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Cablegate: Tesev Study On Religion and Politics

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FM AMCONSUL ISTANBUL
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UNCLAS ISTANBUL 002109

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C O R R E C T E D COPY DELETING SECSTATE AS INFO ADDEE

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV SOCI TU
SUBJECT: TESEV STUDY ON RELIGION AND POLITICS

1. Summary. On November 21, TESEV, a leading Turkish NGO,
released the results of a recent survey on Islam and
Politics. Some of the results were surprising, most notably
the indication that the number of women wearing headscarves
is declining despite a general belief to the contrary. A
majority of those surveyed think that the military has a
right to criticize the civilian government but also believe
secularism can be protected without the military. According
to the study, Turkish people do not view the headscarf issue
as a priority although they increasingly self-identify as
devout Muslims. The study also showed that there is very
little support for sharia law in Turkey and that terrorist
attacks in the name of Islam are unacceptable to a great
majority. In his opening speech at the press conference
TESEV President Dr. Can Paker said the urban, educated,
well-off secular population and the rural, uneducated poor
were converging due to urbanization and economic growth. End
Summary.

2. The Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation
(TESEV) announced the findings of a recent survey on Islam
and Politics in Turkey at a November 21 press conference
attended by academics as well as representatives from
diplomatic missions and some political parties. TESEV
President Can Paker's presentation was followed by a cordial
question and answer session, notably different from previous
TESEV meetings on more controversial issues that erupted into
fist fights.

Religion and Identity
----------------------

3. According to survey results, 48.5% of Turkish people view
themselves as "Islamists" whereas 20% see themselves as
"secular." Also, the percentage of people who see themselves
as "fairly religious" or "very religious" increased to 59% in
2006 from 31% in a similar TESEV survey conducted in 1999.
The study also showed that those who define themselves first
as "Muslims" increased from 35.7% in 1999 to 44.6% in 2006
while those who see themselves first as "Turks" dropped from
20.8% to 19.4%. Approximately 30% of the people define
themselves first as "Turkish citizens." The emphasis on
Islam as an identity is more common among Kurds with 57% self
identifing as Muslims, while only 19.8% identify themselves
as "Kurds" first. Islamic identity is lowest among Alevis
with only 32.5% choosing Muslim as a primary
self-identification.

Headscarf: Fewer in Numbers, But More Visible
---------------------------------------------

4. The survey showed that the number of women covering their
heads outside their homes went down from 72.5% in 1999 to
61.3% in 2006. However, 64% of the interviewees said they
saw an increase in the number of covered women in daily life,
despite survey results showing fewer women veiling. 48.8% of
all women said they used traditional head covering whereas
11.4% use the "turban," which is seen by secularists as a
political style. Prof. Binnaz Toprak from Bogazici
University noted in her presentation that the percentage of
covered women decreased as income levels and education levels
went up, and that most of the decline in headscarf use came
from the younger generation, especially among those between
18 and 24 years.

5. When asked an open-ended question about the most
important problems in Turkey, only 3.7% said the headscarf
issue was a priority. Economic problems such as unemployment
and low income levels top the list at 38% and 12%
respectively, followed by terrorism and education. 71% think
that university students should be allowed to wear
headscarves as school, but 65% say they would allow their
daughters to uncover their heads so that they could attend
university if the current ban on headscarves in university
classrooms were sustained.

Islam and Politics
-------------------

6. Only 9% of the interviewees said they wanted a sharia
state in Turkey, a significant decrease from 21% in 1999.
61.3% do not think that Islamic extremism is rising, and 73%
do not think that secularism is under threat. Around 59% of
the people think that the military should sometimes criticize
the civilian government; however, nearly 53% think Turkey
does not need the military's involvement to protect the
secular nature of society. Poll results show that support
for military involvement in politics is lower among Islamists
and Kurds. Also, 74% think that the next president should be
a devout Muslim, while 51% say it is important that the
President's wife not wear a headscarf.

7. Survey results show that violence and terrorism on behalf
of Islam is not acceptable. Only 20% of the people say they
would approve suicide attacks against military targets if the

country had been invaded (a worse case scenario). Support
for suicide attacks against civilian targets is only 8%, also
under the invasion scenario. Similarly, 83% disapprove of
Israeli attacks against civilians in Palestine, while 73%
disapprove of attacks on civilians in Iraq. 81% say such
attacks are unacceptable in Islam.

Tolerance vs. Sectarianism
---------------------------

8. Despite some moderate results, the survey also reports
increasing suspicion of those from different ethnic and
religious backgrounds. Those who think that people from
other religions can be "good enough" went down from 89% in
1999 to 72% in 2006. 55% believe the Jews run the world
economy. Also, 43% said they would not want a Greek couple
as neighbors, while 66% would oppose a gay neighbor. 59% say
missionary activities should be limited and only 26.6%
approve of the reopening of the Halki Seminary. Prof. Ali
Carkoglu said in his concluding remarks that sectarianism was
more common among those who defined themselves as "Islamists."

9. Comment: The TESEV study results indicate a change in
the understanding and definition of "religious conservatism"
in Turkey. Although people identify themselves as personally
more religious, support for extremism is declining. The
results also show that people are more concerned about
economic and standard of living issues than political issues
such as headscarves at university. Confidence in the secular
system is very high, and although the military is respected
it is not viewed as a necessary protection against an erosion
of secular values in society. However, a majority of people
are increasingly suspicious of those with different religious
or ethnic backgrounds and remain indifferent to the problems
faced by minority groups. End Comment.
JONES

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