Turkey is a Beacon to the Muslim World

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In the backdrop of a generally chaotic and turbulent Muslim world-beset with internal strife and wholesale external interference-it is such a refreshing sight to see Turkey making resolute strides in disciplined democracy.

Turkish general elections of last June 12 have resulted in the expected victory of the Justice and Development Party (AKP), its third impressive triumph in a row. The organized manner of these elections, and the absence of any major incident of violence, was in such a sharp contrast to the ‘Arab Spring’ being buffeted by winds of hostility and subversion. The Turkish example feels like a breath of fresh air in an Islamic world whose travails show little sign of abating.

Under the dynamic leadership of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, AK has been on an unblemished victory march for the last 10 years, instilling in the hearts of the Turkish people-and of those in the wider Muslim world with an open mind disposed to learning from the Turkish example-a determined sense of an Islamic party having the capability and foresight to chalk up a democratic and pluralistic destiny for Turkey.

Erdogan’s struggle to put Turkey on the road to pluralism under the banner of an Islamic party hasn’t been easy. It was, on the contrary, a huge challenge fraught with pitfalls of myriad kinds that he had bravely taken on. He had the example of his spiritual mentor, Necmeddin Erbakan, to both inspire and caution him. Erbakan, who passed away earlier this year, was the first PM of Turkey who had come to power at the head of an Islamic party. But he was hounded and chased out of power by Turkey’s puffed up and extraordinarily powerful generals because they suspected him of harboring a ‘hidden’ Islamist agenda. Irrespective of whatever the spurious terminology of ‘Islamist’ meant to the besotted generals-who had messed up Turkey three times through direct intervention in political affairs-they managed to subvert Erbakan because they had the backing of the Europeans and the Americans who shared their Islamo-phobia.

Erdogan himself suffered at the hands of the generals because they suspected him, too, of being a reincarnation of Erbakan. But Erdogan steered clear of them. He didn’t challenge them head-on. Instead, he built his strength among the Turkish people who were fed up with the heavy-handedness of pompous generals who had not a clue how to solve Turkey’s teeming problems but had the megalomania to think of themselves as saviours of the nation. The mess they had made of Turkey’s economy was ample evidence of how far removed from reality they were and obviously living in a shell of ignorance.

Circumstances also helped Erdogan. He had arrived on the scene when the generals thought they were that much close to getting Turkey’s into the European Union. They had their heart set on gaining entry into what’s without doubt a Christian club. European leaders, past and present and of all stripes, have gone on record openly challenging the wisdom of accepting a Muslim country into their ‘club.’ They’ve readily opened its portals for piddling and sick- economy countries from Eastern Europe and the erstwhile Soviet sphere of influence but have kept on raising the bar for Turkey’s admission.

What helped Erdogan and his AKP was a European demand for the Turkish generals staving their hands off politics; the generals have been so enamoured of EU that they saw wisdom in sticking to the European guide-lines.

AKP and Erdogan have used the popular mandate of the Turkish people to cut the generals down to size. But much more than that, they have emphatically scotched the western world’s mischievous propaganda that Islam and democracy don’t meld. With its power base firmly anchored in the heartland of Turkey-and also indeed in big cities like Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir-AKP has made the Turkish people’s historical moorings in Islam as the launch-pad of their movement to instill modern, pluralistic, democracy firmly into the Turkish soil. It’s no longer imaginable-even for the die-hard detractors of AKP-that the Turkish generals would ever again dare to poach on the now flourishing turf of democracy.

That’s where AKP is setting a shining example for much of the Muslim world-the Arab part of it, in particular-that Islam’s pristine philosophy is no barrier to populist democracy; on the contrary it can provide a firm matrix for the anchoring of pluralism and democratic populism. AKP has cut across sectarian divides, which has been the bane for many a Muslim country, and wedded Islam’s universalism to Turkish nationalism.

The inspiration that the Erdogan government derives from Islam’s pristine and germane universalism is best articulated in Turkey’s new activism on the world stage in support of Muslim causes, especially those where rights of Muslim people, of any persuasion, are violated on any pretext.

Gone are the days when a narcissistic Turkey mesmerized by a convoluted sense of secularism had become a pariah to the Muslim world because of its blind bidding of western agenda often hostile to Muslim interests. Turkey under its power-hungry generals, or those secular politicians taking their cue from the General Headquarters, had acquired the dubious title of Israel’s most trusted partner in the region. That was all due to American dictation that Turkey in that gloomy period swallowed hook, line and sinker. It became the largest buyer of Israeli weapons, allowed Israel the privilege of using its air space to train its pilot-those who then bombed Arab countries with impunity-and often carried out joint military exercises with Israel and its principal mentor, US.

But once the AKP government found its feet firmly implanted into the heartland of Turkish politics Israel and its mentor were served notice that new Turkey wasn’t going to shame and debase itself any longer by sub-letting its soil to neo-imperialists . The AKP government rejected with the contempt it deserved George W. Bush’s offer of $ 30 billion as gratuity payment if Turkey would allow him to use its territory for his brutal invasion of Iraq.

Erdogan hasn’t shied away, at all, from championing the cause of the Palestinians, especially those incarcerated in Gaza under a barbaric Israeli siege, whenever their human rights and dignity has been violated by Israel and its western supporters. His public spat with Israeli President Shimon Peres at the Davos Conference in Switzerland, two years ago, was a reminder to the world that Turkey will not shirk its responsibility as a member of the universal Muslim Ummah and will espouse Muslim causes with all its moral and diplomatic power.

