Diyanet as a means of social engineering

Journalist Burcu Karakaş has investigated the activities of the Turkish religious authority and its Diyanet Foundation and written a book. She sees Diyanet as a means of religious engineering of society.

Journalist Burcu Karakaş has been closely examining the Turkish religious authority and the Diyanet Foundation and has recently published a book entitled "Biz Her Şeyiz- Diyanet'in İşleri" ("We are everything - the affairs of the Diyanet"). The Turkish religious authority, whose offshoot in Germany is DITIB, was most recently the subject of budget debates in the Turkish parliament. Karakaş is particularly concerned with the expansion of Diyanet activities to all areas of society. Since 2010, the budget and the number of employees of the authority and its foundation have been massively increased for this purpose. Karakaş sees Diyanet's role as an attempt at social engineering by creating "a religious generation and protecting the family." She spoke about her research in an interview with ANF.

Diyanet focuses on work outside mosques

In your book, you specifically cover Diyanet's last decade. What makes the last decade so special in the context of this authority?

As a journalist, I mainly deal with gender, women, children and young people. But whenever I deal with these areas, Diyanet jumps out at me. The agency works intensively in these areas. I refer mainly to the past ten years, because Diyanet shifted its focus far beyond mosques with a change in the law in 2010. The status has also changed, and the authority has been growing ever since. So I took that date as a starting point. Of course, there are efforts to attract social groups such as women, children and youth to the mosque. But what really caught my attention is the work Diyanet does outside the mosque. Diyanet always stresses the importance of activities outside the mosque. This is especially true for youth, children and family work. I deliberately do not say women here, but family.

Preserving the family at any price


Conservative governments attach the greatest importance to the institution of the family. This is not unique to Turkey, but it is especially true here, as the family is considered the most important institution for protecting the survival of society. The task of protecting the family has been entrusted primarily to Diyanet. Within this framework, the authority tries to prevent divorces and prevent violence against women. Diyanet is only against violence against women because it tries to prevent the dissolution of families.

Entire violence prevention was left to Diyanet

In this context, there are family seminars, for example. These are events organized for newly married couples, engaged couples or couples who have been married for up to five years. This is where people talk about violence against women. But the thing is, certainly Diyanet should also contribute to remedying the chronic violence against women in Turkey, but here all the work against violence has been left to Diyanet.

Diyanet prevents prosecution

What is this all about? Can you describe that in a little more detail, please?

There are family and counseling centers, and most of them are frequented by women. This is shown by the figures from Diyanet itself. Most of the women who turn to these offices have family problems. In one of my field studies, as a woman who experienced violence, I called the various counseling centers of the religious authority. They told me to be patient, pray, and wait. If I called the police, it would only get worse when my husband came home. When I described all the violent situations I could imagine and asked if I should go to the police, they told me not to.

Yes, the reality of Turkish society is obviously that we cannot expect everyone to go to the police or to family counseling. People go to religious institutions for advice. Of course, you can go to the mosque or to the mufti, that can contribute to a solution. But in this context, it is important what kind of advice the institutions give. If, in the case of violence, they say that the woman should not go to the police, then prosecution is prevented here. If we look at it that way, the judiciary and security forces are prevented from doing their job.

Does society need a religious opinion on every subject?

Diyanet should have an opinion on every topic and make it public. But the question arises: does society need such a statement from Diyanet on every issue? For example, the number of Diyanet personnel is increasing every year. Diyanet says against the background of this data that there is a societal need for it. But this is very vague, what need is it supposed to be about? For example, mosques and religious facilities were built at all universities in Turkey, but it was not as if there were no places of worship or mosques at universities before. So whose need was this to meet? I mean that Diyanet is being instrumentalized here.

Diyanet in line with opponents of the Istanbul Convention

Does the practice you describe also represent an obstacle to the implementation of the Istanbul Convention?

About ten years ago, a so-called platform of divorced fathers was founded in Turkey. Through this platform, men presented themselves as victims all the way into parliament. The same applies to the issue of alimony. It is a fact that women divorce because they experience violence and do not want to suffer anymore. Now divorces are wanted to be prevented. The Istanbul Convention is a very important text that protects women from violence sense, it is still in force, but the exit is supposed to take place on July 1. In fact, Diyanet's work here is no different (than that of the opponents of the Istanbul Convention). The point is that families do not dissolve. This also applies to cases of violence. Even if sexual violence is committed, they want to ensure that the institution of the family continues to exist.

