By Jane Louise Kandur
08 October 2016
There are over 100 Christian Democrat parties throughout the world. Belgium alone has five Christian Democrat parties; the European People's Party is the political group in Europe for Christian Democrats. The EPP is the largest political group, affiliated with over 70 parties from 40 different countries
Christian democracy is a form of democracy that applies Christian principles to public policy. The Christian Democrat movement first began in Europe in the 19th century. One turning point for Christian Democracy is seen to be 1901, when Pope Leo XIII and the Vatican stated that something had to be done to provide relief for workers, who were suffering due to working conditions.
In the encyclical letter written by the Pope, it is stated that "Even those who are not Catholics, moved by the power of truth, avowed that the Church must be credited with a watchful care over all classes of society, and especially those whom fortune has least favoured."
It is also written "Christian Democracy, by the fact that it is Christian, is built, and necessarily so, on the basic principles of divine faith, and provides for the betterment of the masses... Hence, for Christian Democracy justice is sacred; it must maintain that the right of acquiring and possessing property cannot be impugned, and it must safeguard the various distinctions and degrees which are indispensable in every well-ordered commonwealth..."
It wasn't just the Catholic Church and its followers who influenced the development of Christian democracy; Protestant groups, and in particular Neo-Calvinism, played very important roles in the formation of the ideals behind this movement. According to John Witte, both Protestant and Catholic believers perceived that liberal and social democratic practices had failed the community in some way; it was for this reason that Christian Democrat parties were established. Liberal democracies, Witte states, sacrifice the community for the individual, while social democracies sacrifice the individual for the community. Christian Democrats believe in "social pluralism", that is, the individual is active and dependent upon communal organizations, like family, church, school and work place, which, in turn, exist to serve the individual.
By 1948 there were strong Christian Democrat parties dominating the political scene in many European countries. The Christian Democrat movement then spread to Latin America, and after the collapse of communism spread to Eastern Europe.
Today Christian Democracy is still influential, and is the most common form of political party in Europe. The European trend tends to be centre-right, while the Christian Democrat movement in Latin America is more to the left.
Some Christian Democrat parties in Europe include the Christian Democratic Union in Germany, Fine Gael in Ireland, Christen-Democratisch en Vlaams and Humanist Democratic Centre in Belgium, Christian Democratic Appeal in the Netherlands and Union of Christian and Centre Democrats in Italy. These parties are all affiliated with the European People's Party.
Geoffrey K. Roberts and Patricia Hogwood have noted that "Christian democracy has incorporated many of the views held by liberals, conservatives and socialists within a wider framework of moral and Christian principles."
Despite this centre-right tendency, Christian Democrats have nothing in common with the far right. They are conservatives, but conservatives with "compassion." And although there is a "Christian" at the front of Christian Democrat, many parties today do not focus on religion. However, much as they believe that communal organizations are important, Christian Democrats also believe that intermediary organizations, such as labour unions, have an important role to play; these organizations help fill the gap between the individual and the state. Christian Democrats help establish religious organizations like church-supported schools and hospitals. However, they are opposed to excessive state institutions.
In general, the Christian Democrat approach is referred to as social conservatism. In the United States, social conservatism is a stance that stands in opposition to social progressivism. The American Republican Party is the largest political party to include social conservative ideas into its platform. Social conservatism brings "family values" to the fore; as a result, although it is difficult to generalize, social conservatives, and thus Christian Democrats, tend to oppose abortion and same-sex marriage. Christian Democrats also support law and order. They are unlike normal Conservative parties in that they do not always support the status quo, political or social. Christian Democrats also are strong defenders of human rights and the individual as a part of the community (who has certain duties that they must perform for the same community). Christian Democrats stand in favor of social justice and solidarity and support the welfare state.
However, social conservatism is not always accompanied by conservative economic policies. Christian Democrats are often in favor of economic intervention if this will serve certain moral or cultural aims.
