Bush's Freedom Agenda; U.S. Supports Wrong Leaders in Turkey

Article excerpt


"Some skeptics of democracy assert that the traditions of Islam are inhospitable to representative government," President Bush said in 2003. "I believe every person has the ability and the right to be free." The Muslim Middle East surely would find it difficult to quarrel with Mr. Bush's point of view if political leaders in Turkey - the country his administration has held up as a model of democracy to the region - agreed with him. "The Muslim majority, too, faces problems regarding religious freedom in Turkey," Foreign Minister Ali Babacan complained last week at the European Parliament. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan agreed, saying, "No one can deny that there are no problems."

This criticism of Turkey's 85-year-old democracy by its elected officials that it allegedly denies its people - whether it be minority or majority - freedom of religion is no doubt propitious for examining.

Since Mr. Babacan talked about the "majority" rather than emphasizing "women" - as the issue of the headscarf has caused a rift between his Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the opposition parties - the problem, in his perception, should be much deeper. That said, Mr. Babacan clearly argues that Turkey's previously elected governments have been inhospitable to Islamic traditions.

The AKP is questioning Turkey's founding principles. The tension in Turkey's current political spheres is steeped in that notion; while AKP's electoral victory has not been challenged, the secular opposition argues that the AKP did not only bring a change in government, but in society.

Turkey's chief prosecutor claims that the AKP wants to bring Shariah (Islamic law) into widespread practice, and has filed a case in Constitutional Court asking for its closure. It is counter to democratic ideals to respond to a challenge by quashing political parties or banning politicians - which Turkey has tried to do.

Despite claims to the contrary, Turkey has not yet proven that Islam and democracy can coexist harmoniously. The majority of Turks are Muslim, but its elected officials are claiming that they are denied the right to freely practice their faith. Such claims misrepresent the reality in Turkey; Turkish parliamentarians called Mr. Babacan to explain his statement. Unfortunately, neither secularists nor Islamists are really able to define why they feel threatened by one another - especially in power. Clearly, people won't stop believing in God just because there is an Islamist mindset that abuses Islam. And the role of secularism in democracy remains critical. …