The Istanbul Convention does not only address and protect secular women. It applies to all women. It's not just secular women today anyway, it's also conservative women who are bringing this up even though it may not be as visible in the media. But that is exactly what this camp is afraid of, and that is the basis of Diyanet's work.

State-religious complex

You have repeatedly brought up the notion of instrumentalizing Diyanet. What do you mean by this?

Diyanet has agreements with public institutions such as the Ministry of Family Affairs, the Ministry of Youth and Sports and the Ministry of National Education and carries out activities within this framework. For example, according to the agreement with the Ministry of Youth and Sports, a youth camp is organized by Diyanet every summer. In other camps organized by the same department, Diyanet always has a booth. Diyanet also organizes at universities. Diyanet is not a non-governmental organization, but there are clubs in some universities called Diyanet Youth.

How should we interpret that when an organization funded by taxpayers' money establishes student clubs? Of course, freedom of organization is a right, but you just have to look at what they are organizing.

Diyanet reaches out to children as early as infancy

One of the most important agreements was concluded with the Ministry of Education regarding values education for children between the ages of four and six. This is not actually a compulsory subject, but it is de facto implemented as such. In this context, a representative of Diyanet holds one hour of instruction one day a week. However, since it is officially an elective course, the teachers have to obtain the signatures of the parents. In doing field research for my book, I spoke with representatives of the Eğitim-Sen education union, the schools, and many other places. One of these people works at a preschool in Yalova. It is a conservative person. But even for this person, this form of education was unacceptable. Above all, she emphasized that children between the ages of four and six were not capable of understanding abstract concepts. To parents, this person advised not to enroll their children in these courses. Later, proceedings were initiated against this teacher. This was because the person had submitted a letter from the parents to the principal's office on the basis of a decision of the European Court of Human Rights available on the Internet, in which they opposed participation in the values classes. If it is an elective course, there is nothing illegal about it. The teacher has compiled legal texts. But still, an investigation was launched. This is a method of intimidation.

Although fortunately nothing happened to this person in the course of the investigation, that does not mean that this is the case everywhere. As I said, religious education is de facto ineligible. Now that face-to-face classes have just been suspended, of course we don't know in what way these problems are currently continuing.

Diyanet feels disturbed by social media

Time and again it is said that deism or atheism must be fought among young people. What role does Diyanet play in this propaganda campaign?

One of the main reasons for the increase in propaganda activities targeting young people is the claim that atheism and deism would occupy a lot of space in this new generation. To counter the alleged spread of deism and atheism, youth camps are held, Diyanet conducts organizing activities at universities, and employs "spiritual advisors" in student dormitories. Diyanet is particularly disturbed by social media and believes that it has a great influence on young people, children and families. Therefore, Diyanet TV was created in 2010 as a counter-program. There are many programs in religious television related to young people, children and family. It is known that Diyanet has proclaimed the building of a religious generation of youth.

Diyanet Foundation: Financial Black Box of the Authority for Religious Affairs

Could you go back to the much-discussed issue of Diyanet's ever-growing budget?

Every year, the number of Diyanet employees increases. This is one of the reasons why the budget of the authority keeps growing. As I just said, the question is what do they need all the staff for? Diyanet always talks about transparency, but that does not apply to the authority in any way. The Directorate of Religious Affairs is subject to financial oversight, but the Diyanet Foundation is exempt from that scrutiny.  Since there is no such oversight, the foundation is also referred to as the black box of the Religious Affairs Directorate. Mosques abroad and much of the Directorate's youth work are handled through the foundation. For example, a mosque was built in Moscow. We can see how much the construction cost, but we do not learn how much donations were collected. This is just one example - the foundation builds mosques in many parts of the world in this way. Since there is no control mechanism, we cannot find out where the money comes from. We are talking about incredible amounts of money. The public takes notice of the construction of these mosques, and protests ensue.

Diyanet tries to penetrate every sector of society

It is obviously assumed that Diyanet is an answer to every need of the society. Diyanet is a tool of social engineering. But I don't think this social engineering will have much success in Turkey in 2021. Of course, the degree of Diyanet's success would have to be the subject of further study. The problem of mixing state and religion has existed since the founding of the Republic. Today, for example, Diyanet is intruding into the education sector, and Eğitim-Sen and the Ankara Bar Association are always complaining against this. Sometimes they are proven right, sometimes there is no perceived problem with Diyanet's activities. In a way, this also shows how complicated the interlocking of religion and state affairs is. I think there is a contradictory situation here. We will see what happens next.