Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Nothing is unchangeable
By Kuranda Seyit

Yesterday’s elections in Turkey, signifies a new era in Turkish politics. The Islamist AKP party led by Tayyip Erdogan has been given a mandate to take Turkey into the 21st century with zeal.
However, how will Turkey’s Kemalist secularists take this slap in the face? Has democracy dealt a cruel blow to those who have used it in an attempt to diminish the influence of Islam in Turkey?

Religious resurgence is everywhere in Turkey, in the mosques, the madrasas and the universities. Nowhere else in the world will you see a tightly fought clash between secularism and Islam. Young Turks in their thousands are embracing the West and their values, whilst an equal number of Turks are resisting the temptation. Turkey has always maintained strong roots in Islam and their proud history of a 600 year caliphate and an Islamic state cannot be erased. Mustafa Kemal Ataturk modernised Turkey in the early 20th century but in doing so he embedded a republican system that was espoused by his followers as perfect and unchangeable.

However, life is impermanent and change is inevitable. The Kemalists are holding on to a memory and in their short-sightedness are unwilling to accept the demands of modernity. Even the USA has evolved its democracy, as has China which has changed its understanding of communism. This election must mark the change that is necessary to make the Turkish political system tenable in this century and competitive with that of the robust democracies of Europe. The very first change to take place must be the abolition of the National Security Council and the cessation of any military influence in government affairs.

The question of co-existence has dogged the Islamists for decades. Yet the Erdogan government has proven that Islam can co-exist with democracy, if not enhance it even further by eradicating corruption and nepotism. As we are currently witnessing a global phenomenon of an Islamic resurgence, the West and other nations must realise that it is better to work with it instead of against it.

Walk down the cobble stoned street of Istanbul’s chic suburb of Beyoglu, where cafes and boutiques abound and crowds throng to the call of the West and you will see the odd headscarf which is re-emerging as a fashion item. But further away, still on the European side, in the famous suburb of Fatih, where the tomb of great Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror lies, there are considerably more noticeable headscarves and men with beards. Take a short walk down past the mosque and over to Carsamba and one would be forgiven for thinking that they had stumbled into a back street of Cairo or Damascus. Here the dominant image is of Islamically clad Turks and with more regularity women dressed in the full black garb called the ‘Charshaf’. However, religion is not just about headscarves.

In Turkey the debate has been reduced to a piece of cloth. The outgoing president Mr Ahmet Necdet Sezer has said that the presidential candidacy of Mr Abdullah Gul was unacceptable because his wife wore a headscarf. We need to go beyond the headscarf and look to a new future for Turkey. A future with corrupt free politics, a program for economic development and social reform and as member of the European Union. This is a Turkey, which is both Islamic and democratic and espouses freedom of religion and human rights, a model for the rest of the Muslim world to follow.

This is all conceivable. The next few months will be interesting. If Abdullah Gul does succeed as president then the government will have power in both realms of politics and the ability to enact constitutional change. The litmus test will be if whether the military will intervene and set Turkey back 30 years once again.

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