Basically, Christian Democrats are people who are concerned with freedoms for the individual, but at the same time are concerned that the individual serves the community. In their eyes, the state is there to support the community and the individual, and to make sure that people do not fall through the cracks, be it in health, economy or education.
This is all very well. But a strange thing happens when the first word, 'Christian, is exchanged for another belief...that is 'Muslim'. Is there such a thing as a Muslim Democrat? If there is, why aren't we hearing more about them?
Muslim, or Islamic, Democrat parties exist. In fact, in articles on European Christian Democrats, often two Islamic Democrat parties are mentioned. The first is the Democratic League of Kosovo. The second is the Turkish Justice and Development Party (AK Party). Both parties are centre right. The AK Party is a party that has brought social welfare to the fore, rehabilitating the health care system so everyone has free health care, even Syrian refugees; improving the education system so that everyone has free education, even Syrian refugees. The AK Party has generally worked towards increasing the living standard of all citizens of the Turkish Republic. It has done this by, among other things, building roads, by making investments, by providing low cost housing, by investing in business, by privatizing malfunctioning state owned institutions like Turkish Telecom and by reorganizing and retraining the police to ensure the public's safety. These actions are all in agreement with the humanity inherent in Christian Democrat ideals, and all are in agreement with the humanity in Muslim ideals.
Yet, when people from the West talk to people from the AK party, or mention the AK Party, they refer to it as an Islamist Party. One need only listen to Erdoğan back in the 2000s, when the AK Party was set up; he states that the party should not even be called a Muslim Democratic Party. rather Erdoğan states that the AK Party is a conservative democratic party.
In his own words: "While attaching importance to religion as a social value, we do not think it right to conduct politics through religion [or] to attempt to transform government ideologically by using religion ... Religion is a sacred and collective value ..." Turkish Daily News, internet edition, www.turkishdailynews.com, Jan. 31, 2004.
Thus, it is easy to see that the appellation "Islamist Party" is not the correct term for the AK Party. To refer to the AK Party in this way would be tantamount to lumping a Christian Democrat Party together with far-right parties, for example a Neo-Nazi party. In fact, it is even worse, for by referring to Muslim Democrat Parties as Islamist parties, these movements are thrown together with Daish or Boko Haram. This is like putting a Christian Democrat party in the same category as Heaven's Gate or Branch Davidians. No one would deny that Heaven's Gate or Branch Davidian adherents espoused that they were Christian. But most people would disagree that the Branch Davidians represent Christianity as a whole, or even what most Christians think.
These Muslim Democratic Parties are just that. They are not Islamist parties. They have no more in common with extremists or radical groups than Christian Democrats do.
However, due to events over the past 20 years, the word Islam raises fear in many western observers and commentators. Whether on purpose or not, this means that the idea of a Muslim or Islamic Democrat Party is found to be strange. How can Islam and democracy come together, they say. Surely the term should be Islamist, because all Muslims want to bring about the Shariah, don't they?
The Muslim Democrat Parties want the Christian Democrat Parties want. Justice, social solidarity, support for the individual, commitment to the community. Although many things have changed in Turkey since the establishment of the party, not least of which is the emergence of two new terrorist groups joining the PKK in efforts to tear the country apart, the ideals and principles of the party have not.
The over-riding concern is to care for every citizen in Turkey, to ensure that they have full rights and freedoms. The agenda has changed, and there is a need to ensure that the judiciary, police and military now serve the people, not vice versa. That is, the AK Party needs to ensure that institutions serve the community, and that these institutions are not allowed to carry out agendas that go against the interests of the people. Despite security issues and struggles with terrorism, the AK Party is committed to creating a full democracy that ensures the rights for all. The AK Party is the very essence of a Muslim Democrat Party.
Jane Louise Kandur is a freelance translator and journalist. She writes for Daily Sabah, Al Jazeera and World Bulletin.