Posted by: bklunk | May 1, 2007

It’s Simple, Except that It Isn’t

First of all, the salient point isn’t that Gul is a Muslim; almost everyone in Turkey (99.8% in some accounts) is Muslim.  It is that he belongs to an Islamist party (and maybe especially that his wife wears a headscarf). On the other hand, Gul’s party has been more effective and less corrupt in governing Turkey than the supposedly modern secularist parties. His party is also quite committed to bring Turkey into the EU. In short, this is not the Taliban.  And the whole headscarf thing is pretty interesting too. On the streets of Istanbul, you can see women wearing the headscarf and 3-inch stilettoes. And don’t get me started on the military, the guardian of secularist modernity.  Except that threatening a coup to protect democracy is sort of like threatening rape to protect chastity. 

After all, this is the country of the post-modern coup.

Separation of Church and State Divides Turkey « Gerry’s International Relations

The possibility of a Muslim President has caused uproar in Istanbul, according to CNN. Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul announced his candidacy for the office of President, and more than 700,000 protesters marched on the capital. Turkey has remained secular since Mustafa Kemal Ataturk established the Secular Turkish Republic after the fall of the Ottoman Empire after World War I. They firmly believe that Turkey needs to remain secular and that Gul will base his policies on Islamic Law. Many of the protesters are calling for an early election to elect a new legislature, which elects the president. Currently it is dominated by Gul’s pro-Islamic party. The also fear that he will use the presidential power of veto to help Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan implement Sharia law.

Another fear is that the military will intervene. Previously when a pro-Islamic leader was elected the government removed him from power and replaced him with a secular leader. The military is afraid the religious leadership will hurt Turkey’s chances of joining the European Union, and therefore they may intervene. The battle between secularists and religious supporters is not unique to Turkey, however. Similar arguments have occurred all over the world. I don’t believe the answer can be found by choosing one over the other, but instead a balance must be found. This is easier said than done, however, I am not sure what will work best for Turkey.

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  1. If Turkey ever wants to become a part of the European Union, they must maintain their “integrity” as a “democratic” system (one of the Copenhagen criteria). Staging an early parliamentary election to ensure the fact that Gul will not become president is purely undemocratic, and the member states of the EU will definitely notice that. If the Muslim people of Turkey elected a Parliament dominated by a pro-Islamic party, then they need to have faith in those representatives and their power to choose the candidate the public would like to see in office. It doesn’t always work that way in the US of course (remember the 2000 elections?) but we don’t hold special, spur of the moment elections just to ensure that the electoral college will change its idea of who should become president. The idea is ludicrous, and definitely undemocratic. Although I do understand the importance of a secularized government, and the fact that Turkey’s chances of entering into the EU are greatly diminished if an Islamic leader is chosen, I think Turkey needs to stop pretending they’re not a Muslim state and elect the person they think is most fit to rule, not the person who has no religious affiliation. And if the Turkish military is so worried that an Islamic president will hurt their reputation among EU member states, they need to think about the negative repercussions that staging a military coup would have as well.

  2. I agree with Alicia that if Turkey is serious about joining the EU they cannot let their secualar government be compromised. One of the reasons the other EU members have been hesitatnt to let Turkey join is because they are concerned of the religion interfering with a democratic government. Even though 98% of the population if Muslim, they do not want a government that is controlled by Islam. This point was demonstated by the 700,000 person march against Gul. With this said, I think the future leadership should be fairly left up to the Turkish voters and there should not be a special election to ensure the more “pleasing” candidate wins. The most important part of these elections is to maintain the democratic process.

  3. What is most surprising to me about Turkey’s latest uproar, is that they are trying so hard to be taken seriously as a democratic country, and yet, they are considering fixing the election. The fear of a theocracy is understandable, given Turkey’s history. In every democratizing country, it seems there is a battle between religious tradition and the drive to secularize society. Even the United States, 231 years after the Declaration of Independence, still struggles with this complex balance.

    It’s really easy to live in a democratic country and criticize Turkey. While it would certainly be a misstep to bar a Muslim person from running for President, I think we forget just how afraid the Turkish people are of having a theocracy. They are, clearly, a Muslim nation but that does not mean they want their lives governed accordingly.

