted for “activities in breach of secularism”, and closed down by the Constitutional Court for “being in contravention of the principles of the secular state and Atatürk’s reforms”. As each one of his parties was closed down for similar reasons, Erbakan went on to set up four more over the next 30 years. He and his parties rubbed the Kemalist state and its defenders the wrong way in every imaginable manner. Even the names of the parties—Selamet (salvation), Refah (prosperity), Fazilet (virtue) and Saadet (felicity)—not specifically Islamic, but of Arabic origin and somewhat archaic, would appear reactionary to the Kemalist ear.

Erbakan’s parties polled 5 to 10 percent of the vote and remained minor but occasionally, when parliamentary arithmetic worked in their favour, key players until the latter half of the 1990s. Then, in the municipal elections of 1994, Refah won the metropolitan municipalities of Istanbul and Ankara, and with the general election of December 1995, which made Erbakan prime minister, Islam finally stepped onto the political stage. This set the alarm bells ringing shrilly in all the dark chambers of the state machine and the military began, from day one, to plot the government’s demise.

In fact Istanbul had been won (by Erdoğan) with 25.2 percent of the vote, Ankara with 31 percent, and the general election with a mere 21.4 percent. This was no Islamic fundamentalist avalanche. It was fragmentation on the centre-right and centre-left that had allowed Refah to break through. The party’s programme had nothing to say about Allah or his angels, while it dealt at length with economic inequality, unemployment and poverty. Erbakan’s government was a coalition with a conventional neoliberal conservative party headed by a thoroughly Western woman, Tansu Çiller, a professor of economics at Bosporus University, who became deputy prime minister. The coalition agreement required that the two leaders’ positions be reversed after two years.

There was, in short, not very much Erbakan could do to turn Turkey into an Islamic republic—he did not have the necessary social base, he did not control the government and he most certainly did not control the state. He talked the talk, was strong on token gestures, spoke of grand and unrealistic projects such as an Islamic United Nations, an Islamic Common Market and an Islamic currency, but did not even attempt to walk the walk. He even signed a defence industry cooperation agreement with Israel, while never ceasing to rage against Zionism, proving, if proof were needed, that rhetoric is one thing, matters of state another.

His first overseas state visit as prime minister was to Iran, Pakistan, Malaysia and Indonesia, which meant nothing but, like everything else he did, caused an absolute furore in the media, the salons of the middle class and the offices of the military chiefs of staff. Similarly, all hell broke loose when Erbakan invited the leaders of the religious orders and brotherhoods to break the Ramadan fast with him at the prime ministerial residence. Seeing these men with their beards and flowing robes would irritate the general and the bureaucrat even in the street; seeing them dining with the prime minister at his official residence was worse than a nightmare and considered to be a wilful slap in the face of the secular republic.

The final straw was a “Jerusalem Evening” organised in February 1997 by the municipality of Sincan, an outlying district of Ankara. It was an evening of solidarity with Palestine and protest at the Israeli occupation of Jerusalem. There were fiery speeches, a play was staged by an amateur theatre group and the Iranian ambassador was among the guests. Given the degree of support in Turkey for the Palestinian cause, this may be thought to be normal. But no. Four days later 20 tanks and 15 armoured vehicles paraded through the streets of Sincan for no apparent reason, although, having suffered three military takeovers in the preceding four decades, no one in the country was in any doubt about the meaning of tanks in the streets.

Three weeks later the National Security Council held a nine hour long meeting, at the end of which it reiterated that it was the guarantor of democracy and the rule of law, and handed the government a memorandum demanding that laws on secularism be enforced, religious brotherhoods be outlawed, Qur’an courses be controlled more strictly, anti-Atatürk activities be penalised, the media be controlled to stop it from portraying the armed forces as anti-religious and defending officers expelled from the army for being “reactionary”, and more.

The Erbakan government survived until June, but it was dead in the water. The Joint Chiefs of Staff held briefings at its headquarters for journalists, the judiciary and academics, and a systematic smear campaign was organised against government and religious figures. Nobody was in any doubt that if the government refused to go, a coup d’état would overthrow it.

The government chose to go, and the date of the memorandum, 28 February, became part of the language, like those of the previous military coups: 27 May (1960), 12 March (1971) and 12 September (1980). The date was traumatically etched into the consciousness of politically aware Muslims who, whether they had voted for Erbakan or not, knew that the powers that be had once again kept them out of the political life of the country.

Erbakan’s rise and overthrow forced the left, for the first time, to take a position on Islam. Having seen his election success as a victory for “reaction”, most organisations of the left (and all Kemalist organisations widely thought of as left wing) could hardly conceal their pleasure at his removal by the military. The popular slogan of the time, “Neither the government nor the military”, may sound fine, but when the former has just been forced out of office by a group of unelected armed men, it is pure sophistry.

