Neglected areas

Published : Jun 16, 2006 00:00 IST

The two books consider the question of religion and its relation to the military and to education in Turkey and in Jammu and Kashmir.

THERE are foreign States and areas within our own country whose importance we tend to ignore and about whom we entertain stereotyped notions.

Turkey loomed large during the Khilafat movement, which collapsed, deservedly. Mustafa Kamal Ataturk won our admiration as an Asian nationalist who beat back the British and went on to establish a modern state. Its foreign policy differed from ours and the neglect began. Turkey has now assumed increasing importance. It is a secular state whose people are devout Muslims. They see no contradiction in this. Prof. M. Hakan Yavuz has written a work of great industry and insight.

There was a sea change in the November 2002 parliamentary elections when the Justice and Development Party won. It has Islamic roots. Its leader, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has been knocking at the gates of the European Union for membership only to be received with suspicion. At issue these days is the place of Islam in education. Erdogan is out to end discrimination against those receiving education in religious schools.

The military criticised this. The European Union's representative in Turkey, Hans Jong Kretschmer, criticised it for intervening in a political issue, but he was rebuffed by the government. The matter was for the constitutional court to decide.

Prof. Yavuz's scholarly book demonstrates how the military has used the issue of religion to justify its interventions in politics and avoid full democratisation. Turkey's identity is not homogeneous. No state's identity is. It is, at once, secular and Muslim. "Quiet Muslim reformation" is on. In 1997, the Kemalist establishment staged a "soft coup" and overthrew a democratically elected government headed by the pro-Islamist Refah Party. Now, Erdogan faces a similar challenge. On May 19, 2006, he accused Gen. Hilmi Ozlok, the Army Chief, of whipping up protests at the killing of a judge. That Erdogan is staunchly in favour of membership of the E.U. shows that his Islamic commitments do not diminish his commitment to secularism and democracy. As Roger Cohen writes: "Turkey is now closer than ever to its E.U. goal. But the past few weeks have demonstrated that in a state often held up as an example of a flourishing Muslim democracy, two central questions remain; the place of Islam and the place of the Army as Turkey becomes a steadily freer and more open country." This book provides background information, which helps us understand the events that will unfold.

Jammuites rightly point out that their state's name is Jammu and Kashmir. Jammu is viewed by some as a bastion of the Bharatiya Janata Party. This is untrue. Shivanath, a Dogri scholar and civil servant, has written excellent essays over the years on Jammu's history, culture and life in Jammu city. It is appropriately published by Kashmir Times from Jammu. It is unfortunate that this daily's seminal significance has been overlooked.

Founded 40 years ago in Jammu by a socialist, Ved Bhasin, it is staunchly secular, and as staunchly critical of abuses of human rights in the State by the military, para-military and police forces. Ved Bhasin has acquired international notice. No small tribute that he is highly respected in the Valley by all across the political divide. This volume reflects Jammu's true identity faithfully.

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