    Alicia made a good point, in that the EU will be watching Turkey’s every move with this election. It is, obviously, in their best interest to have an honest election. However, I think it’s important to remember that their desire not to have an incredibly Muslim President is not unfounded. At the same time, their reputation as a real democratic country hinges on this election, both in Turkey’s governance and world reputation.

  4. I am probably not going to add that many new arguments to this blog (Alicia, Rachel, and Madeline made great points), but I couldn’t help myself. I had to comment on this story. It is so interesting. First off, it is obvious that if Turkey isn’t capable of allowing religious freedom and running a stable democracy then it is in serious danger of not meeting the Copenhagen criteria. Especially when the military threatens a coup to secure democracy? Not exactly what the Greeks or even our Founding Fathers had in mind for democracy. However, I think that there is something of signifance that needs to be pointed out in this story. The problem is not that Gul is Muslim, as stated Turkey is 98% Muslim, it is the overwhelming desire for secularism that is the issue. It is quite interesting that years after an absolutist leader that nations still hold dear their message (if not on the surface then underneath), and no better example than Kemal (Ataturk) in Turkey. I don’t know if holding parliamentary elections in order to stop his candidacy is really that out-of-bounds (although definitely less than ideal). It’s allowed in parliamentary democracy. If the Britians believe Tony Blair is too aligned with Bush to develop Britain’s own foreign policy, wouldn’t they be justified in a vote for no confidence. How is being too aligned with a religion not a legitimate concern? Also fear of religion in politics is even in US politics just buried a little deeper. Isn’t strange that a majority of the American presidents are Protestant? Didn’t people fear Kennedy would be too aligned with the Pope? Why haven’t we had a Jewish, Muslim, or Mormon president? Is it because we believe that somehow these personal beliefs with seep into public policy? I don’t know for sure, but it’s an interesting question.

  5. I think that the candidacy of Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul for the president of Turkey is not a bad thing. He has absolutely no history of being extremely or radically Islamic and I highly doubt that he would reverse law for the worse of the nation. Plus, if the majority of the Turkish Congress is from his party, then this must be a statement of the people. Perhaps 70,000 citizens in Istanbul protested Gul’s candidacy, but that is out of a country of 75 million people. Turkey is 99 percent Muslim, and if Gul’s election if a reflection of what Turkish society wants than that is the way it should be. So far, with the Islamic party’s majority in Congress, Turkey has been very progressive in its policies and has made great leaps towards becoming a member of the EU. I don’t think that Gul will separate from his party line and reverse Turkey’s progress towards membership in the EU, which would mean reinstating any “radical” Muslim laws. If it is what Turkey wants, and the results will help Turkey, than why not let Gul run for president?

  6. It is very true that some kind of balance must be found, but this is a very important issue in this country and from what I’ve read it basically you are on one side or the other. Therefore it would be extremely difficult to compromise here. The military will not be afraid to step in if they feel that their secularized government is threatened, and I really believe there is no way that this will end well if Gul keeps his “hat in the ring”.
    It is definitely too bad that they can’t handle this issue without the threat of violence, but that it seems is the culture they live in. Turkey has worked hard for years to pay down their massive national debt, along with other things political activity, in order to appear more attractive to the European Union. This change, if say he was to be elected somehow, would change not only the make-up of Turkey but also greatly affect the view the EU has of them and their candidacy. Personally I wish all candidates would be allowed to run their own campaigns without these repercussions in Turkey, but it looks like it is not likely to change anytime soon.

  7. I understand the concern the EU has about admitting an Islamist state, but I don’t think this should be the deciding factor if the best candidate for the presidency happens to be pro-Islamist. I believe that separation of church and state is important, but I think people need to acknowledge how hard that can be when 99.8% of a country’s population belongs to one religious group. I agree that it’s important for Turkey to find a balance on this issue. Currently women can’t wear their headscarves inside of government buildings to maintain a “secular” government, while we could never impose laws like that here under our “secular” government. I don’t mean to say that the answer to this is an Islamist government, but I do think that this should be considered, especially if Gul plans to continue to work towards Turkey’s joining the EU.