The AKP government and its voters

The military’s success in defending Kemal’s legacy was to be short-lived. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and friends broke away from Refah to set up the Justice and Development Party and, within months of the party’s formation in 2002, came to power with 34 percent of the vote (and, thanks to the vagaries of the election system, 66 percent of the deputies).

This was, and remains, a government that it would be very difficult to describe as Islamist, except in the sense that it came from an Islamic tradition. It carefully eschewed even the tokenistic shows of Islamism so favoured by Erbakan, and waited many years before dealing even with such a basic issue as the ban on women wearing headscarves at universities. Nevertheless, what followed the AKP’s election was quite striking. The machinery of the Kemalist state, from the Joint Chiefs of Staff to the shadowy organisations of the “deep state”, sprang into action, hatching detailed plans for a military takeover on the one hand, and mobilising the Westernised, educated, secular middle class against the government thus creating an apparent popular base for a takeover on the other.

Real alarm spread through the wealthier districts of the big cities and the coastal areas as a well-orchestrated campaign screamed about impending doom, the introduction of sharia law, the compulsory veiling of women and a return to the “dark ages”. Cumhuriyet’s headline of 2006, “Are you aware of the danger?” in a typeface made to resemble Arabic script, summed the campaign up, as well contributing to it.

While the state and the “white Turk” middle class whipped each other into a mutual frenzy of Islamophobic fear and activism, who was it who voted for the AKP? Without going into geographical details that would mean little to non-Turkish readers, the AKP vote came, and continues to come, from mainly urban and mainly poor areas throughout the country (even in the Kurdish provinces, where the government’s vote is generally lower). This is clearest in Istanbul and Ankara, where the municipalities of the richest, upper class districts are all run by the so-called social democratic Republican People’s Party (CHP), and all the others by the AKP (with the highest votes in the poorest districts). Industrial, working class constituencies everywhere were, and remain, AKP strongholds.

As the campaign to destabilise and discredit the government continued apace, plans were leaked for several coups d’état. Most revealingly, diaries kept by the chief of naval staff, leaked, published and freely available on the web, showed that the top generals discussed little other than how to topple the country’s elected government. What held them back was the difficulty of legitimising, both domestically and abroad, the overthrow of a popular government that had done nothing illegal or unconstitutional. They therefore made plans to make it look like it had. One such plan, codenamed “Sledgehammer”, envisaged, among other things, the murder of non-Muslim public figures in order that blame could be laid at an “Islamist” government’s door. They also ensured that mass meetings “to defend the republic” were organised, where calls for the army to “do its duty” were openly voiced.

All of this made not the slightest dent in the AKP’s popular support. Quite the contrary. Starting at 34.3 percent in 2002, its vote went up to 46.6 percent and then again to 49.8 percent in the general elections of 2007 and 2011, dipped to 40.9 percent in June 2015 and recovered to reach 49.5 percent that November. Throughout this time the CHP’s vote remained practically unchanged at around 25 percent. Clearly, none of the AKP’s voters were “aware of the danger”!

The story of the AKP’s progression from a somewhat reforming party, albeit in a reluctant and very limited way, to an increasingly authoritarian one led by a man with a growing penchant for dictatorial rule does not belong in this article. Suffice it to say that this is what happened and that, while many had great illusions in the party, there was in fact nothing particularly surprising about it. This is, after all, a party from a tradition that is not only Islamist but also socially and economically deeply conservative, strongly nationalistic and not particularly democratic. There is little in the AKP’s political trajectory that begs for an explanation.

What concerns me here is this: Where a party has remained in office for 14 years polling between 40 and 50 percent in four consecutive general elections, and has done so while implementing a set of policies in the latter third of its period of office that cannot be seen as anything other than objectionable, its electoral success certainly requires an explanation. Such explanation may be an interesting exercise for the political scientist, but it is an absolutely necessity for those of us who wish to oppose the government; without it no socialist politics is possible in Turkey.

A number of facile explanations have been popular on the left, using “the left” in the broadest sense to cover the spectrum from the staunchly Kemalist CHP which thinks of itself as social democratic, to the extreme left. The most jejune of these is that the AKP bribes people by handing out free groceries and/or coal for household heating and/or washing machines at election times. A similarly self-comforting explanation is that the AKP cheats in elections, spiriting away voting slips, getting its members to vote more than once, etc. Some of these things do perhaps happen here and there, but can this explain 23 million votes? Are people so stupid and mindless?

Another explanation, particularly popular with CHP members, is precisely that AKP voters are stupid, misguided and ill-educated, that they cannot see what is good for them and fail to appreciate what Kemal Atatürk did for the country. This blatant elitism, along the lines of “these people deserve the government they’ve got”, is a clear example of the middle classes’ disdain for the poor and the worker, and is occasionally expressed quite explicitly by the less bright CHP politicians and journalists.

