Thursday, August 30, 2007

Muslim Democrat?

Turkey has elected a so-called Islamist as President. This might sound alarming to some paranoid western ears. Any word containing or having as cognate the word Islam has in recent years taken on a connotation of fundamentalism and extremism. But look past the descriptive terms and you'll find that the oppostional forces in that country's politics has less to do with religion versus secularism and has more to do with rich versus poor.

Turkey is socially and politically very unconventional; for one thing the military has on four occasions deposed the national government and forced it to adhere to the constitution which it holds dear. Unlike most other military establishments this one doesn't consider the constitution to be a pesky document that gets in the way of their path to power. They consider it their raison d'etre to protect it.

I am strongly in favour of secularism. I don't think there's much wisdom in mixing the church with the state. So one would guess that the recent presidential ascendancy in Turkey should trouble me. It does not trouble me because I think that the people have strongly supported the AKP not because they necessarily crave a government that mixes faith and politics but because they have been given so few reliable and honest politicians from which to choose.

The secularist parties much like the Federal Liberals here in Canada had become much too comfortable in their position as the natural governing option. While the constitution and reforms brought forth by Ataturk in 1923 were impressive and necessary at the time they are clung to by the secularists with even more vigour than a religious zealot clings to his scriptures. If Turkey wants to join the European union (and most of the population strongly does so) then they need to realize that the tenets of Western Liberal Democracy can supersede the proclamations of Ataturk who it must be admitted was not infallible. His innovations, it could be argued were right for the time but can be improved upon and therefore must be subject to criticism.

Along with the comfort and ease of power came the temptation of corruption. It should be admitted that the rich and the powerful have for decades colluded in corrupt practices that have fleeced the average Turkish citizen of their deserved economic success. Their untiring work ethic has largely been wasted by scandal after scandal in which those in power made it very easy for those with the purse-strings to abscond with the country's liquid resources and to do so with relative impunity. This gave the secularist parties a bad name and the poor not surprisingly flocked to their shepherds.

Recep Erdogan and his chosen President Abdullah Gul are probably no more frighteningly Muslim than Stephen Harper is frighteningly Christian. They all knew how to seek favour with voters to oust a naturally governing party: they did so by giving the voters an option to sweep aside an establishment that was shown to be too comfortable in power and too prone to corruption. Ironically in Turkey it took the efforts of a so-called Islamist party to truly put into practice the various virtues of Western Democracy. Those previously in power, despite being ostensibly advocates of right-leaning capitalist thinking, had no interest in true competition because having already the most they had the most to lose through it's introduction.

There has been a long tradition of Christian Democrat parties in Europe who despite their religious sounding names have upheld the values of Liberalism and I propose that the party in power in Turkey be labeled similarly as Muslim Democrats. If we could somehow keep those corrupt politicians from using the electoral process for their own personal economic enrichment instead of the enrichment of their people then the people wouldn't have to resort to voting in religiously linked parties to oust those same corrupt politicians.

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