Does secularism really matter? Yes, and Turkey today is an example of what can happen if you do not agree.


SecularismLets start be understanding what the term secularism does and does not mean. It does not mean that all religious beliefs should be banned, because unlike many forms of belief that will not tolerate non-belief or other beliefs, secularism is just about the separation of church and state. Why does this matter? Well because the state holds power over all, so if one specific belief gains power, then it will suppress all others, and that is the inevitable outcome of a truly held belief that gains some political advantage. An assertion to a specific truth by definition means that other beliefs must be wrong, and so if believed then it becomes a moral imperative to protect citizens by suppressing other ‘wrong’ beliefs. In other words, belief cannot and must not be trusted within a political arena.

Now please do not panic, especially if you are religious, because this is not about the dominance of non-belief, but rather is about a rather basic human right called freedom of thought. People should be free to believe whatever they wish, even if it is obvious to everybody else that it is not actually true, and the only means to guarantee such a freedom is to have a completely level playing field, one in which the state remains neutral towards all variations of belief.

It always strikes me as odd to find some variations of religion arguing against secularism, because what they fail to grasp is that it is secularism that guarantees their freedom to believe. Every time I hear some Catholic thinker denounce the evils of secularism, I can only wonder just how quickly the tune would change should some government decide, “hey you are quite right, we will do away with all this secular stuff and vigorously promote Islam, oh and that will mean shutting all those Catholic schools because your belief is wrong“. What they actually mean when they denounce secularism is that their specific Catholic belief is not granted special privilege to dominate.

Safak-PaveySpeaking of special privilege, Şafak Pavey, a member of the Turkish parliament, representing Istanbul province for the main opposition party, CHP, writes in the Guardian about what is going on in Turkey, a state where a rather religious Prime Minister is attempting to roll-back secularism and crowbar in his specific variation of belief as the right one. She writes

Secularism: what does it mean to the people of Turkey? Is it simply a question of whether we can buy alcohol when we please, or whether the cabin crew of Turkish airlines are allowed to wear red lipstick?

No, of course not, and so she then goes on to not only explain what it is really all about, but to also outline how things are going very wrong …

Education, for one thing, is in peril. Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development (AK) party has given the lion’s share of the budget to mosques and religious schools, cutting schools that provide secular education adrift. There are 67,000 schools and 85,000 mosques. Over the past few months, in Istanbul alone, 98 primary schools have been converted into state-run religious Imam Hatip schools.

Freedom of speech is also threatened. It is well known that Turkey has more imprisoned journalists than any other country, but as a result of the chilling effect of these prosecutions on the press, many stories never make the news.

Why is it now like this, what happened to a state that was founded as a secular state? Because a religious lunatic got elected, he is now attempting to impose his specific variation of belief. This is not just Islam vs non-Islam, but is all about a very specific variation of Islamic belief attempting to gain a special position.

The government has embarked on a process of reshaping Turkey. In our country today, politics – and many other aspects of social and economic life – are increasingly differentiated on the basis of how pious people are. It takes great courage to eat in public during the month of Ramadan fasting. Religion classes in schools teach the protocols of worship instead of religious philosophy. Those, such as the Alevis, who do not embrace the Sunni tradition, are considered adversaries by the government. While the impeccable legal status that was previously accorded to women has not been challenged, profound transformations in women’s social status have taken place, and the prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, urges them to stay at home and have more children.

As long as you are a Sunni Muslim and male, you will be fine and perhaps quite happy about all of this. If however you are female or happen to embrace some other variation of Islam, or for that matter some other belief or non-belief, then you are now basically stuffed.

And of course the inevitable result manifests itself, suppression of basic human rights such as freedom of speech and rampant corruption.
This is an example of what can happen to personal freedoms and liberty when you start to dismantle secularism. They are walking down the road to a religious dictatorship and the end game is a sate such as Iran, or Saudi Arabia.

So does secularism matter? In a word ‘yes’, because the alternative is to have self-appointed clerics dictate all that you do and all you think. You can have either equality and liberty for all, or none.

Today the rising tide of one specific belief threatens to rip Turkish society apart thus demonstrating that beliefs simply cannot be trusted to have any part of any state … ever.

I’ve no idea who wrote this or where it originally comes from, but I do find that it sums it all up quite well.

Religion is like a penis …
    It’s okay to have one
    It’s okay to be proud of it
But please …
    Do not pull it out in public
    Do not force it on children
    Do not write laws with it
    Do not think with it

Leave a Reply