The Turkish Experiment with Westernization

"Cultural slavery is far more harmful than mere political domination. Yet in practice, they are inseparable." The great Muslim historian, Ibne Khaldun, recognized this fact nearly six centuries ago in his monumental work, Muqaddimah.

More than a hundred years ago, the British government appointed Dr. William Hunter to propose specific measures that would enable Muslims in the Indian subcontinent to be ruled more efficiently. Hunter recommended that the Muslim youth be "western educated." Western education would make Muslims more tolerant of the British rule, like the Hindus who had already succumbed to such a British gambit. The recommendation for implanting the British educational policy was carried out so meticulously that there hardly exists today a single school where a balanced and adequate knowledge of religion is imparted in relation to demands of our modern time.

A similar experiment was undertaken in Egypt, with the help of Lord Cromer. He was the mastermind behind British imperialism in the Arab world. (It is worth pointing out here that Cromer was a Freemason and belonged to the same Masonic Lodge to which Sheikh Muhammad Abduh of Egypt belonged to.) Cromer ruled over Egypt for nearly two decades (1887-1907) as a Governor. As mentioned in his voluminous work, "Modern Egypt" (1908), Cromer’s policy of cultural imperialism can be summed up as: "The new generation of Egyptians has to be persuaded or forced into imbibing the true spirit of western civilization. "

So, what is civilization? Bertrand Russell once said that civilization was born out of the pursuit of luxury. So, we have monuments like the Taj Mahal in India and the Versailles Palace in France as expressions of those civilizations. According to Adam Smith, civilization, and in particular western civilization, was born out of the pursuit of profit. Karl Marx saw civilization and the rally of history as born out of the pursuit of surplus goods. According to Professor Ali Mazrui, probably the best political thinker of our time on Africa, civilization was born out of a creative synthesis -” between ethics and knowledge, between religion and science, between one culture and another.

Civilization is about application of a worldview, a particular vision of reality to a human collectivity. As has been argued by Professor Seyyed Hossein Nasr, a closer look at the various civilizations of our world show that in every case a civilization was founded by religion. There lies the quandary about ‘imbibing the true spirit of western civilization.’ We are thus not surprised to understand where the objections of ulama came from. They downright rejected and protested the colonial education system. But then there were others who adopted it.

We saw the result of colonial education policy. It created a western educated elite society amongst the natives – many essentially becoming puppets and Quislings for their colonial masters. So invasive was its influence in British India that many western educated Hindus abandoned Hinduism and became Christians. Similarly, many western educated Muslims were brainwashed to imitating the western values.[1] They wanted to become a European from the head to the toes. In this context, it is worth mentioning what Jean Paul Satre, a French scholar, had to say on the effect of western education on the African youths, who were educated in Europe. He said that it was so gratifying to see that those Africans trained in Europe would mould the African society in a European way once when they had returned home. So the Europeans did not have to politically control them. They would, instead, be controlled by western values, which in turn would serve the same purpose (probably, more effectively).

Turkey provides us with a unique example for understanding the impact of the experimentation with westernization in Muslim countries.[2] (As you will notice, the history of westernization in Turkey, lamentably, is also a history of Freemasonry in Turkey.)

The history of westernization in Turkey portrays the features characteristic of this movement everywhere else, only perhaps more clearly. In the last half of the 18th century, Ottoman Turks were the first Muslim nation to adopt European inventions, such as Military techniques and printing, a process followed, in the course of the 19th century by the reforms of the Ottoman administrative and legal system on western patterns. The Ulama and the Janissaries, guards of the old order, were against such a move.

During this period, we find that the Europeans were bemused with the ideals of the French Revolution of 1789, effectively guided by the Jacobins/Free Masons.[3] Napoleon Bonaparte’s invasion of Egypt in 1798 brought the Master Mason to the heart of the Muslim world, seeding the plant of Freemasonry.[4] Soon the Freemasonic/Jacobin ideals stealthily penetrated the Turkish elite society. Thanks to the so-called reforms of Mohammad Ali Pasha Western “experts" and "ideas" started infiltrating some of the Arab-speaking Muslim lands. The ensuing westernization and modernization of Muslim society gradually undermined and eroded its traditional institutions and civilization, causing serious social tensions and spiritual crises.

