Imam Or Teacher–Who Will Win In Turkey?

Turkey is engaged in a struggle between religious and secular forces not only for the soul of its society, but over who will control its institutions of power. Yusuf Kanli, writing in the Turkish Daily News, confronts the issue as to which side will win. He quotes Professor Serif Mardin who recently posed the question as to whether the imam or the teacher will capture the minds of the Turkish people. Professor Mardin suggests there is a vast counter movement on the part of Turkish religious leaders who seek to extend their control over every aspect of society. Many Turkish religious figures look towards Iran as the model for what should occur in their own society since that nation’s control by religious leaders is total in its scope.

Yusuf Kanli argues, “thus the struggle between the imam and the teacher or between relligious conservatism and secular democratic republic is not yet won by either for the time being, though it is clear that the republic is trying to resist a grand siege.” We in nations like America are bewildered over attempts to prevent females from wearing a headscarf at the university because our secular society is strong enough to allow such behavior without threatening our secular foundations as a society, but Turkey is closer to a situation in which forces of religion are seeking complete control and the headscarf is merely a symbol of that effort.

Many Turks are discussing a recent TV talk show in which two girls attacked their nation’s founder, Attaturk, who they claimed had set back the right for religion in their country and proclaimed they preferred Iran’s religious leader, the Ayatollah Khamenei. They said the goal of religion in Turkey is to take control over every facet of society including the imposition of sharia law. These comments shocked secular forces in Turkey.

The reality of modern Turkey is there are more mosques than schools an more imams than teachers. Can Turkey retain its secular foundation in the face of such figures?