By Doğu Ergil, Today's Zaman
Turkey has just realized a democratic revolution that both the secular-statist-pseudo-democratic elite and Europe have failed to grasp. Their handicap was their fear of Islam that borders on paranoia.
It is not that a religious (theological) political system would captivate the body and soul of citizens, but rather that the winning Justice and Development Party (AK Party) and the vast support it drew had no agenda to Islamicize Turkey. In fact this party, whose founders came out of society's religious and conservative cohorts, found out that defending their cultural values and lifestyles can only be possible in an atmosphere of freedom and no freedom may be maintained if consensus and welfare does not moderate radicalisms of all kinds.
If this analysis may readily be taken as an unconditional support of the AK Party, it should not be. The victorious AK Party has appeared to be more convincing with its four-and-a-half-year performance and has been a better source of hope for the future for the lower echelons of the society. It is no wonder that it has received relatively evenly distributed support across the board and garnered votes both from the rich business class and the urban and rural poor.
The ruling AK Party has won the largest share of the vote of any party in four decades -- 46.6 percent -- after a term of successful incumbency only opposed by a cabal who relied on the military to defend their waning control over society. These mainly bureaucratic old elite, unlike the new sociopolitical elite, drew fortunes and power from state service. So far they have controlled politics, the administration, the judiciary, the defense establishment and more. Whenever their iron grip on power started to slip they had no qualms about staging coups or airing threats to retain it. The outcome is so obvious: Turkey is the poorest, most authoritarian, most unevenly developed society of Europe experiencing difficulties for EU membership. But no more.
Those conservative and religious cohorts of society that are perceived as threats to secularism and the appearance of modernity in urban settings did not arrive from outer space. They are the products of this society, so badly managed by the so-called secular and modern elite who have failed to modernize and develop the society they led for more than three-quarters of a century.
The victorious AK Party leadership represents a new generation of mostly middle-class urban and small-town Turks that have made a living through private entrepreneurship and professions, making them more market-friendly than any of their opponents. It is no wonder that under their management not only the Turkish economy grew rapidly but is has also been firmly integrated in to the world economy. This means that the AK Party has heralded a new kind of individualism and liberalism despite the communal cultural background. This is change and the AK Party represents change within and without. Yet the AK Party is held captive by outside actors to its roots, which it has outgrown so rapidly, by those who know little about Turkish society. I have been personally stunned to hear almost all the international media organs reporting out of Turkey just before and right after the elections that the war between secularism and Islam has been won by the latter.
It is true that most of the AK Party leaders, including Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, once belonged to an overtly Islamic party. The Turkish Constitution prohibits political parties founded on religion and ethnicity. The AK Party has refashioned itself as a conservative-democratic party. Yes, they want religion to be a source of moral inspiration and a guiding depository of values for good conduct and behavior. But they never tried or dared to change the secular laws and principles of public administration. They know that a religious (theocratic) government would limit their freedoms more than anybody else's because they would be labeled as the "converts."
Here I would like to share with you an assessment by Mr. Haroon Siddiqui, who wrote: "Erdoğan's wife and daughters wear the hijab. So does the wife of Foreign Minister Abdullah Gül. But neither claims, unlike George W. Bush, to take dictation from God in foreign or domestic policy."
To conclude, I would like to draw your attention to the number of women members elected to the Parliament. Forty-nine female deputies have been elected, much more than any other term controlled by secularists who believe in equality between genders. This number was only one-third of the current figure in the past Parliament. Of the 49, 29 are from the AK Party and almost all of them are modern academics, free professionals and businesswomen who would constitute the first row of opposition to a system that would deny them their civil rights and freedoms. I suggest that the West should learn its lesson first before passing judgment on Turkey.
Turkey has just realized a democratic revolution that both the secular-statist-pseudo-democratic elite and Europe have failed to grasp.
By Doğu Ergil, Today's Zaman