Erdogan: The Sultan Of An Illusionary Ottoman Empire

Global Research, March 09, 2017
Erdogan-turquie

This is the fourth and last in a series of articles based in part on eyewitness accounts about the rapidly deteriorating socio-political conditions in Turkey and what the future may hold for the country. The first, second and third articles are available here: First, Second, Third.

In many conversations and encounters I had over the years with former Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, he emphatically echoed his boss President Erdogan’s grandiose vision that by 2023 (the 100th anniversary of the Turkish Republic), Turkey will become as powerful and influential as the Ottoman Empire was during its heyday. Under the best of circumstances, Turkey cannot realize Erdogan’s far-fetched dream. Had he stayed the course, however, with his socio-political and judiciary reforms and economic developments, as he had during his first nine years in power, Turkey could have become a major player on the global stage and a regional powerhouse.

Sadly, Erdogan abandoned much of the impressive democratic reforms he championed, and embarked upon a systematic Islamization of the country while dismantling the pillars of democracy. He amassed unprecedented powers and transformed Turkey from a democratic to an autocratic country, ensuring that he has the last word on all matters of state.

In retrospect, it appears that Erdogan had never committed himself to a democratic form of government. The reforms he undertook during his first nine years in power were largely induced by the European Union’s requirements from any country seeking membership, which he exploited as a means by which to propel himself toward his ultimate goal. A quote attributed to him in 1999 describes precisely what his real intentions were from the day he rose to power. “Democracy” he said, “is like a bus, when you arrive at your destination, you step off.”

His role model is Mustafa Kemal Atatürk (meaning “Father of the Turks”), who founded the Turkish Republic in 1923.  Both share similar personal attributes as they sought to lead the nation with an iron fist while disregarding any separation of power. However, Atatürk was determined to establish a Westernized secular democratic state while Erdogan went in the opposite direction.

Erdogan steadily moved to create a theocracy where Islamic tradition and values reign supreme while assuming Atatürk’s image, which is revered by most Turks. Erdogan presents himself as one who leads with determination and purpose, generating power from his popular support, ultimately seeking to replace Atatürk; with the new amendments to the constitution, he will be endowed with powers even greater than Atatürk ever held.

With his growing popularity and most impressive economic growth, Erdogan successfully created the status of a strong and resolute leader—the “father” of a new Turkish Republic—and artfully penetrated the consciousness of the Turkish public while using Islam as the undisputed pathway that will lead Turkey to greatness. He is determined to preside at the 100th anniversary of the Turkish Republic over a powerful nation among the top ten largest global economies and that extends its influence East and West, akin to the prodigious influence that the Ottoman Empire enjoyed.

To realize his grand vision, Erdogan took several measures to consolidate his absolute power.

First, clearing the way: Erdogan embarked on the complete marginalization or elimination of anyone, in and outside the ruling AK Party, that challenged his authority or advanced new ideas for solving the country’s problems. Those who did not support his policies and dared to question his judgment were not spared. He resorted to conspiracy theories, accusing his political opponents of being enemies of the state aiming to topple his government, in order to continue unopposed to realize his vision for the country, analogous to the influence and outreach of the Ottoman Empire. He even fired his long-time friend and confidant Davutoglu because Davutoglu differed from him in connection with the Kurdish problem, and especially because of Davutoglu’s reluctance to support the constitutional amendments that will grant the president sweeping and unprecedented powers.

Second, the need for a culprit: Erdogan needed a scapegoat to blame for any of his shortcomings, and found the Gulen movement to be the perfect culprit that would provide him with the cover to overshadow the massive corruption that has swept his government. This also provided him with the “justification” to crack down on many social, political, and institutional entities, silencing the media, controlling the judiciary, and subordinating the military.

The aftermath of the attempted military coup in July 2016 gave him the ammunition to conduct a society-wide witch-hunt, providing him with the excuse to purge tens of thousands of people from academia, civil society, judiciary, military, and internal security. This has allowed him to assume total control of all departments in the government and private sector. He described his purge as a necessary evil to cleanse the public of the ‘cancer’ that has gripped the country. In so doing, he ensured that the political system revolves around the presidency, leaving him completely unchallenged to pursue his imperial dream to resurrect the stature of the Ottoman Empire as the country prepares to vote in the constitutional referendum on April 16.

