MR. ERDOGAN'S TURKEY
By Dr. Michael Rubin
A crisis has simmered for months, but, earlier this month, Ankara erupted. On October 1, President Ahmet Necdet Sezer warned Parliament, "The fundamentalist threat has not changed its goal to change the basic characteristics of the state." The next day, as Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited the Oval Office, General Yasar Büyükanit, Chief of Turkey's Armed Forces, warned cadets of growing Islamic fundamentalism and promised "every measure will be taken against it." Usually such warnings are enough to keep those transgressing on the constitutional separation of mosque and state in check.
Enter U.S. Ambassador Ross Wilson. At an October 4 press conference, he said: "There is nothing that worries me with regards to Turkey's continuation as a strong, secure, stable, and secular democracy." He dismissed opposition concern about the Islamism of Mr. Erdogan's ruling Justice and Development Party (known in Turkish as the AKP) as "political cacophony." Wilson's remarks were consistent with those of his State Department superiors. Last Autumn, Daniel Fried, Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs, said "The development of the AKP into a democratic party . . . has mirrored and supported the development of Turkish political society as a whole in a liberal and democratic direction." He described the AKP as "a kind of Muslim version of a Christian Democratic Party."
Why are so many Turks angry at Washington's dismissal of their concerns? While Turkish constitutional democrats fight for change within the Turkish system, Islamists seek to alter the system itself. This has been the case with the AKP. Over the party's four-year tenure, Mr. Erdogan has spoken of democracy, tolerance and liberalism, but waged a slow and steady assault on the system. He endorsed, for example, the dream of Turkey's secular elite to enter the European Union, but only to embrace reforms diluting the checks and balances of military constitutional enforcement. After the European Court of Human Rights upheld a ban on headscarves in public schools, he changed course. "It is wrong that those who have no connection to this field [of religion] make such a decision . . . without consulting Islamic scholars," he declared. Then, in May, 2006, his chief negotiator for accession talks ordered the removal, from a negotiating paper, of reference to Turkey's educational system as secular.
The assault on the secular education system has been subtle but effective. Traditionally, students had three choices: enroll at religious academies (socalled Imam Hatips) and enter the clergy; learn a trade at vocational schools; or matriculate at secular high schools, attend university, and pursue a career. Mr. Erdogan changed the system: By equating Imam Hatip degrees with high-school degrees, he enabled Islamist students to enter university and qualify for government jobs without ever mastering Western fundamentals. He also sought to bypass checks and balances. After the Higher Education Board, composed of university rectors, rejected his demands to make universities more welcoming of political Islam, the AKP-dominated Parliament proposed to establish 15 new universities. While Mr. Erdogan told diplomats his goal was to promote education, Turkish academics say the move would enable him to handpick rectors and swamp the Higher Education Board with political henchmen.
Such tactics have become commonplace. At Mr. Erdogan's insistence and over the objections of many secularists, the AKP passed legislation to lower the mandatory retirement age of technocrats. This could mean replacement of nearly 4,000 out of 9,000 judges. Turks are suspicious that the AKP seeks to curtail judicial independence. In May, 2005, AKP Parliamentary Speaker Bülent Arinç warned that the AKP might abolish the Constitutional Court if its judges continued to hamper parliamentary legislation. Mr. Erdogan's refusal to implement Supreme Court decisions levied against his government underlines his contempt for rule of law. Last May, in the heat of the AKP's anti-judiciary rhetoric, an Islamist lawyer protesting the headscarf ban shouted "Allahu Akbar," opened fire in the Supreme Court and murdered a judge. Thousands attended his funeral, chanting pro-secular slogans. Mr. Erdogan was absent from the ceremony.
There have been other subtle changes. Mr. Erdogan has replaced nearly every member of the banking regulatory board with officials from the Islamic banking sector. Accusations of Saudi capital subsidizing AKP are rampant. According to Turkish Central Bank statistics, in the first six months of this year, the net error -- money entering the Turkish economy for which regulators cannot account -- has increased almost eightfold, compared to 2002, the year the AKP came to power. According to the opposition parliamentary bloc, debt amassed under Mr. Erdogan's administration is equal to total debt accrued in Turkey between 1970 and 2000. Erkan Mumcu, a former AKP minister who now heads the center-right Motherland Party, accused the AKP in June of interfering in Central Bank operations. Accordingly, President Bush's Oval Office statement, based on State Department talking points -- congratulating "the Prime Minister and his government for the economic reforms that have enabled the Turkish economy to be strong" -- may have hampered transparency, if not reform.
In the past year, the AKP anti-secular agenda has grown bolder. AKP-run municipalities now ban alcohol. Turkish Airlines recently surveyed employees about their attitudes toward the Quran. On July 11, Mr. Erdogan publicly vouched for the sincerity of Yasin al-Qadi, a Saudi financier identified by both the United Nations and the U.S. Treasury Department as an al-Qa'ida financier.
When Mr. Erdogan began his political career, he did not hide his agenda. In September, 1994, while Mayor of Istanbul, he promised, "We will turn all our schools into Imam Hatips." Two months later he said, "Thank God Almighty, I am a servant of the Shariah." In May 1996, he called for a ban on alcohol. In the months before his dismissal from the Mayoralty, his cynicism was clear. "Democracy is like a streetcar," he quipped. "You ride it until you arrive at your destination and then you step off."
