FaithWorld

As Turkey votes, concern this time focuses on democracy, not theocracy

(A view shows buildings plastered with Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan's election campaign posters, as a ferry leaves Eminonu pier in Istanbul June 10, 2011/Murad Sezer)

The last time Turks voted in a general election in 2007, opponents feared the socially conservative ruling party was turning Turkey into an Iran-style Islamic state. With voters on Sunday expected to keep Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s AK Party in office for a third straight term, critics and some analysts now worry about that less but fear that the future course of democracy may be at stake.

A rising power with a vibrant, free economy and a U.S. ally that aspires to join the European Union, Turkey is held up as an example of marrying Islam and democracy and has been an oasis of stability in a region convulsed by “Arab Spring” uprisings. AK has also overseen the most stable and prosperous period of Turkey’s history with market-friendly reforms, and begun membership talks with the EU while opening new markets in Asia, the Middle East and Africa.

( Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan's election campaign posters in Istanbul June 10, 2011. The posters read, "Stability proceeds, Turkey grows" and "Turkey is ready, Target is 2023"/Murad Sezer)

But Erdogan, whose party controls the government and parliament and who last year won a referendum to overhaul the judiciary, says if he wins by a big enough margin this time and achieves a “super majority,” he will rewrite Turkey’s constitution.

Turkish PM raps France for face veil ban, militants online urge punishment for Paris

(Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, April 13, 2011. REUTERS/Vincent Kessler)

(Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, April 13, 2011/Vincent Kessler)

Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan accused France of violating the freedom of religion on Wednesday after Paris began enforcing a law barring Muslim women from wearing full face veils in public. He told the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe that Turkey was the only Muslim country that had copied the French law on secularism, or separating church and state.

“It’s quite ironic to see that secularism is today under debate in Europe and is undermining certain freedoms,” he said. “Today in France, there is no respect for individual religious freedom,” he said. The Strasbourg-based Council of Europe monitors human rights across the continent. Read the full story here.

Masses mourn at funeral of Turkish Islamist leader Erbakan

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(Mourners surround the coffin of Turkey's former Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan at his funeral in Istanbul March 1, 2011/Osman Orsal )

Turks, including the country’s political leaders, paid their respects on Tuesday to former Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan, the founder of the country’s modern Islamist movement, who died on Sunday.  Sombre music poured from loudspeakers outside Istanbul’s 15th Century Fatih Mosque and street vendors sold scarves emblazoned with the message “Mujahid Erbakan”, celebrating the Erbakan as a holy warrior, as mourners chanted “Allahu Akbar”, or “God is Great”.

Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan and President Abdullah Gul, proteges of Erbakan, joined other leaders for prayers in front of the coffin, laid out in the mosque’s courtyard and draped in green cloth adorned with Koranic verses. The streets, rooftops and balconies of houses surrounding the mosque were crammed with men wearing skull caps, and women, either veiled or wearing head scarves — marks of respect. Some mourners carried Palestinian flags.

Erdogan urges Turks in Germany to integrate, not assimilate

erdogan 1

(Confetti is released as Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan leaves the stage following a speech to some 15,000 Turks living in Germany at an arena in Duesseldorf February 27, 2011/Wolfgang Rattay )

Turkish immigrants in Germany should integrate into society but not assimilate to the point where they abandon their native culture, Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said on a visit to Germany on Sunday. Speaking to some 10,000 members of Germany’s large Turkish community in the wake of last year’s heated debate over the place of foreigners in the country, Erdogan took up the theme of integration amid what he sees as persistent European xenophobia.

“You must integrate, but I am against assimilation … no one may ignore the rights of minorities,” he said, adding that individuals should have the right to practice their own faith.

Suleiman the Magnificent TV drama opens Turkish divide on religion

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(Demonstrators attack billboards advertising the TV series "The Magnificent Century" in Istanbul January 9, 2011/Murad Sezer )

A steamy television period drama about a 16th century sultan has angered conservative Muslims in Turkey and sparked a debate over the portrayal of the past in a country rediscovering its Ottoman heritage.

“The Magnificent Century” chronicles the life of Suleiman the Magnificent, who ruled the Ottoman Empire in its golden age. Scenes which have particularly offended show a young and lusty sultan cavorting in the harem and drinking goblets of wine, pursuits frowned upon by the Muslim faithful for whom the sultan had religious as well as temporal authority.

Concern about Islamists masks wide differences among them

holding up korans

(Hamas supporters hold up copies of the Koran at a protest in Gaza City December 26, 2010/Mohammed Salem)

Part of the problem trying to figure out what Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood or Tunisia’s Ennahda party would do if they got into any future power structure in their countries is knowing what kind of Islamists they are. The label “Islamist” pops up frequently these days, in comments and warnings and (yes) news reports, but the term is so broad that it even covers groups that oppose each other. Just as the Muslim world is not a bloc, the Islamist world is not a bloc.

I sketched out a rough spectrum of Islamists in an analysis today entitled  Concern about Islamists masks wide differences. This topic is vast and our story length limits keep the analysis down to the bare bones. But the overall point should be clear that any analysis of what these specific parties might do that ignores their diversity starts off on the wrong foot and risks ending up with the wrong conclusions.

Dracula goes dry as Turkey’s new drink rules bite

draculaGuests at the Istanbul premiere of a new vampire film were among the first victims of new curbs on alcohol that have raised secularist fears Islamic strictures may be encroaching on everyday life.

The rules, announced earlier this month by the tobacco and alcohol watchdog, tighten up licence requirements for serving alcohol, impose restrictions on alcohol marketing and limits sales to designated areas in stores. (Photo: Dracula souvenirs at Bran Castle, also known as Dracula’s Castle, in Romania, May 19, 2006/Bogdan Cristel)

But the move has revived secularist accusations that Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s government is interfering in people’s lifestyles and imposing Islamic values. The Ankara Bar Association — part of a judiciary that has become a last bastion of Turkey’s secularist old guard — said it had lodged a challenge to the new regulations in the country’s top administrative court.

“The Jury is Out”: WikiLeaks shows U.S. trying to understand Islam in Turkey

turkey 3 (Photo: A commuter ferry sails past the Blue Mosque in Istanbul September 4, 2010/Osman Orsal)

The WikiLeaks documents from the U.S. embassy in Ankara show several attempts by American diplomats to understand the role of Islam and the Islamic world in the political stand of the governing AK Party of Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan. Their efforts can be summarised in a subtitle of a cable in 2007 purporting to show “the truth behind the AKP’s “secret Islamic agenda.” It said simply: The Jury is Out.”

Following are some interesting excerpts, with links to the full documents:

20 Jan 2010 — WHAT LIES BENEATH ANKARA’S NEW FOREIGN POLICY

1. (C) There is much talk in chanceries and in the international media these days about Turkey’s new, highly activist foreign policy …  The ruling AKP foreign policy is driven by both a desire to be more independently activist, and by a more Islamic orientation…

turkey 52. (C) Does all this mean that the country is becoming more focused on the Islamist world and its Muslim tradition in its foreign policy? Absolutely. Does it mean that it is “abandoning” or wants to abandon its traditional Western orientation and willingness to cooperate with us? Absolutely not. At the end of the day we will have to live with a Turkey whose population is propelling much of what we see …  Turkey will remain a complicated blend of world class “Western” institutions, competencies, and orientation, and Middle Eastern culture and religion.