Ataturk and the Bangsamoro

Written by Amina Rasul on her column Surveil in BusinessWorld.

Mustafa Kemal Ataturk saw that the way to peace and progress for Turkey was to unite the peoples behind one vision, a secular vision allowing all to practice their own faith and creed. In Muslim Mindanao, we need such a vision.

Happy New Year, dear readers!

Am back, refreshed after vacationing in Turkey with my family. I will, in the very near future, extol the beauty and culture of Turkey.

Today, we, who are immersed in autonomy for the indigenous Muslims of the Philippines, can learn much from the initiatives of the Father of the Turks -- Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

First a brief description of Mustafa Kemal before his presidency.

Blue-eyed Mustafa Kemal was born in 1881. Intelligent and strong willed, he was an army officer who ended the reign of the Ottoman sultanate and carved an independent Republic of Turkey out of the ruins of the Ottoman Empire. He served as Turkey’s first president from 1923 until his death in 1938. Responsible for implementing reforms that rapidly secularized and westernized the country, Mustafa Kemal was given the name “Ataturk” or “Father of the Turks” by the Turkish General Assembly.

While on vacation, marveling at the level of development of Turkey, our tour guide Koray educated us on the role played by Ataturk in uniting the peoples that now populate modern Turkey and the reforms that he initiated and implemented.

The Ottoman Empire which ruled for 600 years, covered Egypt, Greece, Bulgaria, Romania, Macedonia, Hungary, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, and parts of the Arabian Peninsula (such as Saudi Arabia) and North Africa (from Egypt to Algeria. Unfortunately, by the 1900s, the once powerful Empire had lost its territories in Europe and Africa. During World War I (1914-18), the Ottoman Sultan allied the Empire with Germany and Austria-Hungary. They lost the war.

However, while the Ottoman Sultanate lost, young army officer Mustafa Kemal won his battles. He was able to unify the many tribes of the empire, even getting children, women, and old men to actively support the war.

In 1915, Mustafa Kemal became internationally known as the leader who stopped the powerful British and French troops from taking Istanbul in Gallipoli. He was soon promoted to brigadier-general and won battles eastern Turkey, Syria, and Palestine.

The Allied powers divided the Ottoman Empire amongst them, separated all Arab provinces, Armenia and Kurdistan from the Ottoman Empire. They gave the region surrounding Smyrna (now Izmir) to the Greeks.

However, Mustafa Kemal had already organized an independence movement based in Ankara. The sultan, based in Istanbul, sentenced Mustafa Kemal to death. Mustafa Kemal rallied the military and the populace behind his war for independence. He stopped the Greeks from claiming Smyrna, forced the British to negotiate a new peace treaty, and eventually expelled the Sultan and his people from Turkey. The Grand National Assembly based in Ankara, led by Mustafa Kemal, passed a resolution ending the rule of Ottoman Empire.

A new peace treaty (July 1923) recognized an independent Turkish state. By October, the Grand National Assembly proclaimed the Republic of Turkey and elected Mustafa Kemal as its first president.

If the story of Mustafa Kemal ended there, he would one of a handful of world leaders who won wars for independence and became political leaders. But Mustafa Kemal’s work to forge a modern Turkey had just started.

As President, he strived to change the world-view of his people from a collection of tribal groups, majority of whom were devout Muslims, to a united Turkish nation of various cultures and beliefs. He had already ended the rule of the sultanate and ushered in democracy. He now sought to bring his country and his people into the modern age.

To do this, he had to open the minds of his people to accept modernity. He saw that the path to progress and modernity was blocked by ignorance (only 5% of the population were literate), poverty and blind devotion to religion.

He had a new alphabet developed, based on the Latin alphabet and scrapping the Arabic-Persian one utilized by the Ottoman Empire, which he thought to be poorly suited to the Turkish vocabulary.

