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İÖG (Turkey) / Freedom of Belief Initiative Interview with Editor on Freedom of Thought, Religion or Belief in Turkey

"The situation in which we find ourselves in Turkey these days is well known. Unfortunately people are afraid; forget about putting on a big meeting, even talking about these subjects is difficult. Still there are underground formations on the internet. But unfortunately and sadly we see that people who speak about their opinions are prosecuted."

İÖG (Turkey) / FoRB Initiative):  What does it mean to be agnostic, could you explain that?   How many agnostics are in Turkey?

Annatar: Agnosticism is a philosophical movement that is associated with Thomas Huxley, a biologist in the 1800’s.  This movement could be called “Not being able to know” and states that we have no evidence that supports or denies the god claim and therefore any judgment about this issue must be withheld.  We have no information about the number of agnostics in Turkey, but my guess is not many Turkish citizens would disagree with my previous definition.   To be an agnostic is not the same as not believing in a religion since there are some theists in the world who would define themselves as agnostic.

İÖG (Turkey) / FoRB Initiative):  Are agnostics in Turkey and the world organizing themselves?  If the answer is yes, what are they doing together?  Is there any work being done on the issue of freedom of expression in Turkey?

Annatar:  Agnostics do not have a separate organization but the free thinkers of the world have begun to organize themselves very well in the last few years.  In the US recently a meeting called “Reason Rally” was held where all skeptics and free thinking people gathered; it was not well covered by the media but the participation from around the world was high.  For us this is clearly a hopeful thing.   The situation in which we find ourselves in Turkey these days is well known.  Unfortunately people are afraid; forget about putting on a big meeting, even talking about these subjects is difficult.  Still there are underground formations on the internet.  But unfortunately and sadly we see that people who speak about their opinions are prosecuted.   We know of a blogger whose alias is Greener Nautilus.  He was sued in this way and as a result of the suit had to pay a certain amount of money for legal fees.   From our perspective the hopeful thing was that this amount of money was found in a short time through the giving of other free thinkers in Turkey.

İÖG (Turkey) / FoRB Initiative):  Turkey is described as a 99% Muslim country.  Do you think this percentage is accurate?

Annatar: This is an absolutely exaggerated ratio, my guess is that it comes from the initial description of Muslim placed in the “religion” section of people’s national identity card.  The fact is my card still says Muslim!  Still the vast majority of Turks see themselves as Muslim.  But I have several objections here.  The great majority of the block of people who define themselves as Muslim do not live as a Muslim nor adopt Islamic values.   The issue is the acceptance of Islam from one’s parents or accepting the general identity of the Turkish people, but the amount of people who live in accordance with Islamic law is smaller.  Many people believe that being a Muslim means being a good person and they adopt a Muslim identity.  For most people Islam’s impact on their lives is minimal, they don’t think at all about religious subjects, but if asked you would hear them all answer “Praise God, I’m a Muslim.”   These people also oppose the rules of Islam. And if you asked the majority of those who responded to the Prime Minister’s recent comments on abortion you would get a Muslim answer.   But these people have a modern understanding on life, totally different from a Muslim world view.
İÖG (Turkey) / FoRB Initiative):  Can you explain to us the difficulties that an agnostic in Turkey would face with regard to freedom of thought or religion? 
Annatar:  I gave a partial answer to this in the second question actually.  Unfortunately our country continues to regress on this issue.  Atheism and agnosticism are demonized ideas in our country.  You can see the speeches made by parliamentarians in the Parliament.  What is a more painful dimension is that no one reacts to this issue.
İÖG (Turkey) / FoRB Initiative):  Have you run into any problems on your website, either legal actions or such things as hacking?

Annatar: No, we have received threats of legal action from our religious members, but as of now as far as we know no action has been taken.  There was an illegal attempt to censure us, we were filtered through a children and family packet, but if I am not mistaken in the end we were filtered in the children’s packet only.   Of course to think of an Islamic website being exposed to a filtering like that is comical I think.  Our site has never been hacked, even though there have been some threats thrown our way by some of our members.  But nothing has ever happened.
İÖG (Turkey) / FoRB Initiative):   What do you think of the statements the Prime Minister made recently, such as “raising a religious generation” and “one religion”? 
Annatar: This is totally worrisome; it is not the mission of the government to form people’s religious beliefs.  If one thinks of the past of the present party in power it is not possible to not worry about our country.   Unfortunately we can only trust in our people on this issue, there is no other solution.  Therefore it is very important to raise our people’s consciousness, to not give any advantage to religious speech and to explain that a secular structure is useful to all, both believer and unbeliever.  I hope that our people will discern this before it is too late.

İÖG (Turkey) / FoRB Initiative):  Do you believe the right to criticize or question religion is effectively being protected in Turkey?  Why? What needs to change?

Annatar: No unfortunately I don’t believe that.   Our laws with regard to freedom of thought are inadequate unfortunately.  We see unclear statements like “The denigration of values that a certain part of the people hold sacred.”  Because of laws like these we see lawsuits raised against the most innocent of criticism against religion.  If you examine the entries which were the subject of a lawsuit against the writers of an old dictionary, you will see that those entries fall within the legitimate realms of criticism.   But there is a group that sees anyone who says “your religion is wrong” as an insult against religion and those laws make it possible for these people to sue people like us.

İÖG (Turkey) / FoRB Initiative): What do agnostics think of education in Turkey, especially the compulsory Religious Culture and Ethics course?

Annatar: The education in Turkey is like other issues, heart rending.  From first grade on, forget about trying to graft a good critical thinking ability, we have teachers who try to destroy it, teachers whose skills in education are inadequate unfortunately.  When the education students who are prepared by these teachers become teachers the same situation continues and we have a vicious cycle.  Only a huge revolution could clear up the Turkish education system, but…
Religious education is not really religious education, it is Sunni Muslim education.  Our present day situation can be described in one word:  outlandish.   I am not against students learning theology or history of religions.   But it needs to be taught by objective people, not by the imam prepared by the theology faculty or the person who feels that his religion is the absolute truth.