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Cablegate: Glimpses of the Sharia in Turkey

R 181142Z NOV 96
FM AMEMBASSY ANKARA
TO JOINT STAFF WASHDC
AMCONSUL ADANA
AMEMBASSY LONDON
AMEMBASSY PARIS
AMEMBASSY CAIRO
USCINCCENT MACDILL AFB FL//POLAD//
AMCONSUL ISTANBUL
AMEMBASSY DAMASCUS
SECDEF WASHDC//USDP:PDUSDP/USDP/ISA:EUR//
AMEMBASSY RIYADH
ODC ANKARA TU//TCH//
AMEMBASSY BONN
USEU BRUSSELS
CTF PROVIDE COMFORT INCIRLIK AB TU//CC/CS//
SECSTATE WASHDC 9646

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 ANKARA 012278


LONDON FOR TUELLER
PARIS FOR LEAF
DEPT ALSO FOR S/NIS (PRESEL)

E.O. 12958: DECL:11/15/17
TAGS: PGOV KISL PTER PHUM PINR TU
SUBJECT: GLIMPSES OF THE SHARIA IN TURKEY

REF: A) ANKARA 11676;B) ANKARA 11279

1. CLASSIFIED BY POLITICAL COUNSELOR RICHARD MCKEE,
EMBASSY ANKARA. REASON: 1.5(B)(D).

2. (C) ALONG WITH THE GROWING ELECTORAL STRENGTH OF
PRIME MINISTER NECMETTIN ERBAKAN'S ISLAMIST REFAH
(WELFARE) PARTY, THE IDEA OF RESTORING THE SHARIA
(RELIGIOUS LAW) APPEARS TO BE GAINING ADHERENTS IN
TURKEY (REF A). THE FOLLOWING OBSERVATIONS FROM
ISLAMIST SOURCES IN REFAH AND THE GOT'S RELIGIOUS
AFFAIRS DIRECTORATE PROVIDE A GLIMPSE OF WHERE THE
DEBATE ON RELIGION, POLITICS, AND SOCIETY IN THIS
COUNTRY MAY BE HEADED. IN THIS, TURKEY'S LARGELY
DEVOUT KURDISH MINORITY LIKELY WILL PLAY A PIVOTAL
ROLE. END SUMMARY

-----------------------------------
THE KURDS: "LOYAL TO THE SHARIA..."
-----------------------------------

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3. (C) IN A MEETING WITH POLOFF ON OCTOBER 31, MEHMET
FUAT FIRAT, A KURDISH REFAH DEPUTY REPRESENTING
ISTANBUL, COMMENTED ON THE IMPORTANCE OF RELIGION TO
HIS ETHNIC BRETHREN. FIRAT NOTED THAT HE WAS A MEMBER
OF THE REFAH CENTRAL ADMINISTRATION BOARD (NOMINALLY
THE PARTY'S HIGHEST POLICYMAKING BODY) WITH POLITICAL
RESPONSIBILITY FOR HAKKARI, SIIRT, AND OTHER PROVINCES
IN PREDOMINANTLY KURDISH SOUTHEASTERN TURKEY, HIS
NATIVE REGION. (NOTE: FIRAT'S AUTHORITY ON KURDISH
AND ISLAMIC ISSUES ALSO IS ROOTED IN HIS OWN
ILLUSTRIOUS PEDIGREE. HE IS A GRANDSON OF SHAYKH SAID OF PALU, WHO LED THE FIRST MAJOR ISLAMIST-KURDISH
REBELLION AGAINST THE FELDGLING SECULAR TURKISH
REPUBLIC IN 1925. SHAYKH SAID HAS BECOME SOMETHING OF
A CULT HERO, PARTICULARLY AMONG ISLAM-ORIENTED KURDISH NATIONALISTS IN TURKEY. END NOTE)

4. (C) THE KURDS, FIRAT ASSERTED, WERE "LOYAL TO THE
SHARIA." THIS WAS THE DIRECT RESULT OF THE TEACHINGS
OF THE NAKSHIBENDI TARIKAT (TECHNICALLY ILLEGAL
ISLAMIC BROTHERHOOD), TO WHICH FIRAT HAS FAMILY TIES.
MOST NAKSHIBENDI MURIDS (ADHERENTS) IN TURKEY WERE
KURDS, HE NOTED. FIRAT OBSERVED THAT NAKSHIBENDI
KURDS WERE NOT FANATICS, HOWEVER; AS EVIDENCE, HE
CONTRASTED THE RELATIVELY AUSTERE, RESTRAINED
NAKSHIBENDI RITUALS WITH THOSE OF THE MORE ECSTATIC
KADIRI TARIKAT. IN FIRAT'S VIEW, THE KURDS OF TURKEY
SIMPLY WANTED THE KIND OF JUSTICE THAT OBTAINED IN THE
UNITED STATES -- INCLUDING THE RIGHT TO USE THEIR OWN
LANGUAGE AND DEVELOP THEIR OWN CULTURE. ACCORDING TO FIRAT, THESE FREEDOMS WOULD BE PERMITTED UNDER THE SHARIA.