While the reformist Young Turks had proposed before the use of the Latin script, it was Mustafa Kemal who made it happen. A language commission was established to create the Turkish language was established, resulting in the current 29-letter alphabet.

Next, he made attendance in school mandatory for children and funded the building of public schools and training of teachers.

When he assumed the Presidency in 1923, literacy level was only 5%, according to our knowledgeable guide Koray. Today, UNESCO cites Turkish literacy at 95.7%. He gave rights to women, marrying a modern-educated woman who wore western clothes to set an example. He mandated equal access to education and opportunities, bringing women into politics and governance. 17 women deputies entered parliament during the 1935 elections. Today, women occupy over 17% of seats in the parliament.

To fight poverty, Mustafa Kemal had to look to his former enemies and establish alliances for trade, investment and technology. He would visit rural areas, talk to small farmers to encourage them to adopt modern farming techniques.

Mustafa Kemal, very early on, saw the role of religion as a major obstacle to modernity and democracy. He thus sought to reduce the influence of Islam in public life starting with public appearances. He had already deposed the sultan or caliph, who was not only the political leader but also spiritual leader of the Muslim community.

When he married, no Muslim cleric (imam) was present. He banned the use of the veil in public offices and required that the call to prayer be in Turkish rather than Arabic. His parliament approved a Constitution and established European-style law codes, abolishing sharia (Islamic law) as the basis for governance and justice.

When he died, the reforms that he had initiated had started to take root and modern Turkey began to emerge. Thus, the grateful nation gave him the surname “Ataturk.”


Today, the political leaders of Turkey seem to be moving away from Ataturk’s vision of a secular, democratic and modern Turkey and returning to governance heavily influenced by religious leaders. Will Turkey abandon the vision of their Father?

Here at home, I look at the conditions of indigenous Muslims and realize how similar our conditions are to Turkey during Ataturk’s time. We live in a democracy but in the areas of conflict, Islam as the basis for governance and justice is the rallying cry of rebels and citizens. What lessons can we learn from Ataturk and Turkey today?

***

the bomb blast in istanbul sent shivers up my spine. A suspected syrian suicide-bomber of the islamic state of iraq and syria (isis) group killed 10 people. My family and i had visited sultan ahmet square, near the famous blue mosque, a few weeks ago. Turkish friends had actually advised me to postpone our vacation, because they were so worried about the unrest in turkey. We decided to risk it, believing that a country that had over 30 million tourists last year would have a well-coordinated security program. We were lucky.

President Recep Erdogan has stated that Turkey was the “top target for all terrorist groups in the region.” The political and security situation in Turkey today is influenced by a strengthened role of fundamentalist religious thought, sympathetic to a return to the Caliphate of old and moving farther and farther away from the vision of Attaturk. The ideology is more allied to the political belief of ISIS.

In my previous column, I stated that the political leaders of Turkey seem to be moving away from Ataturk’s vision of a secular, democratic, and modern Turkey and returning to governance heavily influenced by religious leaders. The party of President Erdogan rose to power on the promise of reforms and a strong Turkey (sounding like Attaturk).


Erdogan’s party, the Justice and Development Party (JDP), developed what it referred to as “conservative democracy” supported by a “broad coalition of Islamists, reformist Islamists, conservatives, nationalists, center-right, and pro-business groups.”

However, shortly after it was formed in 2001, the JDP portrayed itself as pro-Western and anti-Al-Qaeda, with its sight on membership in the European Union. Supported by powerful reform movements such as the Cemaat Movement of Fethullah Gulen, opposition to Erdogan weakened. Gulen has established thousands of schools in Turkey and thousands more abroad. (I understand that there has been a parting of ways between the Cemaat Movement and the JDP, with leading members of the movement harassed.)

Conditions of indigenous Muslims in Mindanao today are similar to rural Turkey during Ataturk’s time: poorest of the poor, highest illiteracy rate and lowest education levels, least served, conflict affected. We may live in a democracy but in the areas of conflict, strongmen or warlords rule while Islam, as the basis for governance and justice is the rallying cry of rebels and citizens.

