Ali Duran Topuz
Turkey’s new regime and the self-destruction of the judiciary
If there is to be a new state, there must also be a new religion. In this endeavor, Devlet Bahceli and Suleyman Soylu* are insufficient by themselves. Cursing and swearing at citizens and politicians and calling them all manner of names is also insufficient. Instead, it is essential to find new actors, new actions, and new campaigns. The pivotal figure in this new regime and its new religion, perhaps even more important than Devlet Bahceli or even Dogu Perincek, is the head of the Ministry of Religious Affairs who ambles about with a sword in hand. A mandate (excuse me, I meant “fatwa” though we will get to that part later) by this new religion’s crucial element led to monumental developments yesterday in this series of “Things We’ve Lived to See.”
First, let us summarize the last episode: The Religious Affairs Ministry, the hero in this story, sends a letter (pardon me, I actually mean “fatwa”, but we are not at that part of the story yet) to the supporting actor, the Istanbul Judiciary. The letter written by the “Office of the Legal Advisor” reads: “You know Ihsan Eliacik? Right, you know his book ‘The Living Quran – Turkish Translation and Exegesis of the Quran According to Order of Revelation?’ Okay, stop the printing and publishing of that book, and gather and destroy copies that have already been printed.”
BOTH INSTITUTIONS HAVE THE SAME HEAD
There is nothing exciting up until this point; anyone who wishes can demand any decision of their choosing from the courts. But of course, attentive viewers of this production know that when a demand is made by the director of an institution with a budget of 35 billion Turkish liras, who drives in luxury cars worth millions, and who saunters about with a sword hanging from his waist, it is imperative to sit up and take notice! After all, the courts are people too, they might be captivated by this grandeur. Besides, the Religious Affairs Ministry is beholden to the chief, that is the Prime Minister, that is the President. As a senior judicial actor once said, the President is the head of the judiciary and hence the head of the Ministry as well.
So, a member of the judiciary at one of these Peace Courts in Istanbul takes the letter and gives it a read. “Hmm, so they want to ban, gather, and destroy books,” he says as he ponders. Though the cameras recording the scene portray him as considering the contents of the letter, there is actually no thinking being done. If there had been, we would have seen it in the legal justification in the court’s decision.
THE REASONING ACCEPTED WITHOUT QUESTION
The court receives the request in the letter and makes it the first sentence of their decision. In the second sentence, it briefly mentions the “reason” for the ban/gather/destroy demand coming from the Ministry, but offers no discussion, no perspective, no opinion, and no analysis. Instead, it simply hands down the decision based on the “reason” in the Ministry’s request: “…the translation includes elements that are objectionable with regard to the fundamental features of the religion of Islam…” It is as though the Ministry, as if it were a superior institution, wrote the letter using language in the imperative form, while the court, as a public servant, was obligated to produce a text suitable to the directives. In this way, the “letter” of the Ministry was turned into the legislation of the court.
A felicitous decision, is it not? Certainly, it would be rather tedious for the Ministry’s director to personally visit every location and pass the judgement himself just because he holds a sword in hand. That task must be given to the supporting actors.
Let us pause briefly here to take a close look at the court’s decision so that we can refute those who might say, “Hey now, this is an insult to the judiciary.” It really is only a decision of five sentences. The first sentence is reserved for explaining the Ministry’s request. The second sentence replicates the Ministry’s “justification” for the ban-destroy request, and is followed quickly by an acceptance and transformation of the request into judgement. As such, calling the judiciary a “supporting actor” is perhaps even a compliment, not an insult — for the court, through this decision, has positioned itself as the Ministry’s clerk at most. There is no trace of deductive reasoning, a crumb of information, or a need for an “objective expert” present in the decision. The matter is simply that, “If the Ministry has said so, it must be done.”
THE POWER CONSOLIDATED STEP BY STEP
As a matter of fact, the Erdogan administrations (including the first Abdullah Gul administration) have worked to empower the Religious Affairs Ministry to this degree since the year 2002. To be clear, this power does not belong inherently to the Ministry; it belongs to those who have given this power to the Ministry. This power is also entirely unrelated to ideals of reinforcing faith and religiosity. At its core, this power is the necessary element to establish the desired new regime’s new religion. Similarly, in 1924 when the Ministry was being founded, it was intended to serve the concept of “the new state’s new religion.” Today, Erdogan, arm in arm with Bahceli, continues to expand the role initially intended for the Ministry as part of the new religion of the new regime. As part of this expansion, Erdogan transforms the Ministry from a supporting actor to the main protagonist with a better car, a sharper sword, and a bigger budget. This decision is the one that best demonstrates that the courts are an assistant in the new regime while the Ministry is the main actor.
The decision proves one other thing: As the new regime’s new religion is being formed, the rules, translations, and exegeses of the previous regime’s religion must be reviewed. The point in question is not the Quran itself. The point is to what degree current religious entities, beings, decrees, commentaries, translations, and exegeses, including the Quran, serve the goals of the new regime’s authority. This wave, if it is needed to maintain the regime, will start with Ihsan Eliacik, will continue with Hamdi Yazir, and will advance to engulf Bukhari and Abu Hanifa. ** Because if there is to be a new regime, a new religion is also necessary, which implies that new authors, new books, and even a new public is necessary. As such, the gathering and burning of Quran translations and exegeses is only the first of many renewals.
The most fundamental of these renewals is the withdrawal of the judiciary to such a degree that it destroys itself through the decisions made in its own courts.
* Devlet Bahceli is the chairman of the far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) which is in partnership with the Justice and Development Party (AKP). Suleyman Soylu is the deputy chairman of the AKP and the current Minister of the Interior.
** Hamdi Yazir and Ihsan Eliacik are theologians in more recent history who have written prominent commentaries and translations of the Quran. Bukhari and Abu Hanifa, on the other hand, are both historical scholars widely regarded as having produced the seminal works in Islamic scholarship.