  8. I agree that a military coup to protect democracy is at the very least ironic. There also seems to be a hint of over sensitivity on the part of those concerned about a muslim president. A key component of democracy is a degree of faith in the system if everyone in the U.S left or staged a coup when they did not like an elected official, then Canada would be the one building the fence. I think Turkey needs to start thinking about Turkey and not the EU, i do realize that many see entrance into the EU as good for Turkey. Though even if addmission to the EU is great for Turkey it is still not going to happen until Turkey starts worrying about reality and not how things look to Europe. Both supporters and those who oppose Gul should start out by informing voters, if you think he is not the man for the job then create an alternative. This is all easier said then done but they are all qualities of a democracy and do beat the heck out of a coup.

  9. In the newspaper yesterday, it was reported that the Supreme Court in Turkey ruled to not allow Gul to run for President. This is interesting, in that it is not a problem the United States has ever really had to face. It seems that, although Gul’s party has been “effective” in governing Turkey over the past couple years, Turkish citizens and other leaders are nervous about Turkey’s image worldwide, especially in the European Union. I do not think it would be out of line to say that a Turkey with an Islamist party in power would definitely cause some consternation in the EU states, especially France and Germany. However, this ruling also raises questions about how much of a democracy Turkey really is. It would seem that, in a real democracy, any person who was qualified and willing would be able to run for president of the country. The conflict in Turkey seems to be between allowing total democracy and a nervousness that Gul and his party would not maintain the secular democracy that many Turkish citizens, and the Western world, value. WIth this election and the election in France, it is probable that EU politics will be mixed up for a while.

  10. Most people seem to have covered every angle to this story, but one thing I find very interesting is the uproar about Abdullah Gul’s wife – Hayrunisa. The fact that she is a practicing Muslim who chooses to wear the Hijab terrifies people. Gul has every qualification as a presidential candidate, but because he wife frequently accompanies him to functions, she becomes a visible representation of their faith. Many women are upfronted by the idea of a woman walking around inside Ataturk’s Palace with a headscarf. That idea also becomes a direct attack on the oh-so-beloved Ataturk’s secularism.
    For many Muslim women who believe themselves “modernized”, the hijab represents a backtracking in progress. I can then understand how the possibility of a first lady representing a reversal in progress would be frightening. But still the fact remains that if they want to be fully secularized and modernized, they should allow a candidate to run based on their qualifications for office – not by which faith they practice. (It’s amazing that with 99% Muslim population that they are so fearful of a Muslim president.) I also wonder where the other government officials came from, because if they cannot have high government officials be Muslim, that’s don’t many to choose from. It’s going to be very interesting to see where this issue leads with the possibility of a Muslim president in a secular democracy.

  11. I am the original poster of the blog and I just wanted to make some amendments. I was reading Dr. Klunk’s comments so I started to do more research on the subject. According to the International Hearld Tribune, the main issue is that the Justice and Development party is more pro-Islam than the older Republican People’s Party. As Dr. Klunk said, nearly the entire nation is Muslim, the protestors just do not want this party is power. As several other people pointed out, Gul’s wife is also a very traditional Muslim which frightens the people. Personally I do not believe that a pro-Islam government would stop their joining the European Union. The EU’s concerns most likely come from the Turkey’s previous financial crisis and the possibility of military intervention. Neither suggests a stable democracy.

  12. […] Separation of Church and State Divides Turkey, including comment made responding to other comments […]

  13. Turkey’s political situation is definitely not your typical one. Although Turkey had begun its foundation as and independent republic in 1923 with a traditionally strong secularism belief system; Turkey’s current lingering political problem would suggest otherwise. As everyone has mentioned above, the main issue at hand here is the notion of Turkey’s presents as a democratic nation worthy of entering the European Union. Unfortunately the recent conditions of ruling out Gul’s campaign for the presidency by the supreme constitutional courts, proves that Turkey still has some out-standing illegitimate political processes to deal with. Regardless of the society’s fear of religious affiliations by the office holder, the correct democratic process is not by automatically removing their right to campaign. Here the EU will notably consider this action as a form of fraudulent elections, and will moreover sway to rethink the allowance of Turkey into the EU.

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