Democracy has taken a back seat, in Muslim Mindanao. Do we have any Moro political leaders who have a similar vision and political will like Ataturk (less his dictatorial ways)? Who will move heaven and earth -- and Imperial Manila -- to reform regional and local governance and move the region on the path to peace, progress and development? Sadly, most of our political strongmen think in three-year time frames, looking to consolidate political power by buying or manipulating the electoral process instead of improving the lives of the communities.

The impoverished and oppressed communities have but two options: do nothing but accept occasional largesse from political leaders and continue a life of squalor and violence or support radical groups who promise a better life. This is why hundreds have been turning to ISIS.

ISIS has grown rapidly from Iraq and Syria to Africa (with the Boko Haram of Nigeria swearing allegiance), Asia (small groups of rebels declaring support in Mindanao and Indonesia) and has even attracted followers in rich countries such as the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, Singapore and Turkey. ISIS’ position has gone beyond that of the decimated Al Qaeda, consolidating actual territory in Syria and Iraq. ISIS has become more and more a state, an Islamic State, although rejected by the international community.

The coordinated military response of the international community has stopped the expansion of ISIS. It has lost territory, such as Manbij in Syria and there are reports of IS commanders pulling out.

However, supporters outside Syria and Iraq remain enamored of the idea of the return of an Islamic State. They heed the call of ISIS to attack its enemies in their home grounds abroad. According to Turkish President Recep Erdogan, Turkey is the “top target for all terrorist groups in the region.” Turkey has provided refuge for millions of Syrian refugees, establishing temporary settlements in its borders.

We should be worried about the setbacks in the peace process with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) following the Mamasapano debacle. The spillover effects of the conflict and the attractiveness of a conflict area for terrorists is a concern for the international community, particularly ASEAN. Will the doors open wide to ISIS, if the peace process fails?

Last year, the Philippine Center for Islam and Democracy (PCID) organized a conference on “Radicalization in East Asia: Addressing the Challenges of the Expanding ISIS Influence.” At the conference, Retired AFP Lt. General Ben Dolorfino, former head of Western Mindanao Command and chair of the conference, said “Growing exasperation with obstacles to the peace process may lead younger generation of rebels to radicalization. It must be noted that many members of local terrorist groups such as the Abu Sayyaf Group, Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, Justice for Islamic Movement and Kilafah Islamiyah Movement are orphans of rebels and frustrated members of Moro fronts.”

Our own military confirm that there is a growing number of Muslims in Mindanao who adhere to the radical ISIS belief. While the supporters are few, possibly a couple of hundreds of disillusioned and extremist rebels, Mindanao has the potential of becoming a fertile ground for the spread of ISIS if the peace process fails. We at PCID are not alone in worrying about the situation in Mindanao. International security analysts, such as those with Singapore’s S. Rajaratnam School for International Studies, share our concerns.

Senator Juan Ponce Enrile has successfully reopened the Mamasapano investigation, some say for political (election-related) reasons. Will the hearings lead to any new information? Or will it serve to inflame already heated hearts and minds, for or against the Bangsamoro Basic Law. Will the rhetoric consolidate the rising prejudice against Muslims in this country? Should this happen, will moderate Muslims react by turning to more radical thoughts and back to conflict?

Should the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) not be passed, we are back to square one in the search for a peaceful political solution to the generations of armed conflict in Muslim Mindanao. Should a watered-down BBL be passed, will the MILF accept the amendments? MILF peace panel Chair Mohagher Iqbal has said repeatedly that no BBL is better than a watered down BBL, that the MILF would rather go back to the negotiating table than accept a BBL which will merely give the Bangsamoro what it already has -- a dysfunctional and weak autonomous region, tied to the aprons of national government. Iqbal has said that ARMM had been offered to the MILF three times in the past, which the MILF had consistently rejected.

