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Monday, September 10, 2007

Religion and politics: What does new, more religious government in Turkey portend?

Not necessarily what you might think, says Mustafa Akyol, deputy editor of the Turkish daily News. Here's Akyol, advising against jumping to conclusions about Turkey's new leader:
Mr. Gul is a practicing Muslim, and his similarly devout wife, Hayrunnisa Gul, wears the Islamic headscarf. Hence some people wonder whether this God-fearing First Couple symbolizes a setback in Turkey's two-century-old quest for modernization.

Akyol explains,
Mr. Gul soon found a chance to discover the virtues of the modern West during the two years he spent in London and Exeter for postgraduate studies. As he recalled in a recent interview, he was deeply impressed by the openness, tolerance and pluralism of British society. A most notable experience was the pastor who kindly invited him to perform his daily prayers in the university chapel. He realized the problem in Turkey, the authoritarian secularism that disallowed his wife's education because of her headscarf, did not stem from Western-style democracy, but the lack thereof.

In 1991 Mr. Gul joined the Islamist Welfare Party, but never shared the anti-Western and anti-Semitic demagoguery of its leader, Necmeddin Erbakan.

In the late '90s, Mr. Gul and the likeminded, including the charismatic Istanbul mayor Tayyip Erdogan, formed the "reformist" movement in Welfare, and soon broke with it to found the AKP (Justice and Development Party) in 2001. The party emerged as, and still is, the champion of free markets, liberal reforms and Turkey's effort to join the European Union.

Well, if the ejection device for Islamic extremists is in good working order, this sounds like a plan.

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