Wednesday, 2 May 2007

Laicité vs Pluralism: Turkey's dilemma

Abdullah Gul's Presidential candidature has been declared nul and void by Turkey's Constitutional Court, triggering early parliamentary elections. Millions marched in defence of secularism on the streets of Istanbul and May Day riots saw 600 leftists arrested over fears that a Gull/Erdogan premiership would undermine the separation between religion and state which the army has traditionally defended.

Yet curiously it is the the unholy alliance between the military and political left, rather than the AK Party's Islamic agenda, which poses the greater threat to Turkey's democratic institutions. The cause of the Constitutional Court's decision to invalidate the first round of voting, in which Gul was nominated for President, was that there were insufficient MPs present to constitute a quorum.

That only 361 were actually in the Chamber at the time was no surprise - because the opposition parties had decided to boycott the vote. Indeed, of those who did cast their ballot, only 4 voted against Gul. Having thus rendered the procedure nul and void the AKP's opponents called upon the Court to overturn the decision, stirred up dissent on the street, and sent the stockmarket spiralling downwards in the process.

True, if a 'Christian Solidarity' Party were marching to power in Scotland I might think twice before letting it take office - and even take to the street. However it is difficult to view the AKP as militant. They bear rather more comparison to our 'family values' Conservatives (more specifically the Christian Democratic centre-right in Europe) than an Al-Qaeda cell.

Indeed, what are the 'radical Islamist' misdemeanours for which the europhile reformist Gul is reproached? Allowing university students to wear hijab on campus and promoting Koran-reading competitions for schoolkids on Turkey's national day. Replace Koran with Bible, and you'll find that in school assembles in Britain every day of the week.

I am a secularist myself. However, my beef with its defenders in Turkey is that democracy should be one of the fundamental principles of secularlism. If they are prepared to overturn their own democratic processes for the sake of laicité they will simply have done what they accuse the Islamists of and turned secularism into an ultimate value - or religion in its own right.
For more views on the matter, see the following article published in Zaman.


Anonymous said...

It's nice to see applauses for democracy. On the other hand one should bear in mind that Humeyni was supported for the sake of democracy as well. I'm not sure if the agenda of AKP is to improve the democracy in Turkey. On the contrary their understanding of democracy is unfortunately limited to the headscarf issue. As an atheist gay living in Turkey, I can assure you that we are oppressed by the extreme Islamists in here (I haven't seen a "moderate" Islam yet!). Now they are telling me to fast in Ramadan, 10 years later they will force us to perform namaz or force women to wear headscarves. I agree that democracy or laicite is not fully implemented here but supporting Islamist or unbarring them will result in an Islamic Revolution in a country whose secularization is still on its way.

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