It was Erdogan, again, who threatened to break off diplomatic relations with Israel after its trigger-happy soldiers, on order from a Zionist Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, savagely assaulted a Turkish-led humanitarian flotilla carrying humanitarian supplies to relieve the siege of the people of Gaza, in May 2010. That barbaric act of piracy on the high-seas, led to the murder of 10 Turkish humanitarian workers, including some young men.

Turkey has tried, so far in vain, to convince Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi to put an end to his brutality against his own people and seek a negotiated solution to get out of the rut that he has dug Libya into. This Turkish stance is not only reflective of its maturity but stands out in marked contrast to the crusading zeal of the western powers-US, Britain and France, in particular-to foment and abet a full scale civil war in Libya. Their agenda, of course, is one directed by their neo-imperialistic lust to hog and exploit Libya’s abundant oil and gas resources.

The western powers, masquerading as champions of the rights of the Libyans, have no iota of sympathy for them, or else they wouldn’t force those Libyans fleeing to Europe for shelter into virtual concentration camps It’s only the primacy of corporate interest in western countries that is dictating their governments agenda to seek Qaddafi’s downfall at the earliest. At the same time, however, they aren’t in a hurry to empower the anti-Qaddafi forces enough to deliver a knock-out punch to Qaddafi. Why? Because up until now these old and new imperialists haven’t found a Libyan cabal, from amongst those arrayed against Qaddafi, to do their bidding without demur and sign onto the dotted lines laid out for them.

But it’s the Syrian uprising which is posing a huge humanitarian and political challenge to Erdogan. In fact the influx of Syrian refugees, fleeing the terror of government forces, into Turkey has cast a pale shadow over the triumph of AKP at the polls and the celebrations this momentous event warranted.

Syria is not only a next door neighbour of Turkey but in addition the historical links between the two countries go back to centuries. Relations between the two have witnessed a great upsurge as Turkey under AKP cast its eyes eastward-as against the Euro-centric advance of the military and secular regimes of the past. Erdogan has had a particularly warm relationship with Syria’s young President Bashar Al Assad, in whom he may have seen sparks of a reformist like himself. However, Bashar has disappointed him as he has others in the Muslim world to whom Syria is important.

The Syrian uprising, in tandem with the Arab Spring in other countries has, however, brought to surface all the inherent weaknesses of the Baathist regime Bashar inherited from his father, Hafez Al Assad eleven years ago. The heavy hand of law used to put down a populist revolt, inspired by the models of Egypt and Tunisia, for democracy and rule of law, is something alien to Turkey under AKP. That used to be the order of the day under the generals but is not the case any longer. Erdogan’s Turkey is an open, democratic and progressive society. And that’s exactly how Erdogan would like to see other Muslim countries.

Besides exploding the myth of Islam not being compatible with democracy, AKP rule in Turkey has dealt a knockout punch to another false notion deliberately fanned against Islamic countries that they can’t compete on a footing of equality with modern economies of the world because their religious ethos serve little incentive for free-market economies.

Turkey had a sluggish, debt-ridden, economy barely surviving when AKP came to power. Today it has grown into more than a trillion dollar GDP economy growing at the rate of 9 % annually, the fastest growth in the world next to China. What used to be derided as the ‘sick man of Europe’ by the imperialists is now Europe’s most dynamic economy. It’s Turkey’s next-door neighbour, Greece, which is now sick to its core and on life-support, virtually, courtesy of its EU partners who are baffled by the severity of its malaise.

No doubt that Turkey still has problems. One major issue, yet unresolved, is that of the Kurdish minority that makes up 15 % of the Turkish population. The Kurds were given a very rough deal under the military’s monopoly of political power. Erdogan has been striving to impart some healthy balance into that equation. Kurdish press and television now have a measure of freedom that was even hard to conceive previously. In the latest election Kurdish parties have won nearly 30 Kurdish members to the Turkish National Assembly, their strongest showing in Turkey’s parliamentary history. AKP seems conscious of the need to treat the Kurds as equal and loyal citizens of the state with legitimate aspirations and rights. Erdogan seems ready to accommodate them within the new dynamics of a democratic Turkey.

Erdogan may not have achieved all at the polls that he set his sights on before going into the elections. For instance, his party didn’t get the coveted two-thirds majority in the parliament. In a 550-strong House, his party would still be short by nearly 50 seats to command a two-thirds vote that would have given it the power to bring in a new constitution for the country to fully reflect its new goals and ambitions. But this may still be a blessing in disguise as it would make sure that AKP doesn’t ride rough-shod over other parties and, per se, gives due regard to consensus building. This is what pluralism is all about.

For a chaotic Muslim world still groping for a road map to light up its path to a democratic and prosperous tomorrow, Turkey’s example should become a beacon of light. It may not be an ideal panacea to cure a tall list of afflictions besetting most of the Islamic countries but comes close to providing a handy and practicable prescription. What it inspires most is the pivotal power of self-confidence in nation-building, free from the west’s annoying interference and tendency to play big-brother, if not a god-father. There is so much for every Muslim country striving to find its feet in a west-dominated and, because of it, hostile world to learn and choose from the Turkish paradigm.

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 1-15 July 2011 on page no. 26

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