There are, in fact, two basic explanations for the AKP’s remarkable popularity. One is straightforwardly to do with the economy. In the first five years of the AKP government, 2003-2007, the GDP growth rate was 5.3, 9.4, 8.4, 6.9 and 4.7 percent, according to World Bank figures. After two years when the world crisis hit the economy, recovery was swift and striking, with growth rates of 9.2, 8.8, 2.1, 4.2 and 2.9 percent in 2010-2014. There is much that can be said about these figures, particularly the slowdown since 2012. But the bottom line is that in the period 2003-2014, the latter half of which has seen world capitalism in deep and prolonged crisis, the Turkish economy grew at an average rate of 4.7 percent annually. How much of this performance was due to the government’s management of the economy and how much to good luck and external factors is open to discussion, but the fact that people felt things were going well is not.

There was also a real and widespread sense of general well-being in the country, engendered not only by the economy but also by the period of political stability which followed 2002. It needs to be borne in mind that Turkey had been run by unstable and often short-lived coalition governments (or the military) for almost all of the preceding 30 years. By contrast, AKP rule appeared, certainly in its first half, stable, solid and free of political strife, not only to ordinary people but also to big business. The government played its cards well, treading cautiously, avoiding confrontation with its opponents and stepping back when anything it tried to do seemed to trigger too great a reaction.

The second, and perhaps more fundamental, reason for the AKP’s lasting popularity is that its voters, something like half the population, believing Muslims who have breathed a sigh of relief after 80 years of Kemalism, remember the past well and do not wish to return to it. The overthrow of the Erbakan government on 28 February 1997 and the backlash against Muslims in public life that preceded and followed it are fresh in people’s memories. The longer history of exclusion, humiliation, belittlement and repression is etched onto the Muslim communal memory. Whatever they may feel about this or that specific AKP policy, their overwhelming feeling since 2002 is that the pressure on them has been lifted and their religious beliefs are no longer something best kept under wraps. They no longer feel like pariahs pushed into the position of passive spectators of the country’s destiny; they feel empowered by seeing people like themselves, people who think and speak as they do, in government.

Opposing the AKP

The left has failed utterly to comprehend any of this. Particularly in its earlier years, left opposition to the government took the form not of a critique of its conservative social policies and neoliberal economic programme, but of resistance to its perceived “Islamist”, “anti-enlightenment”, “anti-republic”, “non-modern”, “reactionary” nature. All of these adjectives were well understood by Muslim voters as the key elements of the Kemalist state’s view of them. The symbols of the CHP opposition, around which the middle class rallied, were portraits of Kemal Atatürk and the Turkish flag, symbolising, once again, the secular state and official ideology.

While the far-left did not use these images quite so explicitly, two of the more publicly visible organisations of the left, the Communist Party and the ex-Maoist Workers’ Party (which recently and very appropriately changed its name to the Motherland Party), certainly stood solidly by Kemal Atatürk and the republic. The CP argued that it was crucial to “defend the gains of the republic”, while the Motherland Party called for “Kemal’s laws” to be applied, by which they meant that Islamist leaders should be hanged.

Starting in 2007, when the government gave the green light to the judiciary to go after officers and civilians involved in plotting a military takeover, and dozens of generals and others were put in prison, all of the left claimed that the cases against the plotters were bogus. The CHP and the Motherland Party organised demonstrations, awash with Turkish flags, outside the prison where the generals were held. Much of the left argued that the whole thing was a plot by the AKP, or by imperialist forces, or by the AKP acting as a tool of the imperialists, designed to weaken the Turkish state by emasculating its military guardians. It does not seem to have struck any of them as odd to portray the Turkish army as an anti-imperialist force!

Everything said and done by this opposition to the AKP government would have been familiar to its voters, reminded them of why they had voted for the government in the first place, and seen by them as a threat and a reminder of what might happen if the government were to fall. What this did was to push the AKP vote up, and it continues to keep it at a high level. It has also ensured that the CHP vote does not move above 25 percent, even when the government is in deep trouble, and that the left has become increasingly marginalised, with many of its organisations suffering repeated splits.

The inability of much of the left to understand why working people vote for the AKP and the assumption that they do so because they are stupid and reactionary simply results in the left becoming politically irrelevant and meaningless in the eyes of the people who constitute its natural constituency. If I may be allowed to state what is obvious but often forgotten, Muslims are not just Muslims; they are human beings living in the real world with material aims, concerns and interests; they are rich or poor, members of a parasitic royal family or workers, involved in profitable business deals with Western companies or cowering under Western aircraft dropping bombs on them. Why exactly people who believe in a certain god and a certain religion and wish to do so without being persecuted for it should be thought to be necessarily reactionary or conservative and not to aspire to a better world is hard to understand, except in the light of Kemalist and Stalinist dogma.

