Religion and Civil Society in Europe

Towards a Global Exchange on Religion in Society- Remarks by Prof. Azza Karam
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Finally, we will analyse the mechanisms and strategies value agents use to transmit particular values—training, formal educational sessions, informal discussions, social media, videography—and explore their effectiveness. The empirical research will include participant observation, ethnographic interviews and focus group discussions with different value agents as well as refugees and immigrants participating in the value transmission activities. The empirical research will include three thematic case studies:.

Hospitality and Humanitarianism, focusing on humanitarian action at home, on reasons to engage in providing assistance to refugees and immigrants as well as reasons for refusing to resettle refugees despite cultural and religious values to welcome the Stranger 2.

Trends in Turkish Civil Society - Center for American Progress

Religious Tolerance with a particular emphasis on Islam. Religion, especially the value of religious tolerance, is inextricably entwined with the value of hospitality. This case study will be carried out in countries with secular values, and countries where religion plays a significant role in politics and policy-making, including refugee and immigration policy.

Gender Equality. Gender equality is a founding value of the European Union, and one of the values that often is used to distinguish between Us and the Others. The final phase of this work package will centre on the external dimension of value transmission. We will thus map the field of European value transmission as it is practiced externally in the encounters between representatives of the EU member states and refugees prior to arrival in Europe. These encounters take place through cultural orientation programs COP s.

The analytical focus is on which national and European core values member states include in their cultural orientation curricula and how these values are communicated and negotiated between and among value agents and refugees. By the time of the military coup, CSO numbers had again grown to roughly 38, A new Associations Law promulgated in , the final year of the military regime, affirmed the right of the state to control or halt the activities of civil society associations.

In all, the military regime shuttered more than 20, civil society organizations. Over the roughly two decades from to , the number of NGOs in Turkey tripled. The expansion of identity and religious politics during this period also helped to galvanize the growth of civil society. Religious groups founded numerous charities and other institutions, including hospitals and universities.

Some other important groups were not registered, however. Another important breakthrough occurred in December , when the EU recognized Turkey as a candidate for membership. However, the Turkish establishment remained suspicious of civil society, particularly politically oriented organizations, and still believed civil society should function essentially as an extension of the state. For example, in , the military mobilized businessmen and secular civil society groups to support its efforts to bring down a government led by Islamist-oriented Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan.

The prospect of a pathway to EU membership, however, left that establishment little choice but to move toward greater acceptance of civil society. Through various EU mechanisms, EU funding also began to flow to civil society groups. This new and more open environment was inherited by the AKP when it came to power in November and expanded by the new government to include greater space for religious and, eventually, Kurdish civic activity. State control and suspicion of civil society, with its roots in the Ottoman and early republic eras, had not ended, but the reins had been decidedly loosened.

Turkish citizens, meanwhile, increasingly had come to see civil society formation more as a right than a privilege allowed by the ruling authorities. The pace of societal change in Turkey over the past two decades has been astonishing, and Turkish civil society has reflected those wider changes in the country. Today there are nearly , CSOs in Turkey, and roughly 13 percent of the Turkish population is a member of an association—the most common legal status for CSOs.

While the vast majority of civil society organizations in Turkey are professional associations, sport clubs, or religious organizations, there are more than 23, CSOs that are dedicated to researching or advocating on political and social issues such as education, gender rights, or environmental justice, or to delivering social services—particularly, in recent years, for refugees.

That said, much of Turkish civil society avoids the most politically charged issues, and just 1. Turkey is governed by a constitution drafted in , when the country was still under military rule. While the constitution has been repeatedly amended and various reforms have been undertaken, there remain a number of vague or open-ended articles that allow the state great leeway to dominate public discourse and activity. This is clearly visibly in the laws governing associations and foundations—the two primary legal entities for CSOs—that cover the collection of donations, tax exemptions, and fundamental rights and freedoms such as the right to free assembly and expression.

Civil society actors, particularly likeminded groups such as Mazlumder, which focused on equal treatment for religious Turkish citizens, were therefore largely viewed as potential allies. Likewise, the party sought to bring Turkish laws and practices in line with EU standards, both to pursue eventual accession and to insulate the government from antidemocratic overthrow—as had befallen the last Islamist government of Necmettin Erbakan.