In the summer of 1807, the Janissaries assassinated Sultan Selim in Turkey. In 1826, Sultan Mahmud instituted a series of westernizing reforms. The first reforms were connected with the modernization of the armed forces. The Janissaries, a major symbol of the old order, were massacred; help was sought from the English, French and German advisors to reorganize the Turkish Army on purely European lines, a practice that has now been picked up by most Arab governments. In 1827, i.e., a year later, European type schools were opened. The young Turkish students were sent to France for advanced education so that those "French-fried intellectuals" would accelerate the rate of westernization in the coming decades.[5] Finally, western dress was made compulsory for official purposes. All these reforms were made roughly a hundred years before Kemal Ataturk came into the scene.

Secular state laws were promulgated. Thus, within a generation, the complacent attitude of superiority of the Turkish Muslims over others was to transform into a blind, uncritical adoration of all things European. Westernization began to be worshipped as the supreme end in itself. In 1831, Sultan Mahmud founded the Imperial Music School to promote European music, and clothed Turkish soldiers for the first time in western-style uniforms. To advertise this dramatic event, Sultan Mahmud had his portrait painted by a European artist before and after the massacre of the Janissaries. The first painting shows the Sultan in traditional robe on a horseback with a turban and beard. The second painting shows him proudly clad in tight-fitting European dress.

Needless to say, such westernization brought no benefit whatsoever to the country. In 1839, Sultan Abdul-Mejid launched the Tanzimat (Turkish for “Reorganization”) movement -a plethora of reformist measures (to continue until 1876) -” as a cure for the body politic of the semi-moribund empire. Ironically, the Tanzimat hastened the decay it was meant to arrest.[6] Some historians opine that by introducing a foreign form of government, under foreign pressure, the Tanzimat threw the country wide open to foreign influence and interference. [Interestingly, the chief minister Mustafa Reshid Pasha, the architect of the Tanzimat, himself was a Freemason.[7]] Soon the Ottoman state came to be recognized as the “Sick Man of Europe.”

In the second half of the 19th century, when Sultan Abdul Hamid became the Caliph, the empire was already on the verge of collapse.[8] He tried to follow an Islamic policy,[9] away from the tides of Turanism and Jacobin-influenced westernization that had became so assertive.[10] But it was too late. Ottoman military was totally in the hands of the Jacobins linked to the Young Turk Movement.[11] (The Sultan was very concerned about the growing power of the Freemasons. He failed to contain them. Some of the ministers[12] were Freemasons, so was Sultan Murad V.[13]) In December 1876, the Jacobinist leader Mithat Pasha forced the Sultan to accept constitutional monarchy. But the Sultan was quick to regain his absolute powers by dismissing the Constitution on 14 February, 1878 sending the Young Turks to exile and executing their leaders, including Mithat Pasha. The exiled Young Turks adopted the Jacobin principle of the French republic, and formed the Ittihad ve Terakki Cemiyeti [Committee of Union and Progress (CUP)] as the indigenous wing of the movement in 1889.[14]

[All these happened at a time when most of the Ottoman territories in Europe either were seceding or were getting absorbed by competing powers.[15] The Empire’s economy was increasingly being controlled by the great powers, especially France and England, under the terms of the capitulations. England had also gained de facto sovereignty over Egypt, though it was still technically part of the Ottoman Empire.]

Soon the CUP was able to win over the modernist intelligentsia within Turkey. However, not until 1900, when the Grand Orient virtually took over the CUP/Young Turk party (which was composed mainly of Jews, Greeks and Armenians) and its Masonic lodges in Salonica (now Thessalonica or Thessaloniki in Greece – home of the Donme), did the movement assume a serious feature. There were even pressures on the Sultan to curb out the Zionist state; but he did not relinquish.[16]

Through a successful coup in 1908/9, the Young Turks eventually took control over the empire by dethroning the Sultan. Thus began the second Constitutional (Mesrutiyet) period to last until 1922. The CUP became the ultimate power. They resembled the Jacobins from the French Revolution in their republican zeal, intolerance of opposition, and ruthlessness.[17] Islam was shelved and Turkish nationalism, more and more (arrogantly) secular in nature, emerged as the dominant ideology. Zia Gokalp became the father of Turkish nationalism, later to be copied by Antoun Sa’de and Saleh Bitar for Arab nationalism. The Young Turks sought to expedite the political and social westernization of the Ottoman state by applying the Jacobin nation-state model, but on a much broader scale, and with all the force and coercive power it could muster. Their misadventure took the empire into World War I, a decision that completed its dismemberment.[18] And at the end of this period, Mustafa Kemal emerged as the sole leader of Turkey.

Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey, went much farther than anyone to westernize his nation.[19] He believed that in order to modernize Turkey, the path was an uncompromising one, that being westernization, and it should be done without retaining traditional cultures. So, everything from the past had to go. His program was for Turks to become Europeans. He abolished the caliphate, and changed the country to a secular republic. He closed the Shari’a courts of law and religious colleges; replaced the remaining parts of Islamic law by western civil codes. He moved the capital city from Istanbul inland to Ankara. He instituted a unified secular education system; religious instructions were banned from schools and the Latin script superseded the Arabic script (this was done to permanently seal the separation between the Turks and their religion). He removed the Islamic ban on reproducing human images; statues and pictures were introduced. So was Western music. He ended the ban on alcohol and encouraged the growth of a wine industry. Sunday, instead of Friday, became the official day of rest. Women were given western "emancipation" and strong pressure was put upon them to discard their veils, scarves and other traditional dresses. In 1928, Islam lost its status as the established religion in the Turkish Republic and secularism was enshrined as the state policy. It was a total cultural revolution, imposed by one man’s iron will and by the force of a ruthless army.[20]

From the very onset of coming to power, Kemal Ataturk and his followers – the Kemalists -” tried to doom Islam from ever becoming a vital force in the Turkish social and cultural life. Sufi orders were dissolved. Adhan, the call to prayer, was initially banned from being transmitted in Arabic. A Turkish form of Adhan was endorsed, only to be rejected later (because of mass disapproval). Sermons were to be delivered in Turkish, and no longer in Arabic. Even private instructions in religion were disapproved. Official Imams were appointed to preach the official line. Many mosques were closed down. People were not allowed to put on turban and the Fez for prayer. Even keeping beard was restricted.

The Kemalists wanted to reform Islam in the light of Reform Judaism. In this regard, it is worth noting some of the suggestions put forward by Kopruluzade, a disciple of Zia Gokalp: religious service should be made inspiring by the employment of musically trained chanters and prayer leaders and the introduction of instrumental music; the Turkish language is to be used as language of worship, instead of the Qur’anic Arabic. Kopruluzade’s Masonic ideas caused such uproar in the public that the government had to shelve the report.

Kemalism had tried to diminish the importance of Muslim history. It rejected the continuity of Turkish national history and attempted to link the present to a remote period of the past – the Jahiliya – prior to Islam. The Turkish Historical Society founded by Ataturk in 1931 was charged with giving special attention to the study of Turkish and Anatolian history prior to Islam.

What is more troubling with modern Turkey (since 1909) is that its secularist fundamentalist leadership has had been directly linked with Freemasonry.[21] The leaders of the Turkish Masonic lodges are subordinate to those of Tel Aviv and France and Italy, taking directive from them. There lies the explanation for Turkey’s roles vis-à-vis the Palestine-Israel conflict and the Arab/Muslim world.

In his book -” “Revival of Islam in Modern Turkey,” Professor Uriel Heyd of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, after reviewing the history of westernization in modern Turkey, asked the crucial question: were the Kemalists able to impair Islamic aspiration totally within the Turks? His answer was a flat ‘NO.’ He said that the Kemalists have had only support within the urban elite section of the populace. In the rural areas things were (and are still) quite different. Even in cities, the adherents of Tijaniya, a North-African Sufi order, demonstrated their hatred of secular changes of Ataturk by systematically smashing many of his idolized statues. The most widespread call for Muslim resurgence since the 1950s had come from Nurcus, the followers of a Kurdish Shaykh – Badiuzzaman Said al-Nursi.[22] [Nursi called for the reestablishment of a truly Islamic state that is based on the Qur’an and Sunnah and ruled by a council of Ulama. His views were unwelcome in the secular state, and he was imprisoned and severely persecuted. Freemasons were also behind the persecution of great Islamic thinkers – Sehbenderzade Filibeli Ahmed Hamdi, Iskilipli Atif Hoca and Suleyman Hilmi Tunahan in the last century. Outside Nurcus, there are quite a few concerned Muslims, e.g., Husayn Hilmi Isik, who have also tried to keep the lamp of Islam burning by educating the masses.]

