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Various places (for example, the books Reset: Iran, Turkey, and America's Future by Stephen Kinzer and From the Ruins of Empire: The Revolt Against the West and the Remaking of Asia by Pankaj Mishra) claim Ataturk said:

This is Islam, an absurd theology of an immoral Bedouin, a rotting corpse which poisons our lives.

and sometimes the book La mort d'un Empire (1954) by Jacques Benoist-Méchin is given as a source. Is there any truth in this?

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    WikiQuote removed it as "spurious", which resulted in some harsh words between the contributers. en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Talk:Mustafa_Kemal_Atat%C3%BCrk Apr 18, 2017 at 5:28
  • You could link some of the various places.
    – gerrit
    Apr 18, 2017 at 16:03
  • Added two books. There are many tweets, blog posts, quote sites but I am not sure how much that adds, that's essentially gossip. The books at least are from respected authors (to some level).
    – chx
    Apr 18, 2017 at 19:00
  • A user on the wikiquote talk does name a source: the notes of Commander Kazim Karabekir named "Pasalarin Kavgasi".
    – SIMEL
    Apr 19, 2017 at 13:24
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    It's worth to note that Ataturk was the guy that made Turkey more or less secular under his role. It isn't at all far fetched that he said something in those lines.
    – T. Sar
    Apr 19, 2017 at 15:18

3 Answers 3

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I believe I have discovered an earlier source for this quote in the book Gray Wolf: The Life of Kemal Ataturk, by H. C. Armstrong. This book was published in 1933.

I've skimmed through sections of the book and though I am not able to comment on the author too much going off some of the writing it seems to be pretty biased against Ataturk in particular for driving away the British empire. The quote in the book is as follows:

" For five hundred years these rules and theories of an Arab sheik," he said, "and the interpretations of generations of lazy, good-for-nothing priests have decided the civil and the criminal law of Turkey. They had decided the form of the constitution, the details of the lives of each Turk, his food, his hours of rising and sleeping, the shape of his clothes, the routine of the midwife who produced his children, what he learnt in his schools, his customs, his thoughts, even his most intimate habits. Islam, this theology of an immoral Arab, is a dead thing."

This is found on page 241 in chapter 49 the first few paragraphs.

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    Good find! Can you add a bit more context about when and to whom Ataturk said this? Does the book provide a reference which can be looked up to further authenticate the quote (such as a letter, speech, etc)?
    – Dan Romik
    Sep 20 at 22:53
  • Wikiquote has it as "disputed" though en.wikiquote.org/wiki/…!
    – Fizz
    Sep 21 at 16:29
  • I notice that the concepts of "absurd" and "poisoning our lives" are missing here.
    – Brian Z
    Sep 21 at 18:27
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    Dan Romik, I don't know how to reply directly so ill do it like this lol. No I've only done a little bit of searching through the book for a source of this but I cant find where the author sources it from. I will admit I am biased on the side of this quote being real, because i want it to be, but stepping back from that I'd give it a 40% chance if i had to put a number on it (and the quote was likely exaggerated by the author because he hates ataturk)
    – Abdullah X
    Sep 21 at 20:21
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The source alluded to in the question, reliable or not, is Mustapha Kemal Ou La Mort D'Un Empire, which is the second volume of Le Loup et Le Léopard by Jacques Benoist-Méchin. No full English translation of this volume seems to exist.

According to a German blog post, the full quote attributed to Atatürk by Benoist-Méchin is as follows:

Depuis plus de 500 ans, les règles et les théories d’un vieux sheikh arabe, et les interprétations abusives de générations de prêtres crasseux et ignares ont fixé, en Turquie, tous les détails de la loi civile et criminelle. Elles ont réglé la forme de la constitution, les moindres faits et gestes de la vie de chaque citoyen, sa nourriture, ses heures de veille et de sommeil, la coupe de ses vêtements, ce qu’il apprend à l’école, ses coutumes, ses habitudes et jusqu’à ses pensées les plus intimes. L’islam, cette théologie absurde d’un bédouin immoral, est un cadavre putréfié qui empoisonne nos vies.

In Jihad in the West: Muslim Conquests from the 7th to the 21st Centuries (published in 1998) Paul Fregosi, gives an abridged English translation of this quote, citing page 323 of Le Loup et Le Léopard. The last sentence of his translation is "Islam, this absurd theology of an immoral Bedouin, is a rotting corpse which poisons our lives". I have not yet found any older English publication with a similar quote.

I'm in no position to evaluate Benoist-Méchin's work, but there you have it.

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    The blog-post actually mentions that the quote is "historisch nicht gesichert" ( of unclear historical accuracy ). Apr 20, 2017 at 12:32
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This doesn't address the question directly, but according to Andrew Mango's biography of Atatürk (I have the 2004 version), he said the following to Grace Ellison ("presumbably in 1926-27": Mango), which appeared in her 1928 book "Turkey Today" (1928).

I have no religion, and a times I wish all religions at the bottom of the sea. He is a weak ruler who needs religion to uphold his government; it is as if he would catch his people in a trap. My people are going to learn the principles of democracy, the dictates of truth and the teachings of science. Superstition must go. Let them worship as they will; each man can follow his own conscience, provided it does not interfere with sane reason or bid him act against the liberty of his fellow-men.

So, no reference to a "rotting corpse" (at least I can't find any in the Mango book), but quite scathing. This contrasts with Atatürk's actions earlier in his political career when Islam was specified as the official state religion of Turkey (early 1920s; hard to gauge from Mango, who also says Atatürk "was later to describe the reference as 'superfluous', explaining that [the designation of Islam as the state religion] had been tactically necessary at the time"). It ceased to be so in 1928.

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  • I think this is a different quote, they are very similar but this quote is much more well sourced, but the fact that this quote exists makes it more likely that the quote in question is real I think
    – Abdullah X
    Sep 21 at 20:25
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    @AbdullahX: Yes, definitely a different quote, and there are tons of other similar statements in the Mango book about Atatürk's opinions about religion. Personally, there doesn't seem to be any agreement on whether he was actually an atheist. Politically, he was a staunch secularist.
    – paddyr
    Sep 22 at 7:19

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