For all of these reasons, the AKP oversaw a series of legal reforms that contributed to a flowering of civil society activity. In , a new Associations Law was passed, stripping out provisions in the previous law that had required government authorization in order to receive foreign funding or to cooperate with foreign organizations, as well as requiring advance notice to the government of any general meetings.

While informal civil groups can often operate without state sanction, their lack of legal status limits their effectiveness, preventing them from opening a bank account, raising funds, or undertaking legal actions. A addendum to the Associations Law, meanwhile, upheld the restrictions on associations devoted to particular religious or cultural identities. In , the government passed a new Foundations Law designed to bring the legal standing of those entities into line with the liberalized Associations Law, and—it was hoped—EU standards. The Gezi Park protests of are a clear watershed in this process.

More than 2 million citizens in virtually every province in Turkey joined the protests. This — tightening of restrictions on political dissent and public activity only exacerbated an already vague and problematic legal and constitutional setup that has long provided the state with ample means to prosecute or suppress activities it deems undesirable. More broadly, the constitution provides numerous legal means to suppress wider political dissent in ways that also shape the civil society environment—most prominently, the Anti-Terror Law, which has long been used to jail Kurdish political activists and journalists.

"The Challenge of Change." Politics and Religion in Europe and the Arab World.

Uncertainty and fear are perhaps the defining characteristics of the political atmosphere for civil society today in Turkey. The state-oriented and often vague legal provisions outlined above—along with the outright abuse, increasingly common in recent years, of both legal statutes and the judicial system—make the real political context for civil society substantially more negative and complicated.

There have long been restrictions on activities around sensitive issues such as Kurdish identity, democracy and rule of law, and religion. At the macro level, the Turkish government today seems more comfortable with groups providing social services—for example, humanitarian groups caring for Syrian refugees—than rights-based or advocacy groups, according to interviews with dozens of practitioners in both areas.

On the other hand, the government has increasingly sidelined rights-based and advocacy groups as it has asserted greater centralized control in recent years, though there have also been efforts to co-opt CSOs to provide external validation for government policies. Civil society actors from advocacy groups interviewed for this report complained that interactions with the government were rare and, when they happened, focused primarily on pro forma checking the box of civil society input, rather than a genuine consultative process.

Outside of Ankara, the situation and the nature of CSOs can vary widely by locality, and interviewees stressed the importance of distinguishing between relations with the state and those with the government—the state being the overall state structure and bureaucracy and the government being the ruling AKP. Indeed, many respondents reported good relations with some local governors and municipal governments, including some run by AKP mayors and councils, even when relations were sometimes fraught with Ankara and the central state bureaucracy.

Kurdish organizations have long been shut down on vague terrorism charges or through investigations for procedural violations such as poor record keeping—steps that members consider to be political retribution for their criticism of government policy. Kurdish civil society groups were squeezed between the violence of the state and the PKK, and the most visible collapse of CSO activity was in the Kurdish region, where the return of conflict ended the flowering of civic activity that had been visible during the stable — period.

The July coup attempt dramatically escalated and widened the state crackdown. The crackdown has affected all areas of Turkish life, including, of course, civil society. Most troubling, the entire purge has been conducted effectively without due process, with little meaningful mode of legal recourse, and often by applying the flimsiest pretexts of stretching guilt by association. The state of emergency has created widespread fear and uncertainty among civil society organizations and civic actors more broadly.

Even under normal constitutional rule, CSOs face an uncertain environment in Turkey, and the state has many means of influence. In the chaos of the post-coup attempt environment—with normal politics suspended and emergency rule in effect—many civil society actors have severely limited their activities. Anecdotal evidence suggests that this has had the effect of pushing more activity underground and contributing to informal networks and quiet efforts to maintain civic space under the radar of extremely sensitive and hostile governing authorities.

