Turkey: Two Revolutions

by wjw on March 4, 2008

Our friends in Turkey are living through interesting times.

Firstly, members of the “Deep State” have been arrested for, among other things, conspiring to assassinate the Nobel Prize-winning writer Orhan Pamuk. Supposedly this killing was the beginning of a series of bombings and assassinations that would lead to a military coup overthrowing Turkey’s (moderate) Islamic government of Prime Minister Erdogan.

The “Deep State” was originally a stay-behind outfit organized by the U.S. to conduct guerilla operations in the event that Turkey was overrun by the Soviet Union. It morphed into a shadowy organization of paramilitaries, generals, criminals, and fascists dedicated to an extreme nationalist position defending “Turkishness.” In the past they’ve supported military coups, used the war against the PKK as a cover for smuggling heroin to the West, prosecuted journalist and writers such as Pamuk for “insulting Turkishness,” and murdered journalists, Armenians, and Christian missionaries.

Now with 33 members under arrest, including two generals, the time may have finally come for a peek under this slimy rock. Whatever is found there, it isn’t going to be pretty.

In the meantime, the (Islamic) government in Turkey seems to be trying to re-invent Islam by re-interpreting, and in some cases re-writing, the Hadith, the second holiest book in Islam after the Qur’an.

To clarify: in Islam the Qur’an is the literal Word of God— not “The Gospel According to Mohammed,” but God’s actual words as memorized by the Messenger Mohammed, then orally transmitted to his disciples, who memorized the passages in turn. In time, these were written down. This is reflected in the name of the book, Qur’an, which means “the Recitations.”

The Hadith is not the word of God, but of his Messenger. It’s a collection of Mohammed’s opinions, interpretations, and judgments (Mohammed was also a judge). It also has biographical stories about the Messenger and his contemporaries.

The Hadith is the source of much Islamic law and custom: passages have been used to justify the veiling and confinement of women, stoning and amputation as punishments, treatment of adulterers, honor killings of women, etc. etc.

The Turkish scholars working on this project are attempting to put certain passages into a historical context— thus rendering them, here in the 21st Century, inert— or possibly purging some altogether, on the grounds that they were someone else’s opinions that were added later and attributed to Mohammed, in the same way that the Epistle to the Hebrews was falsely attributed to St. Paul. For this they’re using all the same methods of scholarship (Higher Criticism) that have been used for generations by Biblical scholars, but are quite new to Islam.

In this, they’re attempting to reverse the pronouncements of 12th century theologian al-Ghazali that “close the doors of Enlightenment [Ijtihad].” This rejection of Ijtihad, which among other things was a method of evolving new rules for Muslims, has resulted in an Islam that seems stuck in the Middle Ages, unable to evolve in such a way as to adapt to modern challenges by any means except war and terror.

The transformation sought by the Turkish scholars is in the guise of restoring the primacy of the Qur’an, which in general is a much more moderate book than the Hadith. A good move, this— “We’re more conservative than the conservatives!”

Some of the Western reporting on this issue has mentioned an Islamic “Reformation.” Let’s hope not— it’s not like we need a 30 Years’ War in the Middle East. But we do need a Muslim Enlightenment.

Good luck to the Turks on both their revolutions. Down with the Deep State! Long live Ijtihad!

Dave Bishop March 5, 2008 at 7:51 pm

Come back Mustafa Kemal, all is forgiven!

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