Monday 3 September 2007

Why should Turks settle for anything less than a truly liberal society?

Many words and deeds of the AKP are indeed worrying from a European liberal perspetive. Some in the west may condone them in line with the role they have tailored for Turkey: a role model for the Middle East. But some of us in Turkey still think that we should and can not settle for anything less than a truly liberal society - liberal in the European sense of the word. If that prevents us from being a role model to other Muslim societies in the Middle East, so be it.

That's Mehmet Karli taking western liberals (including a recent Guardian leader) to task for their acquiescence in the growing power of the supposedly 'moderate' Islamist AKP. Karli believes that this betrays 'an Orientalist mindset, an assumption that a Muslim society cannot be as liberal as a European one'. In common with many Turkish secularists, he is equally critical of the military (whose 1980 coup he blames for the rise of 'an authoritarian ideology called the Turkish-Islamic synthesis, a poisonous mix of nationalism and Islamism') and is 'determined to protect not only secularism but democracy'.

While agreeing that there is no immediate danger of an Islamic state in Turkey, Karli maintains that the AKP's influence is pernicious in a more indirect way:

The real danger is the creeping Islamisation of social life, and a rise in societal conservatism which puts pressure on secular Turks. While the AKP does not impose any laws towards the establishment of an Islamic state, it fuels social conservatism through political and economic incentives. Municipalities controlled by the AKP use social policies to promote conservatism, and in the central administration a conservative lifestyle becomes necessary for those who wish to be promoted to key positions.

A recent Radio 4 programme about Turkey highlighted aspects of this creeping Islamisation in AKP-controlled areas, including the introduction of gender segregation in schooling and restrictions on the sale of alcohol.

Karli's article is a timely ripose to those western commentators, such as Jonathan Steele, who patronisingly deride a belief in liberalism and democracy as the province of a 'secular elite' in the Middle East. Read the whole thing here.

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