POL 218 TURKEY.doc

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Political Science
David Allen Wolfe

TURKEY: ISLAM AND DEMOCRACY 1 Turkey has its democratic and religious values co-existing showing the world that a non- antagonistic relationship is possible between the two, with its maintained close contact with the West and its limited yet significant connection between Islam and the attitudes towards democracy. Turkey is a very good example of a modern moderate Muslim state that works. The consolidation of democracy in Turkey, including the successful inclusion of the religiously oriented groups, has been a consequence of an interactive relationship between Islam and democracy. This paper will analyze the concepts of democracy and Islam in Turkey and point out the correlation between Islam and democracy and how they maintain their balance. The adaption of the “Turkish model” may be an option for some countries in the Middle East and North Africa like Tunisia, others like Egypt not so much. Secularism, geo-political factors and the nature and development of the AKP in Turkey will also be the focus of the argument. In the 19 century, Islam was given short shrifts as a source for public policy making while some key idea of democracy were permitted to flourish. The republic was formed in the 1920’s and since then democracy itself was gradually established. People’s religious feelings were respected and Islamists believed that they were here to see Islam play a greater role in the society and or the polity (Heper 1997). As democracy slowly began to consolidate, Islamists have been progressively reincorporated into the political system. This certainly helped with the steady change of attitude from an anti-regime to a pro-regime one. In Turkey, democratic institutions were never imposed by any victors or left by imperialists. The West never dominated the Ottomans, which is also a key reason to why they did not develop any strong anti-Western sentiments (Toros 2009). This also enabled them to adopt the principles of Western-style governing, such as a constitutional TURKEY: ISLAM AND DEMOCRACY 2 parliamentary system based on democratic individual rights, without reluctance. This is perhaps one of the most important reasons to how Turkey today displays a different image compared to that of most other Islamic countries (Heper 1997). The adaption of the “Turkish model may be option for some countries in the Middle East and North Africa. Tunisia is in a good position to emulate the Turkish model. The Tunisian constitution makes no mention of the Islamic law, and due to the previous secular policies of Tunisia’s first president, Habib Bourguiba, between 1957 and 1987, Tunisia is much closer to achieving the transformations that took place in Turkey at the beginning of the 20th century. Tunisia is now heading towards a state that provides equal rights, citizenships and civil liberties. The “Turkish model” won’t necessarily work in all Arab spring countries, especially in a place like Egypt. Majority of population who are predominantly Muslim has a negative view towards secularism. They believe it to be anti-religion. The constitution of Egypt has been recently rewritten under the guidance of an Islamist dominated parliament and a Muslim brotherhood presidency. Turkey has maintained to keep religion away from politics in its constitution unlike Egypt that further introduces elements related to religion. In comparison to Tunisia, most of Egypt’s institutions are feeble and have been routinely undermined by entrenched interests. The Egyptian army is a good example with its huge role as an economic actor and the constant interferences of the judiciary. Egyptian democracy is undermined by institutions that fail to address citizen’s demands and the impulse of powerful actors to interfere, not necessarily by the divide between Islamists and secularists. The fundamentals of democracy, which the United States and other outside powers must support, are institutions, economic growth, rule of law and the constraint of undemocratic players. TURKEY: ISLAM AND DEMOCRACY 3 The key factor that distinguishes Tunisia from Egypt is not the prevalence of moderate Tunisians versus radical Egyptians. It is rather the differences that remain in the institutional capacities. In order to achieve democratization, diffusion alone is not enough. There must be proper levels of development and a capable, functioning state. These are present in Turkey and are now increasingly evident in Tunisia. A strong, organized, democratic opposition is also very important. External actors must stop supporting authoritarians and instead support democratic oppositions (Way 2011). The Islamists of Turkey were able to develop a more tolerant and pragmatist politics than the Afghani, Arab, Iranian or Pakistani Islamists, who still represent the extremist and violent mainstream of radical Islam. In fact, the success of the Islamists of Turkey was only possible because they distanced themselves from this mainstream. Some perceive this development as un-Islamic; others say the AKP is becoming more secular. However, labels can often be misleading (Kanra 2005). Whether they are called Islamists or liberals is not very significant, if the essence of the democratic process exists. More important is that this distancing from extremism not only ensured success for them as a political party; it also proved to be in the interests of the Turkish people (Yilmaz 2007). The Islamists of Turkey did not subscribe to the destructive fallacy that “Islam is the solution,” a slogan that not only failed to prove viable, but also exacerbated the political, economic and intellectual crises in the Middle East. Instead, they advanced the idea that Islamists can respect and engage in the democratic process (Kanra 2005). The success of the Islamists in Turkey is also a result of a great struggle within the Islamist movement between the politics of moderation and pragmatism, on the one hand, and the politics of ideological rhetoric and conservatism, on the other (Waxman 2000). TURKEY: ISLAM AND DEMOCRACY 4 Turkey has become the new model country for the millions of Muslims who now fight for their freedom. The political and economic influence of Turkey in the region has continued to increase. The country has become the 16th world economy. In this position, Turkey, a candidate for joining the European Union, can very well function as a bridge between Europe and the Arab world. The Turkish intellectuals believe this, but Europe does not to want to commit. Mainly resistance is made from the Germany and France. In the Netherlands, the Freedom Party of populist rejects the possibility, because Turkey is an Islamic country (Peters 2002). This denotes a bit of a visionary attitude. In their mediocrity, European politicians do not understand the impact of the Turkish model in current events in the Arab countries. As this paper is examining the possibility of a non- agonistic relationship between Islam and democracy in Turkey. It will elucidate the concepts of democracy and Islam; defend the need for external stimulation of democratic states to be able to adopt democracy to the form of government and the indispensability of separation between state and religion. There are many people who see Islam as an obstacle to democratic development and they should in fact consider the secularism as the fundamental difference between Turkey and the rest of the Muslim world. Islam has been integrated into Turkey’s democracy in numerous ways with its constitutional and legal secularism kept intact. The successive government of Turkey sensibly did not attempt to introduce full democracy all at once, but instead went through progressive phases of limited democracy, laying the foundation for further development, and, at the same time, hopeful to the possibility of a civil society (Kadioglo 2005). Secularism in Turkey, the republic has a constant nature and of particular importance a principle, but it has a different application of the European TURKEY: ISLAM AND DEMOCRACY 5 Union countries. The kind of format in the process of implementation of secularism debate and lead to expansions age are one of the important issues that should be explored. In 2002, Turkey saw the second time in its modern history, when a party of Islamic identity, AKP came into power. The AKP won parliamentary elections under a new leader, Erdogan, contrary to previous experience of Islamist Refah Party, whose former Prime Minister, prioritized in its program integration with the Islamic World. The AKP, in turn, began to advocate negotiations for Turkey's entry into the European Union (Ghanim 2008). Aspects such as secularism
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