Diplomacy should not just accentuate the positive and ignore the negative. When a country faces an Islamist challenge, "Politically Correct" platitudes do far more harm than good. At the very least, U.S. diplomats should never intercede to preserve the status quo at the expense of democracy, constitutionalism, and the rule of law. Nor should they even appear to endorse a political party as an established democracy enters an election season. It is not good relations with Ankara that should be the U.S. goal, but rather the triumph of the democratic and constitutionalist ideas for which Turkey is said to traditionally stand.
Middle East: Arabs, Arab States,
& Their Middle Eastern Neighbors
Islamism & Jihadism -- The Threat of Radical Islam
Page Three Page Two Page One
War & Peace in the Real World
Page Two Page One
Islamist Terrorist Attacks on the U.S.A.
Osama bin Laden & the Islamist Declaration of War
Against the U.S.A. & Western Civilization
Islamist International Terrorism &
U.S. Intelligence Agencies
U.S. National Security Strategy
Dr. Michael Rubin, a Ph.D. in History (Yale University) and a specialist in Middle Eastern politics, Islamic culture and Islamist ideology, is Editor of the Middle East Quarterly and a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research. Dr Rubin is author of Into the Shadows: Radical Vigilantes in Khatami's Iran (Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 2001) and is co-author, with Dr. Patrick Clawson, of Eternal Iran: Continuity and Chaos (Palgrave Macmillan, 2005). Dr. Rubin served as political advisor to the Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad (2003-2004); staff advisor on Iran and Iraq in the Office of the U.S. Secretary of Defense (2002-2004); visiting lecturer in the Departments of History and International Relations at Hebrew University of Jerusalem (2001-2002); visiting lecturer at the Universities of Sulaymani, Salahuddin, and Duhok in Iraqi Kurdistan (2000-2001); Soref Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (1999-2000); and visiting lecturer in the Department of History at Yale University (1999-2000). He has been a fellow at the Council of Foreign Relations, the Leonard Davis Institute at Hebrew University, and the Carnegie Council on Ethics and International Affairs.
The foregoing article by Dr. Rubin was originally published in the Wall Street Journal, October 19, 2006, and can be found on the Internet website maintained by the Middle East Forum.
Africa: Black Africa *
Africa: North Africa *
American Government 1
LINKS TO PARTICULAR ISSUES & SUBJECT MATTER CATEGORIES
TREATED IN THE PROGRESSIVE CONSERVATIVE, U.S.A.:
American Government 2 * American Government 3 * American Government 4
American Government 5 * American Politics * Anglosphere * Arabs
Arms Control & WMD * Aztlan Separatists * Big Government
Black Africa * Bureaucracy * Canada * China * Civil Liberties * Communism
Congress, U.S. * Conservative Groups * Conservative vs. Liberal
Constitutional Law * Counterterrorism * Criminal Justice * Disloyalty * Economy
Education * Elections, U.S. * Eminent Domain * Energy & Environment
English-Speaking World * Ethnicity & Race * Europe * Europe: Jews
Family Values * Far East * Fiscal Policy, U.S. * Foreign Aid, U.S. * France
Hispanic Separatism * Hispanic Treason * Human Health * Immigration
Infrastructure, U.S. * Intelligence, U.S. * Iran * Iraq * Islamic North Africa
Islamic Threat * Islamism * Israeli vs. Arabs * Jews & Anti-Semitism
Jihad & Jihadism * Jihad Manifesto I * Jihad Manifesto II * Judges, U.S. Federal
Judicial Appointments * Judiciary, American * Latin America * Latino Separatism
Latino Treason * Lebanon * Leftists/Liberals * Legal Issues
Local Government, U.S. * Marriage & Family * Media Political Bias
Middle East: Arabs * Middle East: Iran * Middle East: Iraq * Middle East: Israel
Middle East: Lebanon * Middle East: Syria * Middle East: Tunisia
Middle East: Turkey * Militant Islam * Military Defense * Military Justice
Military Weaponry * Modern Welfare State * Morality & Decency
National Identity * National Security * Natural Resources * News Media Bias
North Africa * Patriot Act, USA * Patriotism * Political Culture * Political Ideologies
Political Parties * Political Philosophy * Politics, American * Presidency, U.S.
Private Property * Property Rights * Public Assistance * Radical Islam
Religion & America * Rogue States & WMD * Russia * Science & Ethics
Sedition & Treason * Senate, U.S. * Social Welfare Policy * South Africa
State Government, U.S. * Subsaharan Africa * Subversion * Syria * Terrorism 1
Terrorism 2 * Treason & Sedition * Tunisia * Turkey * Ukraine
UnAmerican Activity * UN & Its Agencies * USA Patriot Act * U.S. Foreign Aid
U.S. Infrastructure * U.S. Intelligence * U.S. Senate * War & Peace
Welfare Policy * WMD & Arms Control
Africa: Black Africa *
Africa: North Africa *
American Government 1
POLITICAL EDUCATION, CONSERVATIVE ANALYSIS
POLITICS, SOCIETY, & THE SOVEREIGN STATE
Website of Dr. Almon Leroy Way, Jr.
A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
An Online Journal of Political Commentary & Analysis
Dr. Almon Leroy Way, Jr., Editor