Third, the creation of Ottoman symbolism: To project his grandiose vision, Erdogan needed to instill Ottoman images into the public consciousness, including the building of a 1,100-room ‘White Palace’ as his residence at a prohibitive cost to taxpayers. His most recent project was the Çamlica Mosque, the now-largest mosque in Istanbul, standing on the eponymous hill that overlooks the entire city.

Recently, Erdogan started the construction of another mosque in Taksim Square—once the site of the fiercest protests against Erdogan in his career—with all the style of the Ottoman era. Erdogan has even instructed that the national anthem be played on modified drums and brass instruments to make the music sound as if it were being played by bands of the Ottoman period. His purpose is to indoctrinate the public in a subliminal way to his perspective of the glorious Ottoman period.

Fourth, foreign policy assertiveness: Under Erdogan, Turkey has become increasingly assertive and forceful in the region. In Cyprus, he is determined to strike a deal largely on his terms. In Iraq, he placed Turkish troops over the objections of the Iraqi government to maintain his ruthless war against the Kurds. In Syria, he allowed thousands of foreign fighters, including many who have joined ISIS, to cross the border to strengthen the anti-Assad fight, while fighting the Syrian Kurds to prevent them from establishing their own autonomous rule, fearing that the Turkish Kurds would also demand autonomous rule of their own.

Erdogan further promoted the policy of “zero problem with neighbors,” and although presently Turkey has problems with just about every neighbor (and its prospective EU membership has completely diminished), he continues to claim that Turkey enjoys good relations internationally. Erdogan still uses Turkey’s membership in NATO as a sign of greatness; the fact that Turkey has the second-largest number of ground troops in  NATO reinforces his illusion that Ankara enjoys unrivaled military prowess in the region and commands the respect and attention of the international community that the Ottoman Empire was accorded.

Fifth, promoting Islam as a powerful tool: Erdogan is also using Sunni Islam to promote the country as a republic with Islamic ideals supported by a loyal state apparatus. He portrays himself as the leader of the Sunni world that would restore the Ottoman era of influence while cementing his authoritarian rule in the form of a neo-Sultan. To be sure, Erdogan is vigorously promoting – with the support of his party – Islamic nationalism systematically and meticulously. Mustafa Akyol, a Turkish analyst of politics and culture and author of the new book The Islamic Jesus says that “political propaganda is in your face every day, every single moment. If you turn on TV, if you open newspapers…”

Former Prime Minister Davutoglu said in 2015 that Turkey “will re-found the Ottoman state.” Although Davutoglu was fired, he—like most Turkish officials—depicts the government as the rightful heir of the Ottoman legacy. To that end, Erdogan uses Islam as the unifying theme that would propel Turkey to the greatness that the Ottoman Empire enjoyed. In fact, Turkish religious leaders have always thought of themselves as the standard-bearer of Islamic civilization, and though this failed with the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, to them it must now be corrected. As they would have it, “Turks once again should lead the ummah [Islamic community] as the new Ottomans.”

Sadly, Erdogan, who is still seen as a hero by nearly half of the Turkish population, is leading the country on a treacherous path. Turkey and its people have the resources, creativity, and institutions to make Turkey a significant power. Erdogan, who demonstrated an uncanny ability to harness his country’s natural and human resources, could have made Turkey such a power on the global stage. Indeed, he would have been the Atatürk of the new era had he simply continued with his historic reforms while protecting the rights of every individual and creating a real model of Islamic democracy.

The collapse of the Ottoman Empire was largely precipitated, among other things, by its internal political decadence, the arbitrary exercising of power, and gross violations of human rights that dramatically eroded the foundation on which the empire was built.

In whichever form Erdogan wants to resurrect the Ottoman Empire, he will fail because no country can survive, let alone become great, as long as the government walks on the backs of the people and stifles their freedom to act, speak, and dream.

There is where the greatness of any nation rests and endures—the Ottoman Empire never provided a model worthy of such emulation.

 

A Look at Syria Following Nearly Six Years of Crisis

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(photo by Omar Sanadiki – © REUTERS)

As the Syrian crisis approaches its 6th anniversary, we take a look at some of the Syrian government’s social, political and economic policies. This will not only give an insight into what life has been like in Syria, but it also provides an indication of what values and principles are important to the Syrian government.

