The main aim of the founders of the Turkish Republic in 1923 was to subordinate Islam to the secularism principle of the Republic. In addition to the reforms that were being made, a very clear distinction was drawn between the relationship of Islam and politics. Due to the very nature of one of the main pillars of the Republic that is secularism, state and religion was clearly separated. Elimination of religiously oriented people from politics continued until the early seventies with the establishment of the first religiously oriented party NOP (read National Order Party) under the leadership of Necmettin Erbakan. However, NOP was a short-lived party and closed down by Turkish Constitutional Court in 1971 “for violating the principles of secularism set out in the constitution (Preamble and articles 2. 19. 57.) and the Law of Political Parties (Law No. 648. Articles 92, 93, and 94)” After NOP experience, NSP (read National Salvation Party) was established in 1972 again under the leadership of Necmettin Erbakan. This party was also shut down in 1981 as a result of the coup that took place in 1980. After the second failing experiment, WP (read Welfare Party) was established in 1983. WP had been the most successful and controversial among the religiously oriented parties that were established by Necmettin Erbakan. The Constitutional Court also closed down WP in 1997 and banned its leadership cadre from politics for five years. In addition, JDP (read Justice and Development Party) led by Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his colleagues, who split up from Felicity Party due to some ideological reasons, was formed in 2001 and won a landslide victory in the November 2002 general elections and occupy the majority of the seats in the assembly.
While comparing the two important Islamic parties, it is worth to take into account some concepts defined by Daniel Brumberg. He mainly distinguishes the types of Islamism into three categories; namely “radical or militant fundamentalism, reformist fundamentalism and strategic modernism or Islamic Liberalism”. Accordingly, parties who pursue radical fundamentalism aimed at changing the system of the country through force and at the end form a regime based on Islamic laws. In reformist fundamentalism, the parties have the same aim with the radical fundamentalist that is establishing a state based on Islamic laws but those parties pursue moderate policies and continuously reject violence. In other words, through establishing mass electoral support they try to win the elections and construct a hidden agenda. This is also called dissimulation (takiyye). On the other hand, “Islamic Liberals, which are quite rare in the Middle East, seek to extend religious freedoms in a broadly democratic environment.” Unlike the radical and reformist fundamentals, Islamic Liberals do not aim at forming an Islamic state. Instead of doing this they try to co-exist with the secular establishment of the state. In this sense, we can call WP a reformist fundamentalist party having some elements of militant fundamentalism and JDP an Islamic Liberal party carrying some aspects of reformist fundamentalist party by looking at analyzing their policies and the deeds of their leaders.
As noted above, WP was established in 1983 after the transition to the multi-party politics after the 1980 coup. Although during the 1980’s WP had been a marginal party, 1990 onwards it started to become a mass party that tried to appeal to the different segments of the society. However, the major segment of the society that WP tried to reach was the urban poor that were mostly suffered from liberalizing measures of Motherland Party under the leadership of Turgut Özal during the 1980’s. The main rhetoric of the WP in domestic policy was “Just Order”. Accordingly, “Just Order” (Adil Düzen) is the only remedy to the injustices that were suffered by the majority of the people. In other words, in order to garner the votes of the masses, the leadership of the WP emphasized the importance of social policies instead of appealing to the religious sentiments of the people. Regardless of this effort, most of the votes that they garnered in 1995 general elections still came from the party’s Islamic identity. As Özbuldun points out, “The party combines religious and non religious appeals, as seen in its emphasis on industrialization, social justice, honest government, and the restoration of Turkey’s former grandeur.” In terms of foreign policy, the ruling cadre of the WP introduced “National View” approach. Accordingly, national view movement is totally against the west and its westernization components. Instead, it embraces the Ottoman past and as a reaction to the neo-liberal multi-national companies, WP emphasized the importance of domestic production for the welfare of the society. As a consequence of this movement, “Anatolian Tigers” which comprises small-scale producers in different parts of the Anatolia emerged. They further claimed that if it is imperative to build economic and political relationship with other countries, it is better to build relationship with Islamic countries, illustrated by Necmettin Erbakan, as a prime minister, mainly paying visits to the Middle Eastern and Northern African Muslim states. Not only the secular segment of the society but also our western allies showed reaction to those visits.
