24 April 2007

Gül says he would be a secular president

The Turkish foreign minister, Abdullah Gül, has said that he would preserve the founding secular principles of the Republic of Turkey if elected its president. In Turkey, it is the parliament that elects the president; Gül is a member of the Justice and Development (AK) Party, which has a majority in parliament, and has Islamist roots. He is thus expected to be elected president fairly easily.

Earlier, the outgoing president, Ahmed Necdet Sezer, and the army chief of staff, Gen. Mehmet Yaşar Büyükanıt, strongly hinted that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan should not attempt to run for the presidency himself (BBC).

It is not a very good advertisement for Turkey's democracy when the president and the army chief of staff band together to try to direct affairs. If the generals, who are still trying to rule Turkey behind the scenes, are serious about democracy, they should have no worries about the election of a representative of the most popular party in the country, which, moreover, forms the democratically elected majority in parliament.

Büyükanıt and the rest seem to feel seriously threatened at the prospect of hijabs in universities, and other anti-secularist heresies. It's high time they realised Turkey has more important things to worry about, such as its accession to the EU.


faisal said...

I was wondering whether you would have posted on this issue. It seems that this *is* the critical issue now: whether secularism by any means is a higher priority than democracy? As I read Locke, I realize that there is a presumption among liberal thinkers that if left to the masses the outcome would be secular, but this presumption of theirs is now being challenged. Problem is there are no easy answers as one is torn between ones belief in democratic principles, on the one hand, and in a separation of church and state on the other.

Rashed said...

First of all, thanks for posting this comment, Faisal!

Turkey's identity crisis, in progress for the last couple of decades, is definitely a sign of the times. How much secularism can or should be imposed on people, and the extent to which religion can or should influence politics are questions that a lot of countries are grappling with.

Personally, though, I think Turkey has the balance wrong, even by the secular standards of the Republic. There are secular countries like the United States and Canada where, officially at least, wearing a hijab is like wearing any other piece of clothing, and where basing your policies on your convictions (including religious ones) is completely normal. Since Turkey's secular establishment is highly enamoured of the West, and has been since the 1920s or before, these are, perhaps, examples that they should study.

As a Muslim, I belive that a Muslim country's laws should be in accordance with Islam. However, I am also very strongly against religious oppression. In my view, a state can run on religious principles only with the consent of the governed. Of course, one may ask me for an example of this kind of state, and I am lost for one in recent history. Iran had an opportunity to build this sort of state in 1979, but the government opted for oppression instead.

I think that the AK Party is one that can possibly get it right, if given the chance. It is certainly no Taliban.

Finally, I think that giving secularism precedence over democracy (which a million secularist protesters in Istanbul seemed to be doing a few days ago) is a dangerous road to take. It implies a perception that an elite minority should dictate the rules of the game to the ignorant majority, and that sort of view of the world is precisely what led to things like the 70 year-long Soviet experiment.

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