Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The New Face of Turkey

Abdullah Gül was elected President of Turkey this week, thus finally concluding the most drawn-out and controversial presidential election in modern Turkish history.
I wrote about the controversial Mr. Gül earlier this year during his first attempt to run for president. A former Islamist, many within Turkey's secular elite found him too religious to be ruler of a republic that prides itself on strongly separating church from state.

Just to recap, in April the parliament elected Mr. Gül president, but that vote was later deemed invalid due to lack of quorum. So things were delayed for a couple of months, and Mr. Gül said he wouldn't run again, to spare the nation any more turmoil.

But then in July the Turks had a parliamentary election, and the religious Justice and Development Party won a divisive majority. This emboldened them, as it meant they no longer had to worry about appeasing the other, smaller parties and their whiny calls to respect secularism. So they decided to renominate Mr. Gül and on August 28 they pushed through his election, which he won in a landslide vote of 339 to 83.

The Turkish president is sworn in on the same day of his election, so Mr. Gül formally became Turkey's 11th president later that evening.

In old Turkey the military probably would be staging a coup right about now, because Mr. Gül, despite being a born-again secularist and enemy of Islamism, is still considered to be too much of a socially conservative busy-body to be trusted with power. But new Turkey is trying to get into the EU, and in the battle between democracy and secularism democracy is a value much less easily compromised. Considering the parliament's- and by extension the voters- overwhelming endorsement of Gül, a coup at this point would do far more damage to Turkey's international image and prestige than any religious agenda the new president will be able to cook up.

The military knows this, but old habits die hard, and following Mr. Gül's election they still made some official noises of displeasure. The Chief of the Army staff declared that "centers of evil" were working to erode secularism, and all of the country's top generals boycotted their new Commander-in-Chief's inauguration ceremony.


j_major said...

l don't really see what's the problem with the new PM being pro-islamism. if the institutions in Turkey are as secular as the country tries to convince us foreigners, then there should be no problem with that particular feature of current-chief-of-state.

if there is something troubling with this PM, it means that turkish institutions are not as stablished and strong as we supposed before.

on other stuff, l listed this blog on my list of favorite blogs for BlogDay 2007. You can see this list on:

And the official page of BlogDay initiative is:

thank u

Anonymous said...

With respect, the fact that the army is willing to enforce secularism - and to do so _hard_ - is the only reason that Turkey is not one of the Islamic hellholes of the Middle East.

Attaturk was a great man, and understood that Islam and modernity do not mix. You cannot run a modern society out of a holy book. It doesn't work.

Contrary to the way you depict them, the army is a staunch defender of secularism amid a tide of Islamic intolerance. If we don't want Turkey to end up like Pakistan, we'd better hope the army does its thing.

Anonymous said...

By the way, Turks don't swear on the Koran; they swear on the constitution instead (One Turk made fun of the fact that the Americans swear on the Bible).

J.J. said...

J Major: thanks for the link!

Anonymous: one can easily argue, as you are, that the ends in Turkey justify the means. I am inclined to think so. But I still find it absurd how the elites in Turkey constantly and brazenly crush the democratic will of the people just because they vote the "wrong" way now and then. It's not a very democratic society, in my mind, when anti-democratic crackdowns are such an established and respected part of the political culture. It also says a lot about how compatible Islam can be with a truly European-style democracy.

Anonymous said...

With respect, you are aware of what exactly the 'democratic will of the people' has given us in the past, yes? In Germany, for example?

Democracy is a false god, so to speak. It is simply and purely, the tyranny of the majority. If liberty is to be respected, then there have to be iron safeguards preventing any damn fool who can get the majority voting for him to do what he wants.

Let's not forget, back then, Jews were the minority, and there was a majority in favour of the National Socialists. And, yes, Shariah supremicists _are_ as terrible as the Nazis and the Communists. Shariah is a totalitarian system - _everything_ is ruled by divine law.

Freedom had, invariably, to be _enforced_ against the will of the majority. Throughout history, the plebiscite have not exactly been known for a love of liberty. This is why constitutions exist.

Fanusi Khiyal

Anonymous said...

Mr. Khiyal? Hitler came to power because

A: the Weimar system was already becoming undemocratic

B: He was able to coax (or arrest through emergency powers granted by overly opportunistic politicians) the other parties into agreeing with him.

Same goes for Mussolini, by the way. Only example I can think of that didn't succeed in this way was Hamas- when it was the only realistic alternative to a hopelessly illegitamite Fatah party.

Anonymous said...

Riiight... HAMAS is a nakedly genocidal, totalitarian party. How does this disprove my point?

And nothing that you have said disproves my point that Adolf Hitler was voted in democratically, by the will of the people.

Fanusi Khiyal

Psudo said...

There are different types of government systems that fall under the heading of "Democracy". A constitutional republic with democratic elections (like Turkey) has a lot of inherent protections against "tyranny by majority": constitutional protections of individual rights, periods between elections where elected leaders can oppose any immoral tendencies of the majority, unelected judges tossing out unconstitutional laws, etc. It is difficult in such a system (including Turkey's) for a popular but immoral action to become enforced law without some illegal behavior intervening.

