Thursday, December 27, 2007

Trouble in Turkey

The Ottoman Turkish caliphate, based on the Sufi Islamic sect, established itself as the reigning force in the Islamic world after the Arab empires were decimated by the Mongol invasions in the 13th century. Before the start of WWI, the caliphate stretched over most of the Middle East and into Europe. After their defeat in WWI, the Ottoman empire was divided up by the European powers and, within Turkey itself, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk ended the caliphate and established a strictly secular state.

At one point, it seemed that Turkey might lead a revolution in the Islamic world. Unfortunately, misrule by the secular parties coupled with the growing influence of Wahhabi / Salafi Islam exported from Saudi Arabia has ended that potential. Coupled with that influence has been the rise of the AKP, a political party defined by religion that took power in Turkish elections several years ago. Credit must be given to the AKP for liberalizing and making capitalistic reforms to Turkey's economy. But it ends there. See the articles here and here, discussing many aspects of Islamicization in Turkish society that appear straight out of the Wahhabi / Salafi playbook. Besides all of the issues, under the AKP, Islmaists are threatening the independence of the judiciary, and have tried to stop the appointment of secular generals in the military to key positions. They have also tried to take over the university system, tried to legalize the wearing of head scarves in government buildings and schools, and claim that Turkey's overriding national identity is its religion.

Now today, Stephen Kinzer weighs in on how this is effecting Turkish society:

The brilliant young pianist and composer Fazil Say has dazzled audiences in concert halls around the world. Yet he has set off a firestorm in his native Turkey by saying he wants to leave the country because he finds the drift of politics there repugnant.

"Our dream is dying a little in Turkey," Say told a German newspaper reporter. "Wives of our cabinet ministers wear head scarves. The Islamists have won. We're 30%, they're 70%. I'm thinking about where else I could live."

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan quickly rebuked him, saying that "an artist who is born here should stay here". The deputy leader of Erdogan's party, Dengir Mir Mehmet Firat, was less concerned about Say's wish to move abroad. "I wouldn't cry if he did," Firat shrugged.

The sharp and often bitter debate over Say's comments reflects a growing concern within Turkey's intellectual elite. Some fear that their country, which has been militantly secular since it was founded by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in 1923, is drifting toward a form of religious rule. Others see this as part of a larger problem: growing intolerance that springs from a surge in ultra-nationalist passion.

Erdogan's government is widely popular and likely to govern for years to come. That is good, because this regime draws its strength from the people's will. It is also disturbing. Turkey's old political system, in which weak and corrupt factions were kept in line by generals, has been replaced by one in which a single party dominates all branches of government and is also increasingly powerful in private business. Many citizens deeply mistrust the new ruling group. They fear that by catering to pious Muslims and to the steadily increasing pool of nationalist voters, it may in the end prove even less democratic than the old military-dominated system.
"Yagmurdan kacarken doluya tutulmak," they lament. We have escaped the rain only to be pelted by hail.

. . . Turkey has entered a period of unprecedented change. The new regime's central challenge is to democratise the country without releasing atavistic forces that will pull it away from the traditions that have brought it so much success.

As for Fazil Say, he has refused to back away from his comments, and insists that Turkish society is changing in dangerous ways. "The people and the press don't want to notice it," he said in a statement. "But an artist is someone who feels the danger of darkness." . . .
Read the article here. As an aside, there is no way that Turkey should be allowed into the EU unless and until it adopts complete religious freedom, including the right of people to freely convert from Islam.

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