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International Last Updated: May 3rd, 2007 - 09:12:11

Friends of Turkey, Don't be Afraid
By ALI H. ASLAN , Azman 27/4/07
May 3, 2007, 09:10

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A beautiful night in the great city of Jerusalem. The skies are "Jerusalem blue." We, a bunch of Turkish journalists, are at dinner with Israeli Ambassador Alon Liel. Dr. Liel is eager to finish his briefing on Israel so that he can ask us the ultimate question: Who is going to be Turkey's next president? For people who are accustomed to hearing things earlier than others, a lack of information can be torture. The ambassador's curiosity is at its peak. However we can't give him the precise answer he's looking for, simply because we don't know either…


Now that the AK Party's presidential choice is clear, the uncertainty in Judeo-Christian capitals has eased a bit. Questions, however, are still prevalent. The main question in the Western mind is whether Turkish secularism is in danger because of the religious roots of the AK Party. That is followed by whether democracy could be endangered by the AK Party's strong control of all executive and legislative powers. And last but not least, could democracy be imperiled by a possible military intervention?


As I explain to my Western friends all the time, secularism is safe and sound in Turkey. I'm not talking about restrictive, arrogant and freedom-killing secularism. That bizarre interpretation should go. Turkey's future lies with American style secularism, respectful to religious freedoms to the detriment of the outdated French Jacobins among us.


Some people in the West who have deliberately inflated authoritarian secularism to contain Islam in Turkey may be worried. They see their project for Turkey dying. But the real friends of Turkey should be happy to see the rise of democratic secularism, which can stand the sight of a first lady with a headscarf. Don't misread thousands marching in the streets of Ankara in the name of militarist secularism. The majority of Turks prefer marching at election and opinion polls. And their preference is democratic secularism.


Turkey has suffered so much from secularism without democracy. It would certainly suffer from a democracy without secularism. However, this is again an extreme scenario. Many secularists cry out to their friends in the West. They say their freedoms (like drinking alcohol and wearing miniskirts) could be curtailed because "Islamists" are slowly but surely taking control of the country. Although they are the ones who currently curtail freedoms and block democratic reformation, they pretend as if they are the victims. Is there sufficient evidence proving such fears true? No. Has there been any major action in this direction on the part of the AK Party administration in the last five years? No. So why is this much insecurity and fear? I'll tell you why. The secularist elite feel marginalized because they are increasingly disconnected from the popular civic trends in Turkey. Instead of embracing the process and showing respect to the values and preferences of large masses, they choose fighting transformation as a pro-status-quo alliance.


Ladies and gentleman, flex your muscles a little bit. Turkey's main divide is not between secular and religious, it's between reform and status quo. Most secular people in this country are religious and most religious people are indeed secular. Furthermore, thanks to social interactions, seculars are becoming increasingly religious whereas religious people are getting more and more secular. Islamic theocracy is not the preference of the Turkish nation, or anti-Islam secularist theocracy.


Many secularists and their friends in the West complain about a lack of opposition to AK Party. I wonder where their democratic senses were when Turkey from the outset was ruled by an oligarchic elite with little or no democratic challenge. Turkey has been led by variations from more or less the same crowd. Democracy was only a toy taken from the hands of children when deemed necessary. The Turkish ruling secularist elite have the habit of changing the rules of the game when they feel they are losing. They have usually done so by abusing the military's power and encouraging them to stage interventions in politics. However, the old game doesn't apply any more. Generals aren't fools. They wouldn't go against world and public opinion with a direct intervention. And there is a growing embracement of democratic principles among military ranks as well.


Who says control by the AK Party of all executive and legislative powers with no democratic opposition undermines democracy? There is indeed a powerful democratic opposition in Turkey. And that is represented by political parties like the AK Party and non-partisan civic movements representing the underdog. The power center is still the pro-status-quo establishment. That makes the pro-reform AK Party and similar-minded civic movements the main opposition. Reformist forces are seriously challenging the monopoly of the pro-status-quo elite. Perhaps that's why Turkey has lately been thriving as well. Don't worry, we're not heading toward religious authoritarianism. Perhaps we are departing from bigoted secularist authoritarianism instead. This is something our friends in the West should be proud of, not afraid.

Source:Ocnus.net 2007

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