Beyond the remaining legal constraints on civil society activity and the more concerning de facto political situation in which civil society organizations operate, economic realities also profoundly shape the sector and determine the effectiveness of most groups. This financing imperative can itself become a political issue, of course, and can open up CSOs to pressure from outside groups and the government. Donations to Turkish foundations and associations in totaled a little more than 7.

Problems With Religion: Is Religion Necessary For a Civil Society?

Charitable giving was roughly 0. For context, the ratio of charitable donations to GDP is 0. These forms of charity are often distributed locally within a community and may take the place of some more formal and easily measured charitable giving. There are also other structural reasons for the relative weakness of civil society fundraising. While fundraising methods, especially those administered through online platforms, are becoming more widely adopted and effective, these efforts are limited by restrictive laws that govern the ability of CSOs to solicit funds and by a tax system that does little to incentivize charitable giving.

Indeed, the entire economic context in which CSOs operate is highly politicized.

Trends in Turkish Civil Society

Under the Associations Law, the Council of Ministers determines which CSOs are granted public benefit status, which allows donations to those organizations to be tax-exempt. Just of 4, Turkish foundations qualified for tax-exempt status in —or 5 percent—and only of , Turkish associations qualified—or less than half of a percent. As of May 16, , only 19 CSOs had this coveted status, including several venerable apolitical charities alongside a number of government-favored civil society groups. Given this context, and despite the nascent growth in domestic fundraising, international funds continue to play a vital role in sustaining civil society activity in Turkey, particularly for the relatively small number of groups devoted to human rights, democracy, and policy advocacy.

In terms of this international financial support, the EU is by far the most important player. European Union funding for Turkish civil society has been essential to the growth of the sector overall, and to the survival of many rights-based groups and advocacy organizations, particularly those operating on politically or socially sensitive issues. A good portion of this money is funneled through civil society mechanisms, which will be further discussed in the final section of this report. This influx of capital from the EU and other external funders represents an important part of the economic context for Turkish civil society, but there is also the broader economic impact of the jobs and domestic activity that stems from civil society, as well as the human capital gained through trainings and exchanges organized by CSOs.

There were 51, official full-time employees at Turkish CSOs in , but that excludes the much bigger pool of volunteers, part-time workers, and contractors that make up the bulk of the civil society workforce. Civil society reflects the broader social norms in Turkish society. Perhaps most important is the enduring dominance of the state for many Turkish citizens, as discussed in the historical context section above. Low levels of public trust also hamper civil society effectiveness and make it harder for CSOs to forge stronger ties with society at large.

As mentioned in the context of fundraising, Turkish citizens generally prefer to give locally to people similar to themselves, often through religious alms. A lack of trust in institutions—including formal civil society organizations—is part of that story. Just 12 percent of Turkish respondents in the World Values Survey said that most people can be trusted. Paradoxically, a lack of social trust is a problem that civil society participation has been shown to help address, as discussed in the next section.

In , 54 percent of respondents to a TUSEV survey said they believed that CSOs could be effective in solving existing problems, but that percentage had decreased to 41 percent in Through dozens of interviews with civil society practitioners and academic experts from a broad range of backgrounds in preparation for this report, several consensus themes emerged regarding civil society in Turkey. Interviewees tended to regard the inhibitive legal, financial, cultural, and political environment for civil society outlined above as something of a given and most often pointed to the problem of polarization within and between civil society groups as a primary challenge to increasing the influence of civil society.

The fault lines are familiar to observers of Turkey, as they match the divisions that shape the country at large: nationalist versus cosmopolitan; Islamist versus secularist; a focus on obligations to the state versus a focus on demanding full rights from the state; and separations along lines of ethnic and religious identity.

Indeed, clashes within and between civil society groups are common; the overall weakness of the sector in relation to the government and the state do not insulate it from the most contentious issues of secularism and faith, Kurdish identity, and partisan politics. There are exceptions to this polarization, of course, such as the cooperation of Mazlumder and the Human Rights Association—devoted primarily to advancing the rights of religiously devout and Kurdish citizens, respectively—who intermittently come together to advocate for a broader platform of democratization and human rights.

