Religion, regardless of its divine origins or however one wishes to define it, has always been a source of power, and, like all sources of power, has not been immune to misuse. Interpretations of religious beliefs do evolve over time, and more often than not, in a direction opposite to what they originally were. From ancient Egypt to Scandinavia, from pre-Islamic Arabia to the Inka, atrocities that went as far as human sacrifice were committed in the name of a stone idol or a spirit whose will people thought was ultimate. Pharaohs claimed divine power and the right to slave, murder, and free people as they liked. Pagans of Mecca filled the holy Ka‘ba with idols and made them a reason for prestige, and more importantly, a source of wealth. False priests and shamans enjoyed popularity and respect by exercising fear over the community with claims of psychic powers and interstellar communication with the invisible realms. The Crusaders were not obeying Jesus when they devastated everything on their march to Jerusalem, nor were the leaders of the Umayyad dynasty in the footsteps of the Prophet when they beheaded his grandchildren.
What we usually fail to discern in this rather graphic picture is the real victim: religion.
Current developments in today’s Turkey is another bleak manifestation of history repeating itself. In this case Islam is the victim of political abuse on steroids. Religious rhetoric is the tool in the hands of a government which has ambitions beyond its borders relying on a self-claimed historical role and responsibility they fancy, or at least make others believe, that they are destined to assume. While offering the heavenly gardens of divine bliss to the fervent masses, even to 6-year-old girls, they are actually after an earthly kingdom, or, to be more accurate, caliphate to rule over Muslim lands. In this rhetoric, the West is still and always a useful enemy. It does not matter how powerful these enemies may be, and “who cares if they are able to send rockets to outer space – so be it, for Turkey has God on her side.” For some reason, however, these false caliphs use medications developed in Europe, fly airplanes produced in the US, thwart coup attempts with smartphones designed in California, and close haute couture department stores in Belgium for their personal shopping. While their kids study at American universities, their constituents should send their kids to the local schools to become imams and the future leaders of the coming pious generation.
Political Islamists in Turkey have a new set of definitions in their vision for this pious generation: it is a divine commandment to favor family members and friends to find jobs in the government and for public contracts. Stacking money that does not belong to them in shoe boxes rather than in a steel safe is modesty, bribery is charity and a sign of generosity, and making such donations in advance is an extra bonus to become role model philanthropists. A palace less than one thousand rooms is not representative enough of the highness of the holy seat, and it is even more admirable when it is built on protected forest land to add more to its sanctity.
Machiavelli is no more restless in his grave, for the current “Muslim” regime in Turkey is doing its best to uphold his ideology by pursuing whatever is necessary to remain in power. To convince the masses is easy: all you need is to be able to read a portion of the Qur’an, wear your prayer cap and offer prayers in public, claim the legacy of the Ottoman glory, and recite a few invigorating nationalist poems – that’s it!
For Jean-Jacques Rousseau and others, Machiavelli’s The Prince is a satire with comical irony. Considering the absurdities of tens of thousands of arbitrary detentions, arrests, and dismissals, Turkey fits into that category quite well since the eruption of corruption scandals in December 2013. From the universal human rights perspective, it has already passed that line long ago. Political Islamists of Turkey have made the country a stage for an ideal tragedy that casts a Nero a la turca with the lead role who puts the country on fire to open space for his palace and glory, and puts all the blame on a certain social group. The majority of practicing Muslims within and without Turkish borders are spectators in this theater, watching everything just as they enjoy a Turkish series that “resurrect” their glorious past. Sadly, watching “under the influence” they cannot realize the propaganda behind this Muslim nationalism, and innocent victims do not count, whether they are mothers, babies, teachers, doctors, or scientists.
With the exception of certain distorted interpretations of belief-like systems which openly promote violence, I tend to believe in the civilizing, community-building power of religion. The relationship of religion with humankind is a pendulum that swings back and forth between the lofty virtues the former teach and the selfish aspirations the latter desires.
False beliefs have always proved very beneficial in manipulating the mindset of the masses: in the seventh century Arabia the baby daughter was being buried alive apparently because of a presumed evil that was falsely believed she had brought with her. The real reason had to do with economy and family pride: in a society where physical strength was the main dynamic of defense and economy, fathers preferred boys over daughters for protection and honor. The Crusaders were driven more to the promised booty than to the promised holy lands, more to become victorious than to attain the good pleasure of the Almighty. Just as the terrorism of the KKK had more to do with the abolishment of slave trade than serving Christianity, if at all, today’s ISIS fighters, who are “woefully ignorant about Islam,” terrorize the world for “secular objectives of controlling resources and territory,” not for any spiritual elevation of any sorts.
Muslims around the world should wake up from the illusion they have about the Turkish government, and had better do so soon.
 See Jenny White. 2012. Muslim Nationalism and the New Turks, Princeton University Press.
 Holland, Joshua. 2015. “Here’s What a Man Who Studied Every Suicide Attack in the World Says About ISIS’ Motives” in The Nation (December 2).