The Hearth of Intellectuals, a small organization comprising some 150 conservative journalists, academics and other intellectuals, has functioned as a sort of fountainhead for a new legitimizing ideology for the Turkish Republic. Gencay Şaylan refers to them as the “Turkish Opus Dei” in his 1988 book, Islam and Politics. Indeed, the Hearth resembles this Spanish Catholic institution in its goals of providing the intellectual and moral foundations for an authoritarian political system.
The Hearth came into prominence during the political turmoil of the 1970s. The Justice Party, the country’s largest center-right political party, required an intellectual bulwark in its ideological struggle against the left and electoral competition from its coalition partner, the neo-fascist Nationalist Movement Party. The authoritarian ideology of the Hearth argues that Turkish culture is a synthesis between pre-Islamic Turkic culture and Islam. This thesis aims to be all-encompassing, yet it is wracked by constant tension between its nationalist and Islamic poles. It calls for a powerful, centralized state, and would destroy those elements (the left) which undermine “national culture” and “national consensus.” The Hearth, while praising the liberation struggle waged under Atatürk, also accuses Kemalism of turning its back on centuries of Turkish history, inflicting grievous damage to national culture and thereby exposing the country to the massive political and social crisis of the 1970s.
To the Hearth of Intellectuals, Islam is not only part and parcel of Turkish culture; it is also a useful instrument of social control. Though advocating the use of religious institutions to “socialize” the population, an important element in the Hearth’s version of Islam is the relegation of religion to the level of individual conscience. The aim is not to establish an Islamic state based on religious law, but to shape individuals who are immune to appeals from the left and also do not threaten the secular basis of the republic.
These attributes were precisely what the generals who carried out the 1980 coup were looking for. The Turkish-Islamic “synthesis,” with its emphasis on authoritarian politics and social control through the use of cultural and religious motifs, was the perfect ideology for Turkish decision-makers expecting a protracted period of social and economic dislocation. A 1983 State Planning Organization document, the Report of the Special Experts Commission on National Culture, clearly enunciated the importance of religion in “safeguarding the state and national unity” in the current period of “rapid industrialization and social change.”
Many of the primary institutions of Turkish culture and intellectual life have been restructured along the lines advocated by the Hearth. Universities have been purged of over 2,000 academicians and have lost their autonomy. The Higher Education Council is now attached to the office of the president of the Republic. Institutions like the Turkish Language Association and the Turkish Historical Association have either been closed down or been revamped and turned over to the ideologues of the Hearth. The same has happened to the State Radio and Television Authority.
More importantly, religious and “morals” instruction now enjoys a much larger share of secondary school curricula. Dozens of religious secondary schools are being established and Quranic schools have enjoyed an unparalleled boom in an atmosphere which encourages their expansion. This expanding Islamic theme in Turkish life also plays a crucial part in the growing role of unofficial Islam. For now, however, radical Islamic currents advocating an Islamic revolution remain a tiny minority within the Turkish political spectrum.