Although he has spoken publicly in favor of Mevlana, aka Rumi, Erdogan is more seen as an authoritarian ruler rather than a student of softer, gentler Sufi ideals. This 2018 Washington Post story explains Konya and with Sufism:
Konya’s rapid economic growth has coincided with the AKP’s rise to power, bringing with it lucrative infrastructure projects and investment. And its religious character is a natural place for the party’s Islamist politics to take root.
Konya — once a backwater of the Anatolian steppe, despite its storied history — is now a thriving commercial and industrial hub, served by high-speed rail links and an international airport. It produces wheat, sugar and barley and manufactures car parts and plastic packaging, according to the government’s online investment portal.
Its medieval Seljuk architecture sits alongside modern universities and small businesses, including those serving the thousands of pilgrims who travel here each year.
Can someone who diverges from the Sunni majority win in Turkey? Erdogan’s opponent, Kemal Kiliçdaroglu, believes he can, according to this fascinating piece in Le Monde.
Kemal Kiliçdaroglu, the leader of the Republican People’s Party (CHP) supported by an alliance of six opposition parties and the Kurdish movement, is the favorite in the polls for the May 14 Turkish presidential election. He has publicly embraced his Alevi faith: A heterodox and modernist current of Islam with which a fifth of the Turkish population identifies. Elise Massicard, a political scientist, and author of L’Autre Turquie (The Other Turkey), explains what Alevism is and the reasons behind the new political visibility of this religious current.
Why has the video in which Kemal Kiliçdaroglu claims his Alevi faith within Islam been so successful, reaching over 100 million views?
He broke a taboo. Until then, Kemal Kiliçdaroglu’s Alevi identity had been seen more as an incriminating campaign argument, as Alevis have a bad and often sulfurous reputation among a predominantly Sunni population. In recent years, they have been largely excluded from the power channels of Turkish President Recep Tayyip [Erdogan]’s AKP [Justice and Development Party] and its associated resources. This “coming out” – when everyone in Turkey knows Kiliçdaroglu is an Alevi –is a way of reclaiming that identity and turning the stigma around.
What Kiliçdaroglu — whose main failing is that he doesn’t seem to be a very charismatic figure — is trying to do is unify the opposition, which includes a variety of religious and political groups.
The Jesuit magazine America suggests in this piece that his election would improve the poor conditions that religious minorities in Turkey find themselves.
Few Catholic priests and bishops were willing to talk about contemporary Turkish politics with America, perhaps reluctant to criticize a government that leaves little room for dissenting voices. Political expression is not easy for anyone in Turkey, according to [Ramazan] Kilinc [distinguished professor of political science and director of the Islamic Studies Program at the University of Nebraska].
“In Turkey, the problem, in general, is [the lack of] freedom of press and freedom of speech,” he said. “In this context, it’s difficult for the members of the church to express their concerns.”
Despite its roots in a multicultural empire, Turkish society is very nationalist and continues historic narratives that tend to vilify minority groups, Mr. Kilinc said. Non-Muslim minorities feature in conspiracy theories that often portray Christians as collaborators with foreign powers seeking to undermine Turkish identity.
Hmm – we’ve heard the same narrative out of Indian Prime Minister Narenda Modi in what The Guardian calls “violent Hindu nationalism underwritten by big business.”
Therefore, the May 28 run-off, pitting Erdogan and Kiliçdaroglu toe to toe, is a Rubicon of sorts. One path leads to a multi-religious society. The other leads to one-party and one-religion rule.
There’s been a lot out in the media about the Turkish election that’s quite insightful, including this Forbes magazine piece on why voters in Turkey’s Sunni Muslim majority aren’t more negative about Erdogan, despite the government’s inability to respond effectively to the earthquake crisis.
Faith in the face of disaster. The conservative Turkish population’s acceptance of fate may also contribute to the government’s resilience. The belief in fate and destiny, known as Qadar or Divine Decree, is a fundamental principle of faith in Islam. Muslims believe that everything in the universe is preordained by Allah and is part of His divine plan.
Destiny and destruction. This belief in divine ordination leads religious conservatives, who comprise a significant portion of the Turkish population and the ruling AKP’s voter base, to view the earthquake destruction and loss of life as divinely ordained rather than the result of failures in construction regulation, urban planning, or rescue efforts.
I call that the que sera sera effect; a kind of cheerful fatalism that doesn’t lead to regime change.
I plan to continue sharing my story of Paul’s journeys in other outlets, but I am curious what this bold apostle — who started his preaching in an Iconium synagogue — would have to say in the Konya of today. The only Jews in Konya seem to be those who show up in December to commemorate Rumi. Would Paul have said that the Jewish mysticism that connects with Rumi points to a hunger not for a Muslim poet but for a Messiah?
Fascinating question. In a country as religion-soaked as Turkey, God is a factor in politics as well as piety and it’s the best kind of reporters who pick up on both.
IMAGES: Photos by Julia Duin of a man operating St. Paul’s well in Tarsus and the whirling dervish mannequins in Konya.