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The War Within Islam ( 17 Jul 2016, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Turkey: Beware the Champion of Democracy

By Arshad Alam, New Age Islam

17 July 2016

If this was a coup in Turkey, then this was waiting to happen. Its various machinations and many unprincipled involvements in Syria has antagonized many sections of the Muslim populations, some inside and others outside the Turkish territory. In its attempt to become a major regional player, the Turkish establishment helped the Syrian rebels against Asad. Helped with arms and a porous border, these rebels, aligned with the Islamic State, saw in Turkey a helping hand in their fight against Asad. It not just helped Turkey grow close with European and American powers who wanted Asad to be ousted from power, but this closeness with the rebels also helped Turkey internally. Always suspicious of the nationalist aspirations of the Kurdish people, Erdogan, like his predecessors, made sure that ISIS which he was supporting in Syria, also checked the Kurds in his territory.

It is not surprising that the Kurds waged a bitter battle with the ISIS, mostly foisted on them by the Turkish president Erdogan. But then again, after increasing scrutiny of the international community, Turkey’s relationship with the mercenary militia came under spotlight and Erdogan himself came under a lot of criticism. His muted actions in curbing some of the actions of the ISIS within its soil led to another problem: the bombing of the Istanbul airport was a grim reminder that ISIS’ imperialistic Islamic claims was not limited to Arabia alone, that it extended to the whole of the Muslim world with Turkey being no exception. In his cynical attempt to keep all the sections happy, Erdogan made everyone unhappy. By helping the Islamists in Syria, he has made Iran and Iraq unhappy; by being part of the strategic design of the West, it has made the ISIS unhappy. There are going to be troubled times ahead for Turkey. It will take visionary politics to perhaps undo what Turkey has done in the last decade.

However, there is nothing in sight which can assure us that Turkey will come out of the mire within which it has sunk itself, mostly for reasons of its own making. There is no doubt that Erdogan is one of the most popular Presidents which Turkey had for a long time. But Erdogan it also known for his undemocratic and semi fascist actions. It is a documented fact that Erdogan has silenced his critics using foul means. Journalists who have been critical of his government have been jailed on flimsy grounds; other civil society actors have met with the same fate. In his attempt to consolidate power, Erdogan not just silenced the press but also put in measures which made him the only pole around which power should revolve.

The reforms in the judiciary, which was once critical of his style of functioning, meant that Erdogan got powers to remove judges at will. With the judiciary and the police with him and an opposition which was already decimated, Erdogan became increasingly arbitrary in running the affairs of the country. His own thorn in the crown was the military which was increasingly getting wary of the ways of Erdogan.

Ever since the founding the republic, the Turkish military has seen itself as the custodian of the values of the republic. These values were defined in terms of increasing modernization and a very strict practice of secularism. It is no wonder that the military has intervened whenever it has found that republic was straying from the core values enshrined in the constitution. The military in Turkey has become increasingly suspicious of Erdogan for two reasons: one is purely military and the other ideological. The military was never happy of the involvement of Turkey in Syria, perhaps analysing rightly that it will have adverse impact of the question of Islam in turkey itself. Secondly, their dislike for Erdogan also stems from his Islamist leanings which at times threaten the very core secular values on which the republic was established.

It is well known that Erdogan has been advocating a mild form of Islamic public sphere in Turkey but critics were already pointing out the dangers of such flirtations with Islamism. The core supporters of Erdogan also come from a constituency which believes that there should be an important role for Islam in the public life of Turkey. The attempted coup on the part of the military was perhaps one attempt to get Turkey back to the values which it’s has cherished for so long. Its failure can only mean that for Turkey there is only one way forward: that of increasing Islamisation and being a formal democracy under a ruthless dictator.

That’s why Erdogan’s call for rescuing democracy is ironical. For in the name of democracy, he has been able to liquidate all opposition and decimate all institutions of checks and balances which are so essential in a democracy. Under his reign, democracy will go only in one direction: downhill. For all those rallying in his favour, he might be a champion of democracy, but all indications tell us that he is the biggest threat to democracy in Turkey.

A columnist, Arshad Alam is Delhi based writer.


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