Mustafa Kemal Ataturk saw that the way to peace and progress for Turkey was to unite the peoples behind one vision, a secular vision allowing all to practice their own faith and creed. In Muslim Mindanao, we need such a vision.

The Bangsamoro Law provides the foundation for such a vision, providing Muslims access with Islamic institutions and all citizens of the region with access to secular institutions of governance as well.

Let us hope that our legislators can find a way to provide a law that will strengthen autonomy, guaranteed by the Philippine Constitution and agreed on by the negotiating panels.

Instead of providing a mere amendment of RA 1954 (Autonomy Act), itself a watered down version of the 1976 Tripoli Agreement and 1996 Final Peace Agreement between the government and the Moro National Liberation Front. Otherwise, I fear a shift in the Muslim liberation fronts/insurgency power structure away from those who support moderation and peaceful negotiations to those with a radical, Islamist core more closely allied to ISIS.

The bomb blast in Istanbul sent shivers up my spine. A suspected Syrian suicide-bomber of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group killed 10 people. My family and I had visited Sultan Ahmet Square, near the famous Blue Mosque, a few weeks ago. Turkish friends had actually advised me to postpone our vacation, because they were so worried about the unrest in Turkey. We decided to risk it, believing that a country that had over 30 million tourists last year would have a well-coordinated security program. We were lucky.

President Recep Erdogan has stated that Turkey was the “top target for all terrorist groups in the region.” The political and security situation in Turkey today is influenced by a strengthened role of fundamentalist religious thought, sympathetic to a return to the Caliphate of old and moving farther and farther away from the vision of Attaturk. The ideology is more allied to the political belief of ISIS.

In my previous column, I stated that the political leaders of Turkey seem to be moving away from Ataturk’s vision of a secular, democratic, and modern Turkey and returning to governance heavily influenced by religious leaders. The party of President Erdogan rose to power on the promise of reforms and a strong Turkey (sounding like Attaturk).

Erdogan’s party, the Justice and Development Party (JDP), developed what it referred to as “conservative democracy” supported by a “broad coalition of Islamists, reformist Islamists, conservatives, nationalists, center-right, and pro-business groups.”

However, shortly after it was formed in 2001, the JDP portrayed itself as pro-Western and anti-Al-Qaeda, with its sight on membership in the European Union. Supported by powerful reform movements such as the Cemaat Movement of Fethullah Gulen, opposition to Erdogan weakened. Gulen has established thousands of schools in Turkey and thousands more abroad. (I understand that there has been a parting of ways between the Cemaat Movement and the JDP, with leading members of the movement harassed.)

Conditions of indigenous Muslims in Mindanao today are similar to rural Turkey during Ataturk’s time: poorest of the poor, highest illiteracy rate and lowest education levels, least served, conflict affected. We may live in a democracy but in the areas of conflict, strongmen or warlords rule while Islam, as the basis for governance and justice is the rallying cry of rebels and citizens.

Democracy has taken a back seat, in Muslim Mindanao. Do we have any Moro political leaders who have a similar vision and political will like Attaturk (less his dictatorial ways)? Who will move heaven and earth -- and Imperial Manila -- to reform regional and local governance and move the region on the path to peace, progress and development? Sadly, most of our political strongmen think in three-year time frames, looking to consolidate political power by buying or manipulating the electoral process instead of improving the lives of the communities.

The impoverished and oppressed communities have but two options: do nothing but accept occasional largesse from political leaders and continue a life of squalor and violence or support radical groups who promise a better life. This is why hundreds have been turning to ISIS.

ISIS has grown rapidly from Iraq and Syria to Africa (with the Boko Haram of Nigeria swearing allegiance), Asia (small groups of rebels declaring support in Mindanao and Indonesia) and has even attracted followers in rich countries such as the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, Singapore and Turkey. ISIS’ position has gone beyond that of the decimated Al Qaeda, consolidating actual territory in Syria and Iraq. ISIS has become more and more a state, an Islamic State, although rejected by the international community.

