Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Turkey and non-liberal secularism

My Turkish friend and colleague Mustafa Akyol interprets Turkey's tangled politics with a clarity beyond praise.

Turkey deserves close attention because there secularism is not in the least liberal.
Although the AKP has been in power since 2002 and has carried out a very successful program of political and economic liberalism--in the classic sense--Turkey’s staunchly secular establishment never fully trusted the party that had (?) started as a liberal offshoot of a more radical Muslim thinking. Thus while the AKP leaders defined themselves as “conservatives,” Turkey’s secularists continue calling them “Islamist,” a label designed to tarnish their image, at home and abroad, as some Taliban-style Muslim totalitarians. Therefore the political battle in Turkey, which reached its tipping point when Turkish generals issued a harsh “secularism memorandum” on the night of April 27, has commonly been defined as a power struggle between “Islamists” and “secularists.” And for the uninitiated foreigner, it was easy to presume that the former is bigoted and xenophobic, and the latter is open-minded and pro-Western.

Yet the true picture is exactly the opposite. While the AKP is a strong proponent of free markets, civil liberties and Turkey’s European Union bid, the secularist opposition, led by the People’s Republican Party, rejects all these objectives. The secularists actually think that most of the liberal reforms the AKP has spearheaded during the EU process are in fact part of a plot cooked up by Western “imperialists” designed to dilute Turkey’s national sovereignty. A series of recent bestsellers by a die-hard secular conspiracy theorist, Ergun Poyraz, is a good indicator of this zeitgeist. His “investigative” books paranoidly argue that the AKP leaders--and their headscarved wives--are in fact crypto-Jews who collaborate with the “Elders of Zion” to destroy Turkey’s secular system.

The correct way of interpreting Turkey’s power struggle would be in fact to define it as a conflict between liberal Muslims and illiberal secularists.

Of course, it's not really that hard to understand. Secularists are never liberal when they see no advantage to themselves from freedom of thought, or conscience, of markets, of the press, or whatever. If they are materialists, they do not in fact believe that there is even a divine spark in their fellow humans that must not be snuffed out.

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