But these alliances remain the exception rather than the norm, with most organizations advocating for their narrow constituencies rather than advancing a broader cooperative agenda based around the public good. Many people have fully developed personal identities and are committed to advocating for that particular identity, but think less about what connects them and their problems with all the other identity groups.

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Many observers lamented the fact that CSOs have bursts of unity—as during the Gezi Park protests or the strong reaction to recent AKP attempts to quietly pass restrictive legislation on violence against women—but little ability to sustain or institutionalize it. But today, despite recent tensions with the governing party, the group enjoys wide in-kind, de facto government support as well as the coveted tax-exempt status.

These government-backed groups enjoy increased operational capacity and can do good work, but often lack legitimacy outside the AKP constituency, which limits their capacity to address some of the most controversial issues confronting the country. Many mandatory professional organizations, such as the Turkish Bar Association or the Union of Chambers of Turkish Engineers and Architects, exercise meaningful influence.

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These groups can sometimes demonstrate considerable independence; the Turkish Bar Association has been very outspoken on the erosion of judicial independence, for example, and the Union of Chambers of Turkish Engineers and Architects has spoken out against environmental degradation, including during the Gezi Park protests. But these groups often carry state-mandated membership—that is, you must be a member in order to practice that profession.

Furthermore, as umbrella groups comprised of many local branches, the national organizations can play host to political infighting among competing factions. Finally, there are the groups that suffer active repression at the hands of the government. All of these groups are under tremendous pressure.

As mentioned previously, formal civil society in the Kurdish regions has largely collapsed under the weight of state repression, and informal social groups and civic activity—always important—has replaced it. In fact, CSOs had long struggled to carve out independent political space in the Kurdish region. The instrumentalization of CSOs for political purposes remains a major challenge, and it is not just the AKP that does this—all of the major political parties cultivate civil society allies.

While it is neither possible nor desirable for all civil society groups to be nonpolitical, interviewees stressed the need for a more conceptual, rights-based approach to avoid civil society becoming subsumed by partisan or ethnic identities. There is anecdotal evidence of this in several civil society fields—particularly in areas important to the AKP constituency such as health and education—but it is an area with little transparency and is thus deserving of further research.

Given the history of instrumentalized civil society groups and positive and negative discrimination by the Turkish state, transparency—particularly on issues of public funds and tax exemptions—will be important in defining the sector and its credibility moving forward. Civil society has played a vital role in the democratization, normalization, and prosperity of the Turkish society at large.

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Religion is back again in Europe after never having been gone. It is manifest in the revival of religious institutions and traditions in former communist countries. The seemingly vitalizing impact of religiosity on civil society is a research topic that has been extensively looked into, not only in the USA, but increasingly also in.

Indeed, progress on these issues will be essential to help open up new sectors and a new phase of economic growth for a country in danger of falling into the middle-income trap. For Turkish funders and many Turkish citizens, there is of course wide disagreement on the proper role of civil society, as well as a great deal of skepticism.

Why focus on civil society?

But there is currently a general preference for groups that focus on the economic, bread-and-butter issues mentioned above, particularly those engaged in the direct provision of services. Paradoxically, given this preference, Turkish civil society may have more success convincing the public of its value by addressing the first major problem—polarization—through efforts or platforms to reduce polarization in the country.

Some civil society experts argue persuasively that CSOs provide venues for learning active citizenship—defined to encompass civic action, social cohesion, and self-actualization—and encourage democratic participation. Indeed, a study from the Istanbul Policy Center found a correlation between active citizenship—closely linked to civil society activism—and more positive views on different ethnic and religious groups. Of course, beyond these broader normative points, Turkish civil society organizations make important, tangible contributions on key challenges facing the nation: poor educational outcomes, low female workforce participation, the erosion of the rule of law and checks and balances, the lack of ethnic and social tolerance, and the need to care for Syrian refugees.

In the field of education, for example, Turkish students consistently underperform, holding back economic growth and hampering the expansion of new high-tech, value-added manufacturing. Low female workforce participation also drags on economic growth, and it has been civil society organizations devoted to this cause that have driven government changes to policy and initiatives to make it easier for women to work and start businesses.