The coordinated military response of the international community has stopped the expansion of ISIS. It has lost territory, such as Manbij in Syria and there are reports of IS commanders pulling out.

However, supporters outside Syria and Iraq remain enamored of the idea of the return of an Islamic State. They heed the call of ISIS to attack its enemies in their home grounds abroad. According to Turkish President Recep Erdogan, Turkey is the “top target for all terrorist groups in the region.” Turkey has provided refuge for millions of Syrian refugees, establishing temporary settlements in its borders.

We should be worried about the setbacks in the peace process with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) following the Mamasapano debacle. The spillover effects of the conflict and the attractiveness of a conflict area for terrorists is a concern for the international community, particularly ASEAN. Will the doors open wide to ISIS, if the peace process fails?

Last year, the Philippine Center for Islam and Democracy (PCID) organized a conference on “Radicalization in East Asia: Addressing the Challenges of the Expanding ISIS Influence.” At the conference, Retired AFP Lt. General Ben Dolorfino, former head of Western Mindanao Command and chair of the conference, said “Growing exasperation with obstacles to the peace process may lead younger generation of rebels to radicalization. It must be noted that many members of local terrorist groups such as the Abu Sayyaf Group, Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, Justice for Islamic Movement and Kilafah Islamiyah Movement are orphans of rebels and frustrated members of Moro fronts.”

Our own military confirm that there is a growing number of Muslims in Mindanao who adhere to the radical ISIS belief. While the supporters are few, possibly a couple of hundreds of disillusioned and extremist rebels, Mindanao has the potential of becoming a fertile ground for the spread of ISIS if the peace process fails. We at PCID are not alone in worrying about the situation in Mindanao. International security analysts, such as those with Singapore’s S. Rajaratnam School for International Studies, share our concerns.

Senator Juan Ponce Enrile has successfully reopened the Mamasapano investigation, some say for political (election-related) reasons. Will the hearings lead to any new information? Or will it serve to inflame already heated hearts and minds, for or against the Bangsamoro Basic Law. Will the rhetoric consolidate the rising prejudice against Muslims in this country? Should this happen, will moderate Muslims react by turning to more radical thoughts and back to conflict?

Should the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) not be passed, we are back to square one in the search for a peaceful political solution to the generations of armed conflict in Muslim Mindanao. Should a watered-down BBL be passed, will the MILF accept the amendments? MILF peace panel Chair Mohagher Iqbal has said repeatedly that no BBL is better than a watered down BBL, that the MILF would rather go back to the negotiating table than accept a BBL which will merely give the Bangsamoro what it already has -- a dysfunctional and weak autonomous region, tied to the aprons of national government. Iqbal has said that ARMM had been offered to the MILF three times in the past, which the MILF had consistently rejected.

Mustafa Kemal Attaturk saw that the way to peace and progress for Turkey was to unite the peoples behind one vision, a secular vision allowing all to practice their own faith and creed. In Muslim Mindanao, we need such a vision.

The Bangsamoro Law provides the foundation for such a vision, providing Muslims access with Islamic institutions and all citizens of the region with access to secular institutions of governance as well.

Let us hope that our legislators can find a way to provide a law that will strengthen autonomy, guaranteed by the Philippine Constitution and agreed on by the negotiating panels.

Instead of providing a mere amendment of RA 1954 (Autonomy Act), itself a watered down version of the 1976 Tripoli Agreement and 1996 Final Peace Agreement between the government and the Moro National Liberation Front. Otherwise, I fear a shift in the Muslim liberation fronts/insurgency power structure away from those who support moderation and peaceful negotiations to those with a radical, Islamist core more closely allied to ISIS.


Amina Rasul is a democracy, peace and human rights advocate, president of the Philippine Center for Islam and Democracy.