All The More Reason

Turkey’s Voting For…
May 15, 2007, 6:14 pm
Filed under: Religion, Turkey

An interesting article by Ayaan Hirsi Ali here regarding the struggle between secular and Islamist political forces in Turkey. It makes for rather disspiriting reading, describing the Hobson’s choice Turkish voters seem to have between a form of religious-based rule and the sort of ultra-nationalist, but secular, government which sees the denial of its country’s historic role in the Armenian genocide as a matter of public policy.

The current tensions in Ankara centre around the election of a new president for the country. According to opinion polls, some 70% of Turks would vote for the fundamentalist Justice and Development Party’s (AK) candidate. Such statistics are however, at present, academic; the Turkish president is elected by the parliament, not the people, and the secularist MPs’ boycott of the vote on this issue forced the country’s constitutional court to pronounce the result – and the appointment of the AK Party’s Abdullah Gul – void.

Firmly placed within the ranks of the 30% who have reservations about the AK’s Islamist agenda is the Turkish Army’s high command, an avowedly and militantly pro-secular force which has ousted four governments from power in five decades. Before the decision of the constitutional court was handed down, it chose to flex its muscles once again by not-so-gently reminding anyone who was interested that the Turkish army remained the guardian of the country’s secular constitution.

As an Englishman, I can only cock a half-hearted snook at the type of thumb-on-the-scales measure that sees a particular type of person effectively barred from office. Our own country’s response to the threat of Papist fifth-columnists in the 17th century was to make it illegal for any Roman Catholic to take to the throne. That bar, it should not surprise you, is still on the statute book; although, funnily enough, there is no legislative obstacle to a king of England, or his Queen, being a Muslim (constitutionally, it would be troublesome- but not legally; a peculiarly English distinction) 

Thanks to the siphoning of monarchical authority by the executive, we now, at least, elect our Kings, and will not permit anyone to tell us who we ought not to elect. The interference of the military in the democratic process, or the effective barring of candidates from elections, must leave a nasty taste in the mouth of any democrat. The AK Party is a popular force in Turkey. This is not only, as Ayaan Hirsi Ali argues, because they are able to draw upon the proselytising fervour of their supporters to an extent that conventional political parties could only dream of. Under the AK’s stewardship Turkey has experienced good economic growth and increased prosperity. Perhaps most importantly, it has taken the country on its first steps towards European Union membership, shedding a number of its religious shibboleths – such as the criminalization of adultery – along the way.

This is not to say, however, that secularists should stand idly by as Turkey submits –albeit consensually – to the abrogation of its secular constitution. A democratic government is government by consent of the people, not by the consent of a religious text or imam. You might say that it is none of our business whether the Turkish people agree with this particular precept or do not. But it becomes our business when that country wishes to join a club like the European Union. That organisation’s policy of selectively opening its doors to those nations committed to democracy, human rights and the rule of law is well established and has, unarguably, been much more successful at achieving lasting regime change throughout the continent of Europe than have recent displays of hard power in other climes.

Now is not the time, as Nicolas Sarkozy’s France seems to be contemplating, to turn our back on Turkey. On the contrary, liberals throughout Europe should be redoubling their efforts to fuel enlightened minds in that country.

Michael P


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