However, the grip of the Kemalists remains very strong among the Army (dominated by Freemasons) – the vanguard of the Turkish constitution.[23]

The concluding remarks of Prof. Uriel Heyd are quite interesting: "Can Islam last without its holy law? In the Turkish Republic the Shariah has been almost completely abrogated. In spite of this, the Turks not only say that they have remained Muslims but in recent years many of them, in fact, display a growing Islamic consciousness and an increased attachment to religious practices."[24]

The question is: how long will the Kemalists be able to suppress Muslim aspirations there? History says that you can fool a person all time, you can fool some persons sometimes, but you cannot fool everyone for all time. There lies the hope for modern Turkey.


After Words (December 19, 2004):

On December 17, 2004, the European commission president Jose Manuel Barroso frustrated Turkey’s hope to become immediately a member of the European Union. He urged Ankara to “go the extra mile” -” including the recognition of Cyprus -” to convince skeptics from Christian Europe about her seriousness to join the Union. Turkey has so far refused to recognize the island nation arguing that it is an issue for the United Nations.

Ten percent of Turkey’s landmass is in Europe. It is the only Muslim country with a membership in the NATO. The Turks have been waiting, as an associate member, at the door of Europe for 41 years. Since the days of Kemal Ataturk, they have followed secularism more stringently than any country, including their harshest critics. Then why this fuss about running the extra mile?

This delay tactics by the E.U. could not have come at a more ominous time. Ominous, because it lets everyone to see: what Europe is all about? In recent days, violence against Muslims living in Europe is on the rise. The process, initiated by 9/11, the French ban on hijab and the train bombing in Spain, has been catalyzed by Van Gogh’s murder. As a result of this last wave of hatred, Muslim schools, business places and mosques have been gutted. Europe has repeatedly failed to distinguish between individual actions from mob actions.

It is also nervous time for the Bush Administration that has been trying, no matter how hypocritically, to prove that its ‘war on terror’ is not against Islam, but only against the “bad” Muslims. The decision by the European commission shows that Europe is still not ready for pluralism and is worried about inclusion of a Muslim majority country. Religion still matters. So, the Turkish constitution can be the most secular on earth, and upheld doggedly by its military to the extent of even unseating its elected government, but is no guarantee for admission into the E.U.


[0]. Delivered originally as a speech at the University of California, Santa Barbara on Nov. 19, 1982.

[1]. In so doing, they first discarded the traditional dress (and put on western European dress). Since it was a practice among the Europeans to insult Muslims by distorting their names, the new “intellectuals” in the Muslim world quickly picked up this behavior, without probably realizing their actual nuances. [They started calling “Muslims” as "Moslems" and "Mohammedans," just as one would expect of a trained parrot that likes to imitate his master’s voice.] To cite an example, let me refer to what Sir Abdur Rahim, an Indian Muslim leader during the British rule, had to say to a Hindu politician, "You the Hindus have only two enemies – the Brits and the Mohammedans. But we the Mohammedans have three enemies to confront – the Brits in our front, the Hindus on our left and the Mullas on our right."

[2]. In this regard, I have consulted a few books, of which two were quite helpful – "Westernization of Muslims." written by Maryam Jameelah (a Jewish convert to Islam) and "Revival of Islam in Modern Turkey" (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, Hebrew University, 1968) by Uriel Heyd of the Hebrew University at Jerusalem (a Jewish historian). [The latter book contained a lecture delivered on March 28, 1968 at the dedication ceremony of the Eliahu Elath chair of history of the Muslim peoples (Turkish and Persian studies).]

[3]. Most of the monarchs in Europe were Freemasons in the 19th century.

[4]. There is some doubt in certain quarters whether Napoleon himself was a Freemason or not, in spite of the confirmation that his four other brothers were. Shaykh Abdul Qadir as-Sufi and many other researchers and scholars opine that Napoleon was a Master Freemason. My independent research seems to agree with their conclusions.

[5]. Many of these students, who studied in Europe, became the forerunners for the Jacobin-style Young Turk Movement.