While it is difficult to be optimistic about the rule of law and checks and balances in Turkey given the present circumstances, there are normative and economic reasons to support renewed reform. Foreign direct investment tends to flow to countries with enshrined legal protections and political checks. The Checks and Balances Network is one of the products of this need and this investment.

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Active in nine provinces, the group is designed to play down political divisions among its constituent groups; the platform has spent four years building trust among participants and focusing on communicating cohesively the overarching public interest in ensuring checks and balances in the political system. As mentioned previously, civil society participation can reduce polarization and increase integration and tolerance within society—highly relevant given the ethnic, sectarian, and political divides and low levels of public trust in Turkey.

Civil society groups are not only forces for social cohesion, of course; they are also advocates for disadvantaged communities and groups that continue to face discrimination, including Kurds, Alevi, Roma, and the LGBTQ community. The Human Rights Association and Human Rights Foundation have already been mentioned, and their work has helped transform the discourse around the Kurdish conflict, despite the recent deterioration.

In many ways, the Syrian refugee crisis may prove the biggest long-term challenge for Turkey, and civil society has risen to the task thus far. Caring for and integrating this huge and extremely young population without triggering a backlash from Turkish citizens angry about the burdens on the state or the social changes brought by the influx will require close state cooperation with CSOs. Long-term integration in the community is particularly challenging because it cuts across many different policy areas, including humanitarian support, housing, education, and labor market reforms, to name a few.

The issue of labor participation is especially tricky in the context of high Turkish unemployment, yet it is essential if Turkey is to avoid creating new structures of exploitation or marginalization. There are numerous CSOs—both Turkish and international—doing impressive work to address the Syrian crisis.

Despite criticism of its ties to the government and its wider policy positions, IHH is generally praised for its humanitarian assistance to Syrians fleeing the war. In short, across each of these priority policy areas, civil society groups are making important contributions. Additionally, in each of these areas there are moral and interest-based socioeconomic reasons to support those contributions. How then should Turkey, Europe, and the United States go about aiding the further development of Turkish civil society to best address the challenges facing the country and to repair its relations with the West?

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These differences, if not kept in check, create potentially explosive situations. Foreign Policy and Security. However, Karl Marx's critique on civil society led to a period in history when the whole idea of an autonomous society fell in disrepute. To assign any other function to religion, would be to make religion the judge, or measure against which truth and justice is measured. The relationship between religion and civil society takes on different forms. While there are a few existing grant-making foundations tied to the large conglomerates and wealthy individuals, this space needs further encouragement. Felix Meiner Verlag.

Turkish civil society groups—particularly those in opposition to the prevailing political currents in Turkey—will need ongoing support from both inside and outside the country to survive the current repressive environment. For Turkish institutions and individuals devoted to encouraging civic activism, navigating political and legal minefields can be difficult.

For outside donors, particularly the European Union and the United States, support for Turkish civil society groups can bring advantages and risks, and can too often be used as political leverage in bilateral relations. What follows are some recommendations for how to operate in this context. As mentioned at the beginning of the report, external support to Turkish civil society should be conducted transparently and in keeping with the normative framework justifying such assistance and the laws of Turkey.

Civil society activity accelerated in the s and early s alongside a parallel rise of explicit identity politics; both trends were reflections of the loosening of strict taboos on ethnic and religious sectarianism mandated by the Republican state. Alongside this fragmentation, the other fundamental challenge is, of course, the state and its restrictions. Overall, alongside a relaxation of restrictions on civil society activity, what is needed most is clarity from the Turkish government.

Along with these two overarching challenges, increasing digital capacity and domestic funding capacity for civil society provide near-term opportunities. Improving connections between civil society organizations will not be easy, given how ideological and narrowly defined many groups are—for example, Sunni Muslim religious groups, ethnic Kurdish groups, and leftist political groups.

But these divisions are part of the reason civil society groups are not seen as credible representatives of the people, nor a source of real alternatives for pressing social and political problems. Focusing more on cooperative structures and platforms, as well as rhetorical shifts to emphasize the overarching public interest rather than the narrow effects on parochial interests, could help in this regard.