WP increased their religious appeals after they had become the dominant partner of the coalition government after the 1995 general elections. The numbers of the Koran courses were increased. In addition to this, the number of the Prayer Leader and Preacher Schools (İmam Hatip Okulları) was also increased. WP government rescheduled the working hours in the Ramadan month and they also allowed wearing headscarves in the universities and public spaces. However, the final faux pas was the invitation of some sheiks and the leaders of religious movements to the Prime minister’s residence for the evening meal during Ramadan. These actions greatly attracted the attention of the military and on the 28th of February 1997 they introduced their famous recommendations. This so called post-modern intervention has had huge effect on the Islamists and Islamic parties in Turkey. As a consequence of recommendations Necmettin Erbakan was forced to resign from the government. As well, “In June 1998, the Constitutional Court closed down the WP on the grounds that the party had resorted to action against the secular Republic and banned Erbakan and other leading members of the party from politics for five years.” The WP’s further appeal to ICHR (read International Court of Human Rights) was also rejected on the grounds that WP constitution had sayings that would change the regime of the country via force and this is totally against the IHRD (read International Human Rights Declaration). As noted above, it would be not wrong to place WP to the category of reformist fundamentalist as it was also proved by the decision of ICHR and Turkish Constitutional Court. WP also carried some elements of militant fundamentalism since some of its members engaged in violent activities although the party never officially supported these activities.
In direct contrast, JDP, while having strong Islamic ties illustrated by Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s famous inflammatory speech, supposedly inciting potential religious violence, has so far successfully avoided the pitfalls that brought the WP to such a dramatic end. Although acknowledging the personal practice of Islam, the formal rhetoric of the party has been to brand themselves as “conservative democrats” thus promoting their ideology of political morality, but distancing themselves from political Islam. Prime Minister Erdoğan himself summed up the description of the party leaders that they were “pious people, but preferred secular politics.” However, the distinction of where the exact line between public and private religious expressions lies has been an ongoing point of contention through much of Turkey’s political history. Having a strong secular state following the Kemalism ideal of national secularism, has yet contained a strong contradiction regarding the separation of religion and state, as Toprak and Daver point out that “the inclusion of the religious organization within the state bureaucracy and the consequent subordination of religious authority to the political is contrary to the spirit of secularism as understood in the West”.
Within this framework, the JDP has sought to bring morality, integrity and democracy to the forefront of politics, and to meld values based on a religious belief system with the contemporary vision of a secular Turkey moving forward toward further Westernization and full membership in the European Union. Prime Minister Erdoğan has put forth considerable effort to strength the ties with the West. JDP has also criticized the strong enforcement of the military regarding dismissal of officers that might have a religious affiliation; feeling “democratic harmony” should be the result of dynamic consensus, not state consensus. This method was illustrated when the issue of vocational schools, including the Prayer Leaders and Preacher Schools (Imam Hatip Okulları) was brought up for policy revision. Although legislation was submitted to correct the unfair prejudice toward graduates of these schools in regards to university entrance, and duly passed because of the JDP majority in parliament, there arose a great opposition in the military and it was declared by the military authority that this was utterly unacceptable. Consequently, when the President vetoed it, the government did not force the legislation to pass, although it had the means, but preferred to let the issue ride currently, while maintaining its focus on the top non-religious priorities of the government – socio-economic issues, such as unemployment and EU membership.
Following this same political agenda, another sensitive religious issue currently in Turkey – that of the public wearing of headscarves has not been included in any type of legislation in parliament, and in fact, has actually been handled in a secular manner, with the President not inviting to public events the spouses of the party leaders that are known to wear the headscarf. Although some in the party insist this is a personal, not public issue, it seems the JDP does not wish to focus on this debate, as many secularists would denigrate any solutions they might put forth, claiming a religious basis, and thus crippling the party’s positive influence in matters of higher priority.
Although many have been and continue to be quite skeptical of the “true” motives of the JDP party, the rhetoric of conservative democracy and support of Kemalism as the “the code of collective existence” for the nation of Turkey, along with the legislation that illustrates the practical application of this political ideology, seems to give credence to the party’s continuing support of a secular state not influenced by political Islam. As the JDP continues to walk the tight-wire between secularism and religion, the trick will be maintaining the balance so as to appease the secularists enough so as to not be removed from power by the military, while satisfying the electorate enough to retain the majority of the votes. When we look at the policies, sayings and deeds of both Prime Minister Erdoğan and other prominent JDP figures it will not be wrong to say that we can call JDP as an “Islamic Liberal” party. However, it should be noted that JDP has strong ties with fundamentalist religious groups and communities and the party could increase its dose of Islamism in the future.