5. (C) FIRAT EXPRESSED DISAPPOINTMENT AT THE ATTITUDE
OF MANY NAKSHIBENDI SHAYKHS, WHOM HE ACCUSED OF
PURSUING THEIR OWN INTERESTS AND ALLIANCES WITH "THE
STATE" AT THE EXPENSE OF THEIR MURIDS. "ALL THEY WANT
TO DO IS GET RICH," HE LAMENTED. WITH EVIDENT PRIDE,
FIRAT STATED THAT IN CONTRAST, SHAYKH SAID HAD USED HIS WEALTH TO RAISE AN ARMY; "HE SPENT HIS MONEY ON
SOLDIERS."

6. (C) FIRAT RELATED HOW AS A YOUNG MAN HE HAD MET
SAID NURSI (AKA SAID KURDI), THE ISLAMIC SCHOLAR WHOSE
WRITINGS BECAME THE BASIS FOR THE MYSTICAL NURCU
MOVEMENT. ACCORDING TO FIRAT, NURSI WAS IMPRISONED
FOR HIS ACTIVITIES ON BEHALF OF ISLAM AND KURDISH
CULTURAL AUTONOMY BY MUSTAFA KEMAL ATATURK. BEFORE HIS DEATH IN 1960, NURSI VOWED TO A GROUP OF KURDISH NOTABLES INCLUDING FIRAT THAT THE KURDS WOULD "GET THEIR REVENGE AGAINST THE KEMALISTS."

------------------
...BUT WHAT IS IT?
------------------

7. (C) REFAH DEPUTY FROM BITLIS ABDULHALUK MUTLU, LIKE
FIRAT ANOTHER NAKSHIBENDI KURD, OBSERVED TO POLOFF AND VISITING INR OFFICERS ON NOVEMBER 14 THAT THE KURDS WERE "BOUND" BY THE PRINCIPLES OF ISLAM. HE LAUGHED AS HE RELATED HOW HIS NEPHEW, A STUDENT IN THE UNITED STATES, WAS FOND OF TELLING PEOPLE THAT THE U.S. WAS THE MOST "ISLAMIC" STATE IN THE WORLD, BECAUSE IT EMBODIED THE SHARIA'S PRINCIPLES OF JUSTICE TO A HIGHER DECREE THAN ANY OTHER REGIME.

8. (C) IN THE KURDISH MIND, THE SHARIA NOW WAS
ASSOCIATED WITH FREEDOM AND "DEMOCRACY," MUTLU SAID.
LIKE "DEMOCRACY," HOWEVER, "NO ONE WAS SURE WHAT IT
(SHARIA) MEANS." MUTLU ARGUED THAT DESPITE THE
TRAPPINGS OF DEMOCRACY IN TURKEY, HE, LIKE THE REST OF TURKEY'S KURDS, HAD NEVER LIVED UNDER A TRULY
DEMOCRATIC REGIME; THUS, HE HAD TO ACKNOWLEDGE THAT HE KNEW LITTLE ABOUT HOW A REAL DEMOCRACY WORKED.
ILLUSTRATING HIS POINT, MUTLU PREDICTED THAT REFAH
WOULD NOT TRY TO RESTORE RELIGIOUS RULE IN TURKEY.
INSTEAD, IF REFAH EVENTUALLY WON A PARLIAMENTARY
MAJORITY, IT WOULD THEN "ASK THE NATIONAL SECURITY
COUNCIL FOR ITS RECOMMENDATIONS" ON THE SUBJECT, HE
LAUGHED.

--------------------------------------------
NO DIFFERENCE BETWEEN TURKEY AND THE TALEBAN
--------------------------------------------

9. (C) LATER ON NOVEMBER 14, POLOFF AND INR OFFICERS
CALLED ON NIYAZI KAHVECI, THE HEAD OF THE RESEARCH
DEPARTMENT AT THE GOT'S RELIGIOUS AFFAIRS DIRECTORATE (THE "DIYANET," AS IT IS KNOWN IN TURKISH). AN ISLAMIC SCHOLAR, KAHVECI ASSERTED THAT LITTLE HAD
CHANGED IN ISLAMIC DOCTRINE SINCE THE MIDDLE AGES.
CONSEQUENTLY, SUNNI ISLAM IN TURKEY AND AS PRACTICED
BY THE TALEBAN IN AFGHANISTAN WAS BASICALLY THE SAME.
MUSLIMS BELIEVED THAT THEY WERE BOUND BY THE WORD OF THE QURAN. ALTHOUGH KAHVECI AND A FEW COLLEAGUES IN ACADEMIA WERE TRYING TO "REFORM" ISLAMIC PRINCIPLES TO FIT THE MODERN DEMOCRATIC WORLD, MOST TURKISH SCHOLARS HAD LEARNED THEIR TRADE IN "ALGERIA AND EGYPT" (READ: WHERE RADICAL "FUNDAMENTALIST" OR TRADITIONAL VIEWS OF
THE SHARIA PREVAIL). THEOLOGY PROFESSORS IN TURKEY'S
UNIVERSITIES GENERALLY SUPPORTED REFAH, KAHVECI ADDED,
AS DID THE OVERWHELMING MAJORITY OF THE STAFF AT THE
DIYANET.

