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Secularism and authority.

ySTANBUL (CyHAN)- New legislation has been passed to curtail the sale and consumption of alcoholic beverages in public spaces.

The general impression is that rather than "protecting the youth from harmful habits" as defined in the wording of the law, the government is trying to steer society towards a certain kind of behavior. The envisioned mode of behavior is fashioned after conservative values that stem mainly from religion.

However, this image of the incumbent Turkish government does not go well with the efforts at democratization and reconciliation that are under way in Turkey. A new fault line between the state and segments of society that support such a move and those who see their cultural or personal freedoms violated is quite unnecessary. The question is whether the recent government initiative is really an anti-secular move, or an example of narrowing personal freedoms.

Secularism in Turkey has always been a policy implemented from above by the state. This policy involves political control of everything pertaining to religion including practice, organization and education. The Turkish version of secularism has nothing to do with freedom of faith and the state's position, which ought to be at an equal distance from all creeds and faith groups.

The political group that used to call itself "secular" no longer controls the state apparatus. The power group that rules Turkey presently identifies itself with its religiosity based on the Sunni creed of Islam. But the relationship between the state and religion has not changed.

In synopsis, the issue is neither the protection of secularism nor its dilution. Rather, fashioning "good social behavior" via control of religion is replaced by another method. The main actor since the inception of the republic has been the state, or the ruling elite.

May be we should use this opportunity to contemplate what secularism is.

Secularism has three qualities: 1- The source of legitimacy of legislation is the mutual consent of the people. Laws are not by enacted by an unaccountable authority but by the very people who are bound by them. Hence, they can be changed and questioned. As a consequence, both the source of legitimacy and the laws have (ought to have) a worldly existence.

2- Secularism at the private level originates from the multiplicity of references that guide a person's behavior and possible choices. One of these references may be religion, but it is not the sole factor.

3- Morality that is not only dependent on religious dictums and principles. Secular morality is born out of a consensual correspondence of expectations and responses of the people that make up the body politic. Secular morality that is the glue of modern society reflects the consensus of people with diverse cultural values. Consensual morality is not solely born out of religious directives. The plural nature of society requires the consensus of different cultural and faith groups for each have different values and practices. A common ground has to be found amongst them. Building a moral code on one of these creeds may be destroying social solidarity and the medium of agreeing on the "common good."

Since the rekindled debate on secularism is somewhat futile because it never really existed in Turkey, we must analyze the issue from the point of what is "common good." We all have a sense of "good and proper." The problem is whether it will be determined and imposed from above or shaped from below in a consensual way. This is the difference between politically or culturally defined secularism.

Politics and governments should stay away from culture because such an intrusion monopolizes culture in the name of uniformity and stability. Such an initiative always betrays its purpose because uniformity does not go well with pluralism and democracy.

No government should try to enact laws with the rationale that "my faith commands it." Every society has a plurality of faith groups and religious creeds. Let us not forget: The basis of democracy is pluralism and cohabitation of differences. Why create new tensions in a society that is struggling to concoct a constitution based on consensus?

DOy[currency]U ERGyL (Cihan/Today's Zaman) CyHAN

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Publication:Cihan News Agency (CNA)
Date:Jun 5, 2013
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