Hitler did not even win the election; he got about 6 million fewer votes than Paul von Hindenburg, losing the Presidential election in '32. Hitler was appointed (not elected) as Chancellor in '33 as part of the coalition agreement between Nazis and a conservative opposition party; the neither Hitler nor the Nazis ever won a majority in any election. Overly favorable coalition agreements (aka executive politics) gave them more power than democratic elections ever did.

I know less about HAMAS and the means it used to gain power, but it seems to me that car bombing your opponents is potentially an extremely effective way to turn popular opinion your way.

Peter said...

Annon, we're looking at a country with a vibrant and passionate people who voice their political and social preference peacefully and orderly through a democratic system. A country where the political will of the people has shaped what the political parties wish to offer their electorate. This country is Turkey, name me one other nation with a Islamic majority which offers the same political and social freedoms without ingrained racism and sectarianism? Exactly, I thought not.

Along with that, I find it quite amazing that JJ can go out and talk about military coups defying the "will of the people" and then go on to consistently lampoon guys like Hugo Chavez who is doing an extraordinary amount of damage to Venezuela but at the same time has the popular backing of the poor and lower middle classes.

Turkey has had its rough times, yes the Army has stepped in and that is unacceptable, but you have to put this in context. The governments deposed were elected in Turkey in a time of huge political polarisation, these were not landslide victories, these were governments or coalitions formed from slender majorities. They were not swept to power by adoring crowds, demanding that they be punished for not wearing the hijab, not reading the koran in Arabic, etc only to be crushed by a merciless and evil millitary junta. The coups resulted after a clash of two major cultures, that of Islam and that of the West.

The reason why people are so vocal about this issue in Turkey is because they feel frightened that their right to practice whatever they want and do whatever they want within a secular framework is under serious threat by people who want to turn Turkey into yet another state dominated like religious dogma and frankly rubbish.

Anonymous said...

If Turkey is so free and just, why have the Christian and Jewish minorities faded to almost nonexistence?

And is this the same Turkey, where "Tempo" is published, the one with headlines like "May Allah preserve bin Laden from his enemies"? Where Christians were systematically tortured for three hours before being murdered? The one that still won't admit to the Amernian genocide?

Keep 'em out of the EU, and keep their people out too.

Fanusi Khiyal

Peter said...

Firstly, Turkey gaurantees freedom of religion and enforces a strict secularist regieme for any state institutions and buildings. The state neither encourages people to join a particular religion neither does it promote one. Jews are a recognised minority in Turkey. You forget that Turkey is home to many different sects of Islam such as the Mevlevi Order, sects which would have been stamped out and eradicated in the rest of the Islamic world. It's ban on religious items in buildings of the state emphatically promote's Turkey's secular traditions and guess what? The European Court of Human Rights backed this policy.

What has happened to the Christian and Jewish minorities in the past has happened, one cannot deny that, but under the republic, Turkey has done its utmost to defend and protect Turkey's small Christian and Jewish communities. I haven't heard of any such torture of Christians in modern Turkey. To Kurds definitely but not to a religious minority gauranteed equality and freedom of expression by law.

Secondly, guess what? Extremists publish exactly the same headlines in publications in the UK, Denmark, Germany and other parts of Western Europe. In fact, in the UK, extremists publish far sicker and more shocking headlines than would ever be published in Turkey.

Did the Turkish state encourage such headlines? No. Does the Turkish state take such incitement to violence very seriously? Of course it does.

And thirdly, of course people in Turkey still deny the Armenian genocide but its a free country. Voltaire once said that grand old phrase "I disagree with what you have to say but will fight to the death to protect your right to say it." I disagree with what most Turks say about Armenia but then again most Irish Americans would disagree with what I say about Northern Ireland and most British and Commonwealth ex-servicemen and their families (as well as the families of the millions killed in Korea and China) would disagree with what the Japanese say about genocide and rape in China & Korea as well as the treatment and mass starvation of Allied POWs during World War Two.

Are these Turks right about Armenia? No, they're not, but should they be banned by law? No, it is freedom of expression, it should be our duty to challenge those who dismiss genocide and to challenge the laws in Turkey which forbid disscussion of such things.

Peter said...

And to those who are hiding behind minor technicalities of legislatures and governments elected by proportional representation, the Reichstag of the Weimar Republic was elected via Proportional Representation (or PR). PR, by design, tries to force a hung parliament and thus include all views and opinions of the electorate by forcing the many parties elected to form a coalition government.

The NSDAP (or the Nazis) in 1932 polled 33.1% and became the largest party in the Reichstag. In early 1933, they were approached to be included in a coalition government by a variety of far right and traditional conservative parties. While the Nazis only held three seats in the new cabinet, they were still one of the biggest parties in the coalition!

To say that they were not elected to government is to completely ignore the way PR works and to completely ignore the fact that as Nazis were the biggest party in the Reichstag, they would have been the most obvious candidate for leading any German government!

This isn't Sid Miers Civilisation guys? The Nazi's didn't just magically appear in government one day in 1933 and started doing bad things. Something happened to put them in power.

And that something was being propelled into coalition government by the popular vote. Fact.

Sean said...

JJ - is this a typo, a Freudian slip, or correct as it stands: "...Justice and Development Party won a divisive majority. This emboldened them,..."

Peter - you asked: "This country is Turkey, name me one other nation with a Islamic majority which offers the same political and social freedoms without ingrained racism and sectarianism?"
- Indonesia and Malaysia?