10. (C) KAHVECI NOTED THAT REFAH HAD BEEN VERY CLEVER
IN GETTING ITS MESSAGE ACROSS TO THE PUBLIC AND IN
FACT HAD POSITIONED ITSELF AS THE PRIMARY SPOKESMAN
FOR RELIGIOUS TURKS. IN KAHVECI'S VIEW, THE SECULAR
PARTIES PLAYED INTO REFAH'S HANDS BY GANGING UP ON THE ISLAMISTS. FOR EXAMPLE, POLITICALLY-ORIENTED TV
DEBATES ROUTINELY DEVOLVED INTO A SHOWDOWN BETWEEN REFAH ON ONE SIDE AND EVERYONE ELSE ON THE OTHER. THIS LEGITIMIZED REFAH'S RELIGIOUS CREDENTIALS IN THE MINDS OF THE TV VIEWING AUDIENCE. MOREOVER, THE SECULAR PARTIES HAD LITTLE CHOICE BUT TO ACCEPT THIS. "WHY NOT?" KAHVECI SAID. "THEY DON'T KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT ISLAM."

---------------------------------------------
COMMENT: DEFINING SHARIA -- AND WINNING VOTES
---------------------------------------------

11. (C) "'IJMA" -- CONSENSUS -- TRADITIONALLY WAS ONE
OF THE CARDINAL SOURCES OF ISLAMIC JURISPRUDENCE ALONG WITH THE QURAN, THE SUNNA AND HADITH (TRADITIONS AND SAYINGS ATTRIBUTED TO THE PROPHET MUHAMMAD), AND QIYAS (ANALOGICAL REASONING). TODAY, 'IJMA IS THE FOCUS OF SOME SCHOLARLY ATTEMPTS TO DISCERN COMMON POINTS BETWEEN DEMOCRATIC AND ISLAMIC PRINCIPLES.

12. (C) IN CLASSICAL JURISPRUDENCE, HOWEVER, 'IJMA
MEANT CONSENSUS OF THE LEARNED; THE OPINIONS OF THOSE NOT SCHOOLED IN THE FINE POINTS OF ISLAMIC DOCTRINE CARRIED NO WEIGHT. IN KEEPING WITH THIS TRDITIONAL ATTITUDE, TURKEY'S MUSLIMS HAVE BEEN MORE THAN WILLING LET THE SCHOLARS INTERPRET THE SHARIA AND ENLIGHTEN THE FAITHFUL. IN POLITICAL TERMS, NOW THAT AN ISLAMIST ALTERNATIVE TO THE SECULAR REGIME IS AVAILABLE IN THE FORM OF REFAH, MANY RELIGIOUS "CONSERVATIVE" VOTERS WHO BY DINT OF HISTORICAL CIRCUMSTANCE HAD SUPPORTED SECULAR PARTIES ARE RIPE FOR THE PICKING BY REFAH PRIME MINISTER ERBAKAN -- THE "HOCA" (TEACHER) AS HE IS KNOWN AMONG HIS FOLLOWERS.

13. (C) FOR KAHVECI, THE PROBLEM IS THAT THE
"MEDIEVAL" REFAH UNDERSTANDING OF THE SHARIA LARGELY HAS BEEN PROTECTED FROM SCHOLARLY EXAMINATION AND COMPETITION BY THE KEMALISTS' HOSTILITY TO ISLAMIC POLITICAL INFLUENCE, WHICH HAS HAMPERED FREE, INFORMED DEBATE ON THE SUBJECT. WITH NO POLITICAL ALTERNATIVE OF THEIR OWN, TURKEY'S RELIGIOUS KURDS HAVE BEGUN TO FLOCK TO REFAH, HELPING TO TURN ERBAKAN'S PARTY INTO THE COUNTRY'S LARGEST. KAHVECI'S FEAR IS THAT MUCH OF THE REST OF TURKEY WILL FOLLOW.

14. (C) OUR SENSE IS THAT SUPPORT FOR RESTORING THE
SHARIA IS STILL CONFINED TO A MINORITY -- ALBEIT A
SIGNIFICANT AND GROWING ONE (SEE REF A FOR SOME RECENT PUBLIC OPINION POLLING ON ATTITUDES TOWARD ISLAMISM AND THE SHARIA). MORE IMPORTANTLY, THE DIVIDING LINES BETWEEN AVOWEDLY SECULAR (EVEN IF, IN RARE CASES, PERSONALLY OBSERVANT) AND SELF-CONSCIOUSLY RELIGIOUS/ISLAMIST CITIZENS ARE BECOMING MORE PRONOUNCED. VIOLENT INCIDENTS, PARTICULARLY ON
UNIVERSITY CAMPUSES, COULD WELL ENSUE.

GROSSMAN

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