In conclusion, the Welfare Party and the Justice and Development Party at first glance seem to have much in common as Islamist parties, but given a closer look, the differences in many areas outweigh the similarities. Looking at three examples of these differences – the first issue is the development of further relationships with Islamic countries versus Western countries. While the Welfare Party was quite determined to make a statement to the world of wishing stronger ties with Islamic countries, the JDP has maintained close relations with the West while also keeping friendly relations with the Islamic countries when possible. The top priority of EU membership is undoubtedly a strong factor in this position of the JDP’s foreign relation policies.
Secondly, while both governments desired an improvement of the vocational/religious schools, and passed legislation accordingly, the WP was very forceful in implementing changes in the number of Prayer Leaders and Preacher Schools and the Koran courses that were offered, while the JDP did not force the legislation to pass and has put this issue on the “back political burner” at the current time. The third issue – that of wearing headscarves in the public arena has been handled entirely differently – the WP once again forcing the allowance of headscarves in the public, which in part contributed to their political demise by the military, but the JDP has not made this an issue to do battle over; rather having remained sensitive to the wishes of the secular state and downplayed the issue as much as possible.
The final conclusion that can be drawn from these comparisons is that the Justice and Development Party, while having strong personal religious beliefs, truly believes Islam and secularism can co-exist, and has hopes for the future, as stated by Prime Minister Erdoğan, “I dream of a Turkey which will be the strongest bridge between civilizations”. (This paper was prepared as a weekly assignment in 2006. After the second landslide victory of JDP in 2007 general elections, the party’s liberal Islamism quickly turned into reformist fundamentalism in many areas including foreign policy, internal policy and cultural policies, and JDP started to act differently although it still seems to hesitate between Islamic liberalism and reformist fundamentalism.)
· Heper, Metin, A Democratic-Conservative Government by Pious People: the Justice and Development Party in Turkey. Blackwell Companion for Contemporary Political Thought, Ed. by Ibrahim M. Abu-Rabi. New York: Blackwell
· Tank, Pınar. Political Islam in Turkey: A State of Controlled Secularity. Turkish Studies Vol.6, No. 1, 3- 19 March 2005
· Özdalga, Elizabeth. “Necmettin Erbakan: Democracy for the sake of power", Political Leaders and Democracy in Turkey”, Ed. by Metin Heper and Sabri Sayarı, New York and Oxford: Lexington Books, 2002
· Özbudun, Ergun. “Contemporary Turkish Politics: Challenges to democratic consolidation,” Boulder, CO, Lynne Reinner Publishers. 2000
· Öniş, Ziya. “Political Islam at the crossroads: from hegemony to co-existence”. Contemporary Politics, Vol 7, No 4, 2001
 Tank, Pınar. Political Islam in Turkey: A State of Controlled Secularity. Turkish Studies Vol.6, No. 1, 3-19 March 2005, p.7.
 Öniş, Ziya. Political Islam at the crossroads: from hegemony to co-existence. Contemporary Politics, Vol 7, No 4, 2001, p. 283.
 ibid, p. 283.
 Özbudun, Ergun. “Contemporary Turkish Politics: Challenges to Democratic Consolidation”, Boulder,CO, Lynne Reinner Publishers. 2000, p. 87.
 Özdalga, Elizabeth. “Necmettin Erbakan: Democracy for the sake of power”, Political Leaders and Democracy in Turkey, Ed. by Metin Heper and Sabri Sayarı, New York and Oxford: Lexington Books, 2002, p. 134.
 Heper, Metin, A Democratic-Conservative Government by Pious People: the Justice and Development Party in Turkey. Blackwell Companion for Contemporary Political Thought, Ed. by Ibrahim M. Abu-Rabi. New York: Blackwell, p. 8.
 Tank, Pınar. “Political Islam in Turkey: A State of Controlled Secularity.” Turkish Studies Vol.6, No. 1, 19 March 2005, p. 5.
 Heper, Metin, A Democratic-Conservative Government by Pious People: the Justice and Development Party in Turkey. Blackwell Companion for Contemporary Political Thought, Ed. by Ibrahim M. Abu-Rabi. New York: Blackwell, p 14.
 ibid, p. 16.
 Tank, Pınar. Political Islam in Turkey: A State of Controlled Secularity. Turkish Studies Vol.6, No. 1, 3- 19 March 2005, p. 16.
 Heper, Metin, A Democratic-Conservative Government by Pious People: the Justice and Development Party in Turkey. Blackwell Companion for Contemporary Political Thought, Ed. by Ibrahim M. Abu-Rabi. New York: Blackwell, p. 12.