By Soner Cagaptay
Before the failed military coup on July 15, Turkey was struggling to recover from a bombing and shoot-out that killed 45 people at Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport on June 28. Although the attempted takeover complicates the country’s crackdown on terrorism, its security problems began long before this summer’s turmoil. The three jihadists who planned the attack had been in Turkey for quite some time, having traveled over 750 miles from Syria, rented an apartment in Istanbul, and then assembled bombs for a month. They did so without raising alarm for a simple reason: Turkey itself is radicalizing and the jihadists blended in.
Much of Turkey’s religious turn has to do with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the most powerful democratically elected leader in Turkey’s history. He has run the country since 2003, first as prime minister and then as president since 2014. Over the years, he methodically eliminated Kemalism, the revolutionary–secularist Turkish ideology named after Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the country’s founder. Whereas Ataturk established a strict firewall to prevent religion from seeping into state affairs, and also firmly defined Turkey as a Western country, Erdogan put conservative Islam back into the country’s foreign policy, politics, and education system.
Kemalism required Turkish citizens to treat religion as a private matter and his government actively discriminated against overtly religious people. The tables have now turned. Erdogan considers citizens who are not outwardly conservative to be second class. Displays of religious piety guarantee government contracts, jobs, promotions, and access to power. A headscarf-wearing wife, which is a sign of conservatism, is the surest way to get a job in the Erdogan administration or receive a lucrative government contract. Consider this in light of the fact that only about half of Turkish women cover their heads.