Revolutions take place when an existing social order is no longer able to reproduce itself and new social and political forces are successfully able to challenge the status quo. Almost invariably, thorough revolutions entail violent upheaval. The Kemalist revolution was not based on class-against-class, it was premised on modernity versus medievalism. The most serious revolt against it was led by a Sufi movement with its base in the Kurdish regions. However, Ataturk was able to crush it and other revolts successfully. The loss of life incurred during the Kemalist upheaval can be counted in the thousands as compared to the millions who perished in the Soviet Union and later China.
The early 20th century was dominated by visions of social change and revolution inspired by diverse thinkers like Hegel (German nationalism and later Nazism and fascism), Marx (Leninist Communism) and Auguste Comte whose ideas of positivism, rationalism and humanism inspired a whole range of state-led experiments in social change. The Kemalist model of one-party authoritarian modernism with its strong emphasis on a Turkish version of laicism (hardline secularism controlling the religious establishment) and Jawaharlal Nehruís democratic modernism were top-down attempts at social engineering inspired by positivism.
However, with the wisdom of hindsight we now know that social engineering has its limits and sooner or later equilibrium between the past and the future emerges. Ataturk died in 1938. His successors kept Turkey out of World War II. The one-party system was abandoned and democracy was restored in 1946. When Stalin threatened to send his warships into the Dardanelles, Turkey allied itself with the west and later joined NATO. In 1950, the Democratic Party with Adnan Menderes as the leader won the elections. He won them again in 1954 and 1957. He liberalised the economy and relaxed control of religion, and the Turkish economy prospered. A military coup in 1960 resulted in his being hanged for alleged violation of the Turkish constitution, a massacre of 57 Greeks in Istanbul, and corruption. Thereafter, Turkey alternated between civilian rule and military coups.
To cut a long story short, a new phase in Turkish politics began when Mr Turgut Ozalís Motherland Party won the elections in 1983. Half-Turkish, half-Kurdish, he served first as prime minister and then as president. Once again the liberalisation of the economy took place. He also initiated a dialogue with Kurdish separatists. Armed conflict in eastern Turkey between government forces and Kurdish fighters had been going on for a long time and much blood had been spilled. Mr Ozal died in 1993. The governments after him resumed the hard line against Kurdish separatists.
All this while, Turkish Islamists had been kept on the sidelines because mixing Islam and politics was considered a violation of the core principle of Kemalism and the Turkish constitution. Nevertheless, the Islamists were able to do well in the elections and their leader, Necmettin Erbakan, even served as prime minister for a year (June 1996 to June 1997) in a coalition government. However, his Welfare Party was banned by the Constitutional Court for upholding values that violated laicism. The Islamists then tried to enter politics through the Virtue Party that faced the same fate.
It was in these circumstances that some younger members of the Islamist movement decided to ditch dogmatism and switch over to pragmatism; they began to describe themselves as conservative Muslims. They founded the Justice and Democratic Party or the AKP as it is popularly called. The AKPís dynamic leader, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, led his party to three successive electoral victories in 2002, 2007 and 2011, and has now been eleted president of Turkey in 2014. Experts tell us that the liberalisation that Turgut Ozal initiated opened avenues for traders and entrepreneurs from Anatolia, who subscribe to conservative Sunni Islam, to make great gains. The Kemalist elite with its emphasis on state control of the economy was not delivering and therefore people shifted their support to the AKP. Mr Ergodanís team of advisers and ministers have very successfully led Turkey towards phenomenal economic growth. The Turkish economy has tripled after the AKP came into power. His government maintains a good medical care system as well.
Turkeyís constant efforts to become a member of the EU have resulted in the AKP turning its gaze towards the Middle East, this time as a trader and developer and not as a conquering force. Mr Erdoganís government has already taken on the powerful military establishment and curtailed its power. Turkish secularists are deeply suspicions of his intentions and, last year, saw some very determined opposition to his policy of privatisation and what some fear is encroaching Islamisation. There has been considerable controversy about young females wearing the headscarf on university campuses. A Turkish friend of mine told me that conservative families allow girls to go to university only if they wear the headscarf. In any case, as long as the Turkish constitution remains democratic and secular, it should be possible to accommodate different lifestyles.
The Islamic revival is a fact and all states have to adopt strategies to handle it. It is perfectly legitimate that Turkish secularists continue to demand that the AKP comes out clean on its declared policy of remaining faithful to secularism while allowing pluralism and democracy to flourish. In a recent PEW survey of attitudes towards dogmatic sharia being the law of the land, only 12 percent of Turks voted in favour of it. In Pakistan, it was 84 percent. The reason is not that the Turks are lesser Muslims; it only means they are modern Muslims who seem at peace with religion being a matter of personal faith and ethics while they find modern laws serving their interests well as citizens.