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Does Erdogan’s purge provide Islamists with an opportunity to eradicate secularism?

The Turkish government embarked legally on an operation against insurgents in 2013 when their dirty games emerged; the latest coup attempt will boost the government’s efforts to purge the army of mutineers and traitors

July 23, 2016 at 12:03 pm

On the night of the attempted coup in Turkey, and in his speech at Istanbul airport, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that it “is a blessing from Allah, because it will allow us to purge the military” of mutineers.

Thanks to the courage and loyalty of the Turkish people, the coup was thwarted swiftly; the purge followed swiftly against a number of public employees across state institutions. Suspicious voices were raised making absurd claims that Erdogan’s crackdown was intended to “Islamise” Turkey and get rid of all of his opponents within officialdom.

After Erdogan’s appeal for the people to take to the streets, thousands of Turks stood fast in the face of a brutal putsch orchestrated by a faction of traitors. The people waved the Turkish flag and chanted various slogans; in doing so they, heroically, foiled a coup that was set to drag Turkey into bloody chaos. Some media outlets portrayed this public demonstration of support for the democratically-elected government as a celebration of the religiously-conservative ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP’s) triumph of complete control over the Turkish Republic and the eradication of all secular forces in the state.

The people’s victory over the vicious plot to topple their democracy has been portrayed in such a way in an effort to break the unprecedented expression of national unity. The wishful-thinking of some media outlets is that there are Turkish groups who have serious concerns about their future in a still-officially secular country as a post-coup purge expands.

Although videos of people chanting religious phrases in Arabic surfaced on the night of the coup and were circulated widely on social media, other scenes were overlooked. People were also, it has to be said, on the streets and singing the Turkish national anthem, while others shouted at the soldiers to go back to their barracks. “No to the coup” and “We will never give up Turkey” were popular chants too.

The promoters of the selective “religious” images want to distort the resistance of ordinary people to the coup by depicting peaceful protesters as Turkish Islamists or even Daesh-linked radicals targeting secular soldiers. Shamelessly, some even fabricated graphic images of a soldier being decapitated by a large crowd of bearded people around his bloodied body. Nevertheless, political analysts noted that this was the first time in the modern history of the Turkish Republic that mosques and imams intervened and joined Erdogan’s call to resist by exhorting the people to defend their democracy and freely-elected president.

In an offbeat individual act, however, a woman and a man attacked the Muezzin (the person who makes the call to prayer) of a mosque in the Turkish city of Izmir. Such incidents are expected when plots are foiled and people are blinded by their fanaticism and hatred of Erdogan and his policies. The overwhelming majority of the Turkish people, though, stood against the coup and its planners, even those who are not AKP supporters. “I protested [against] Erdogan during Gezi,” wrote one Twitter user. “I was tear gassed by his police. I think AKP is trash. But I support them against a fascist military coup.”

When the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) called for a March for Democracy in Istanbul’s Taksim Square, the ruling AKP announced its intention to take part. Such an event has not happened for years, prompting us to ask if this national unity and the realignment of the political spectrum in Turkey will hold.

That is the core essence of the genuine democracy in Turkey led by an Islamist party. The West has bombarded us with heinous clichés that have no authentic connection to reality when it comes to Muslim countries. France declared a state of emergency after 84 of its citizens were killed in a brutal terrorist attack in Nice, and then paradoxically denounced Turkey’s state of emergency after a ruthless putsch that claimed the lives of hundreds and injured and traumatised thousands.

The opposition in Turkey, of course, will not identify with the government completely, and will almost certainly oppose the reintroduction of the death penalty to punish the conspirators and their collaborators. That might lead to tensions and standoffs but they will be within the context of a democratic framework.

Media images of Erdogan making the call to prayer for the dawn prayers on the morning after the coup, along with him leading the prayers himself, are not significant. In fact, they are no different to Western leaders attending church services at times of national importance.

A definitive response to those who are trying to “Islamise” the people’s democratic response to the coup would be to analyse those believed to be behind the plot, said to be affiliated with the Gülen movement. This was originally an Islamic social movement founded by Turkish Muslim preacher Fethullah Gülen, who is based in Pennsylvania in the United States. It is now designated as a terrorist group by the Turkish government and the post-coup purge is targeting its associates within the state who form what is known as a “parallel [state] structure”.

Ultimately, it’s not a crime when 97.8 per cent of the Turkish population identified as Muslims make a public show of their allegiance to their faith by raising the symbol of Rabaa, the hand gesture that first appeared in Egypt’s peaceful demonstrations after the most brutal coup massacre of modern history in Cairo’s Rabaa Al-Adawiyya Square in August 2013. Erdogan uses the Rabaa sign repeatedly to remind the hypocritically silent world that coups are not accepted by sincere Muslims, while they are received warmly by Western democracies and their Middle Eastern lackeys just because they take place in the region.

The Turkish government embarked legally on an operation against insurgents in 2013 when their dirty games emerged; the latest coup attempt will boost the government’s efforts to purge the army of mutineers and traitors. It’s within this context that Erdogan’s words should be analysed and understood.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.