By Nauman Asghar
April 18, 2008
A society without religion is like a ship without a compass, said Napoleon. So only religion can provide a firm and lasting foundation for the state. It is a jarring fact that in history mixing religion with politics has ever turned out to be a traumatic experience.
Turkey became republic in 1923 with Mustafa Kemal as its ruler. He launched a strong reaction against the archaic state structure and tied his country's apron strings with secularism. The whole Ottoman legal system was modernised and a new civil and penal code was adopted. Setting aside all the laws and traditions that held women inferior to men, he established complete equality between the sexes, including the right of electing and being elected. With the passage of time, Turkish army became the defender of Ataturk's legacy and committed itself to preserve the country's secular tradition.
Since 1960, the army there has intervened three times and prevented anti-reformist ideas creep in the fabric of secular polity. The constitutional court of the country has shut four Islamic parties since 1970, including the Welfare Party that was banned only 10 years ago shortly after the army had ousted its leader Necmettin Erbakan.
Recep Erdogan himself, at the time the Welfare Mayor of Istanbul, was caught in the judicial net and was incarcerated for reading an Islamist poem in public. In November 2002, AKP under the leadership of Erdogan bagged 363 out of 550 seats of Grand National Assembly. After assuming power, this party very deftly handled the domestic challenges and worked wonders defying the allegations of implementing orthodox anti-modernist policies. It brought reforms in the legal sphere modernising the Turkish Penal Code.
But the ultra-secularists have failed to reconcile with AKP and therefore in April last year, the army threatened to intervene if Abdullah Gul was elected the president. Erdogan took a sane step by calling an early election and staged comeback with massive majority in July 2007. By August AKP succeeded in its efforts to elect Gul. Since elections the AKP seems more confident as it relishes the growing support base. In February 2008, it passed legislation to permit the wearing of Islamic-style headscarves on college campuses, effectively deciding Turkey's most divisive political issue.
This step taken by Erdogan has developed apprehensions among the secularists that the efforts to establish sharia law in the country are afoot. They are of the view that the government policies are aimed at severing the country from Ataturk's tradition. Chief Prosecutor Abdurrahman Yalcinkaya, has filed a 162-page indictment with the constitutional court that seeks to shut down the ruling party (AKP) for the crime of subverting the secular constitution and ban for at least five years. Surprisingly on March 31, the court has unanimously decided to hear the case. Thus this time the judiciary has come forward as the guardian of secular traditions.
It is certain that Erdogan will not back down on headscarf issue as he is confident about the popular support. Let's analyse the options available to him in order to pre-empt the judicial coup. One way is to amend the constitution, penned in the wake of a military coup in 1980, to make it harder to ban parties. But any such amendment requires two-thirds majority which the ruling party is unable to secure without support of non-AKP parties. The only other alternative is that he can use AKP's three-fifths majority to propose constitutional changes that must then be ratified in the referendum.
Source: The Nation, Pakistan