[6]. Let me make one point clear here. During the course of a civilization, its culture is always on a dialogue with others. In fact, that is what enriches any civilization. The Ottoman civilization was no exception to that general principle of enriching itself from the contribution of its subjects, both within and without what comprises today’s Turkey, and outsiders (willing to contribute either voluntarily or for a fee) including the Hungarian canon-maker who volunteered to sell his new invention that would help the Ottoman artillery forces in their conquest of Byzantine Constantinople. However, those exchanges of ideas and materials should not be confused with the activities of the Tanzimat, the latter being a serious commitment by the Ottoman state to reorganize or reform purely on the European line. No time before was that need as acutely felt as it was during Sultan Abdul-Mejid’s reign. Historically, therefore, if there were a single event or ruling that can be credited to westernization of the Ottoman body politic it is that Tanzimat movement that was launched by the Sultan in 1839 (and continue for several decades). The best known of these reforms are Hatt-I Serif of Gulhane (1839) and Hatt-I Humayun (1856).

[7]. The European Masons, via the lodge, were bombarding Mustafa Reshid Pasha and other leaders of the Tanzimat movement with propaganda for the materialistic philosophy. In this respect, the famous atheist philosopher August Comte, who was close to Mustafa Reshid Pasha, played an important role. Comte tried to influence the Pasha with his anti-religious positivism.

[8]. Turkey had already lost the Crimean War (1853-54) to Russia, and had to sign the Paris Peace Treaty incurring heavy penalties.

[9]. Sultan Abdul Hamid reformed many areas of the Ottoman government, including the institutions of justice, education, and the military. During his reign, the Dar-ul-Funun (The House of Sciences) was established and later became the University of Istanbul. His government built the foundations of the railway system and the infrastructure of telegraphy.

[10]. The Jacobin Freemasons were interested in transforming the Ottoman Caliphate into a republic, where Freemasonic ideals would run supreme. Salonica, the northeastern Greek city, was the birthplace of the Young Turk revolution.

[11]. However, not all members of the Young Turk Movement were Freemasons, or Jacobin-influenced.

[12]. The Dönme were represented by [Turkey’s finance minister] Djavid Bey, the financier, on the Committee of Union and Progress.

[13]. Historians say Sultan Murad V was an Honorary Mason. He died in 1904.

[14]. Cairo in Egypt and Rumeli (the European lands of the Empire) were the organization’s strongholds.

[15]. Its land, especially in its European provinces where the Balkan peoples, discovering their national identities, were seceding to form their own states and Russia was encroaching on the Ottoman borders in the East, was slipping from the Sultan’s grasp.

[16]. See the Diaries of Theodor Herzl where he says, “Let the Sultan give us that parcel of land [Palestine] and in return we would set his house in order, regulate his finances, and influence world opinion in his favour…” See also Sultan Hamid’s letter to his Sufi Shaykh.

[17]. An article – in the Paris daily Le Temps on August 20, 1908, based on an interview with Mr. Refik and Colonel Niyazi, two Union party members in Thessalonica – reveals the extent of the Masons’ influence on the movement

[18]. By November 1st 1914, Britain had declared war on Turkey. On January 5, 1915 the Turkish army was defeated in the Caucasus. On August 29 Italy declared war on Turkey. On December 13 French and British troops occupied Salonica. The Arab Uprising in 1916, the Balfour declaration in 1917, and the Bolshevik revolutions in the same year, brought with them terror on a massive scale. Following the fall of Jerusalem on December 9th 1917, came the destruction of the Turkish army at Megido on September 19th 1918, culminating in the ‘Peace to end all peace’- conferences on January 18, 1919.

[19]. It is believed that Kemal Ataturk was a Freemason. (See

[20]. See, for instance, the book: Atatürk: The Founder of Modern Turkey, by Andrew Mango; Overlook Press, p. 539.

[21]. Even Sulyman Damirel was a Freemason.

[22]. Al Nursi was a great Mujahid. He was later imprisoned by the State, thanks to the Freemasons.

[23]. Whenever the Turkish masses showed slight dissatisfaction with the secular state policy of the government, daring to replace the Kemalists with less secular and slightly Islam-inclining parties, the Turkish army has stepped in and toppled the government, with full blessings from its western allies.

[24]. It is no wonder that Necmettin Erbakan surged to power in June 1996 with a platform of Islamic-based, anti-Western populism for a new Just Order and rapprochement with the rest of the Muslim world. He was removed within a year by a military coup, and the Refah (Welfare) Party was closed down. Islamic politicians reorganized themselves in the Fazilet (Virtue) Party, under the banner of Western-style democracy. In recent years, Tayyip Erdogan has come to power. (HS- 12/19/04)