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Turkish imam loses his job over lyrics criticizing government

Demotion of an imam over a protest song comes as another sign of the expanding intolerant climate in Turkey ahead of June elections. 
Fatih Ardıç - Maskot Ettin Beni

Turkey’s official religious body demoted an imam over a protest song he wrote and sang, in a move critics say is another indication of the government’s increasingly blatant intolerance of any sort of criticism ahead of parliamentary and presidential elections.

“They see there is bribing — still they don't say anything. There is no justice, no morals; they are keeping their silence,” Imam Fatih Ardic, who has worked in Turkey’s western province of Manisa, wrote in his song without knowing these lyrics would cost him his job. 

The video clip of the song, which was released on YouTube in the summer, quickly became popular. The song was even aired by one of Turkey’s public broadcasters, TRT radio

Yet the Religious Affairs Directorate (the Diyanet) launched an investigation into Ardic in early October over the song, titled “Is it permissible hodja?” Last week, Ardic was relocated to another province as a janitor. 

Defending his position, Ardic said that he could not “remain silent in face of injustice, lawlessness and financial hardships in Turkey as a religious official.”

Ardic also recounted that he was questioned for more than three hours over the song “as if I was a top wanted criminal” by the chief inspectors dispatched by the Diyanet for the investigation. They asked him several questions, including whether it was appropriate for a religious man to make music. 

The imam said he was even held responsible for comments made on YouTube under his video clip. 

According to analysts, the demotion of the imam came as another sign of growing intolerance among the government’s rank, particularly ahead of critical elections set to be held in June. 

“Islamists aim that Islam rules all aspects of life, including politics. The demotion of Ardic seems like a contradiction with religion. But it is only conflictual in one aspect. Islam also advises that Muslims form a strong unity. The advice is to be forgiving and understanding of the in-group but stern against the enemies. This is where Ardic failed,” Birol Baskan, political scientist and nonresident scholar at the Middle East Institute, told Al-Monitor. he said. “However critical he might be, he should not voice criticism.”

Yet Ardic’s demotion could also trigger a backlash from the public.

According to Baskin Oran, professor emeritus of international relations, the government seems to be aiming to consolidate its voter base by silencing any views that could construct criticism toward it. 

Yet “except for a small group of ultra-religious, the public feels alienated from religion,” Oran told Al-Monitor, adding that the ruling Justice and Development Party fails to see this reality “due to its panic” over its sagging popular support. 

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