There is nothing in Marxist theory that can lead one to believe any such thing. Quite the opposite. Frederick Engels, for example, writes:

Christianity was originally a movement of oppressed people: it first appeared as the religion of slaves and emancipated slaves, of poor people deprived of all rights, of peoples subjugated or dispersed by Rome. Both Christianity and the workers’ socialism preach forthcoming salvation from bondage and misery; Christianity places this salvation in a life beyond, after death, in heaven; socialism places it in this world, in a transformation of society.2.

Karl Marx refers to religion not only as “the opium of the people” but also as “the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions”.3

If, as Marx also says, the emancipation of the working class must be the act of the workers themselves, then for socialists the luxury of considering the working class to be too religious and not modern and enlightened enough does not exist. Dismissing the class and replacing it with one more to the liking of the left is not a realistic option. The task for socialists in Turkey is to find ways to drive a wedge between the “Islamist” government (or, in much of the rest of the Middle East, the leadership of an Islamist organisation) and the working class that supports it.

This is not a difficult task. Islamist governments are not just Islamist. Where they are not out and out dictatorships, they are, without exception, conservative, neoliberal, more or less repressive administrations that serve the interests of a ruling class and have no possibility (or desire) to meet the demands and aspirations of the vast majority of the population. Being Islamist may in certain cases, as in Turkey, give them preferential treatment by the population, but only so far and only for so long.

The AKP government suffers from the same inherent contradiction that Mohammed Mursi’s government in Egypt faced. It is a government committed to the interests of Turkish capitalism and the policies of neoliberalism it demands, while being supported by the working class and the urban poor whose interests demand otherwise. Opposition to the government on the basis of its “Islamism” only serves to paper over the contradictions between it and its poor, working class base, and binds them closer. The contradiction then appears to be between Islamists and secularists, and class differences are pushed into the background.

The past three years have been extremely difficult for the AKP government. Faced with accusations of corruption, widely believed to be true even by its own supporters, it has wreaked havoc with the judicial process and the judiciary, made a mockery of freedom of expression, used the police against any sign of opposition, “postponed” a number of major strikes, most notably by metal workers, seen its Middle East policy reduced to tatters, and restarted the war against the Kurdish movement. The sense of national stability and well-being that characterised its early years is but a distant memory. As a result, the AKP lost one fifth of its voters in the inconclusive general election in June last year, with its vote coming down from about 50 percent in 2011 to about 40 percent. A second general election in November saw the AKP regain its lost votes, but this was clearly not because the voters who had deserted it in June were suddenly enamoured of the party again. The AKP’s pre-November campaign was all about painting itself as the party of peace and stability and stressing the country’s need to avoid an ineffective coalition government. This clearly worked, as people were convinced of the need for strong and stable government at a time when imperialist intervention was turning the Middle East into a powder keg and the war in Turkish Kurdistan was heating up.

Whoever voted for the AKP in search of peace and stability, however, will now be even more concerned and unhappy with the government’s policies. The war in Kurdistan has claimed about 6,000 lives, relations with Russia at one point teetered on the brink of war, direct involvement in the war in Syria appeared, at another point, to be drawing close, the tourism industry has died a sudden death, and President Erdoğan appears intent on conflict, domestically and internationally. This is not what anyone voted for. Those who had deserted the AKP in June and returned to it in October will be unhappiest, but even those who stuck with the government in June cannot be happy. They can be won over, but not to any party that looks down on them and sees their religious faith as a problem.

None of those who abandoned the government last June voted for the CHP. And they would not do so even today. They still await an alternative that does not see them as an undifferentiated mass of Islamic reactionaries, but addresses their real problems, concerns and aspirations.

Ron Margulies is a journalist and a member of the Revolutionary Socialist Workers Party (DSIP) in Istanbul, Turkey.


1 Including in this journal, see Davison, 2016, Wolfreys, 2015, and Mahamdallie, 2015.

2 Engels, 1957.

3 Marx, 1975, p244.


Davison, Kate, 2016, “Atheism, Secularism and Religious Freedom: Debates within the German Left”, International Socialism 150 (spring), http://isj.org.uk/atheism-secularism-and-religious-freedom

Engels, Friedrich, 1957 [1894], “On the History of Early Christianity”, www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1894/early-christianity/

Mahamdallie, Hassan, 2015, “Islamophobia: The Othering of Europe’s Muslims”, International Socialism 146 (spring), http://isj.org.uk/islamophobia-the-othering-of-europes-muslims

Marx, Karl, 1975, Early Writings (Penguin).

Wolfreys, Jim, 2015, “After the Paris Attacks: An Islamophobic Spiral”, International Socialism 146 (spring), http://isj.org.uk/after-the-paris-attacks