Generally speaking, President Bashar al-Assad, and his late father, Hafez al-Assad operated a secular state, allowing all religions to be practised across Syria. The government itself is made up of a range of different religions, although Islam is the state religion.

A government soldier with the Syrian flag

Access to education has been a championed value in Syria for several decades, with free education being provided by the government, even at universities (although there are some private alternatives available.)

Despite the raging conflict, most schools and academic institutions continue to function in government-held areas. However, the war has displaced millions internally, and in the vast majority of cases, they have moved from areas held by Daesh or other militant groups, to areas under the sanctuary of the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) and its allied forces.

This has put a strain on facilities, including schools and universities, and many of them are now operating well-above their standard capacity. For example, more than 200,000 students currently study at Damascus University, as it has accepted displaced students from across Syria.

Damascus University, which was founded in 1923, is Syria’s largest and oldest university, and until now, it offers a variety of courses, ranging from Medicine to Engineering.

The war and economic sanctions on Syria’s economy have resulted in a sharp decrease in national GDP, whilst also triggering high levels of price inflation. This has dragged many Syrians into poverty, making basic goods unaffordable. To reduce the financial strain on many Syrians, some schools no longer require students to wear uniforms, as this would be an unnecessary additional cost.

In mid-2010, Syria became the first Muslim country ban the burka and niqab. Specifically, they were banned at public and private universities. The ban was implemented to counter oppression against women, and combat radical Islam. The Daily Mail interviewed a 32-year-old Syrian engineer, named Ahmed, who said: “Hijabs and niqabs have been a symbol of oppression and religious extremism over the past hundreds of years. They have been a tool used by fundamentalist men to repress women.”

The Syrian government, especially when it was led by Hafez al-Assad, decided to preserve Syria’s natural resources for future generations, as opposed to exploiting it for financial gain. This policy may no longer be followed in a post-war context, as Syria looks to rebuild itself, and bolster the economy.

In terms of immigration policy, Syria allowed millions of Palestinians and Iraqis to settle in the country over the past few decades. Very few Syrians permanently left the country, and in most cases, they would travel to Europe for educational purposes, typically funded by the government.

Defending and liberating Palestine is a core Baathist policy, and Syria went to war with Israel on several occasions, eventually leading to the Israeli occupation of the Golan Heights, located in Southern Syria.

However, Syria adopted a pragmatic approach, militarily intervening in Lebanon against the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) in the early 1980s, because PLO forces were massacring Lebanese Maronite Christians. Once again, this further reinforces their commitment to secularism.

Access to healthcare was another core value and policy. According to an article published in the Independent, Syria’s pre-war healthcare system was “the envy of the Middle East,” and the country had a life-expectancy of 75, similar to the UK.

Russian doctors provide consultations to residents of Kaukab, Syria during the distribution of Russian humanitarian aid. (File)

Syria’s pharmaceutical industry was drastically improved and developed over the past few decades, with the successful implementation of Good Manufacturing Practise (GMP), allowing Syria to export its pharmaceuticals to more than 50 countries, while also meeting around 90% of domestic demand for medicaments.

When you look at some the Syrian government’s policies, it is easy to see why President Assad still enjoys support from millions of Syrians.

It is impossible to tell exactly how things will develop once the conflict reaches its conclusion, but we can expect secularism, and access to education and healthcare to continue being the cornerstones of the current government’s policies.


SOURCES:
Sputnik News, by Suliman Mulhem
Submitted by SyrianPatriot
War Press Info Network at :
https://syrianfreepress.wordpress.com/2017/02/26/6-years-crisis/
~

“The Media Coverage on Syria is the Biggest Media Lie of our Time”: Interview with Flemish Priest in Syria

Global Research, January 28, 2017
Signs of the Times 24 January 2017
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“Do you not know that the media coverage on Syria is the biggest media lie of our time?

Flemish Father Daniël Maes (78) lives in Syria in the sixth-century-old Mar Yakub monastery in the city of Qara, 90 kilometers north of the capital Damascus. Father Daniel has been a witness to the “civil war” and according to him, Western reports on the conflict in Syria are very misleading. In short: “the Americans and their allies want to completely ruin the country.”

Interviewer: You are very critical of the media coverage on Syria. What is bothering you?

Father Daniel: “The idea that a popular uprising took place against President Assad is completely false. I’ve been in Qara since 2010 and I have seen with my own eyes how agitators from outside Syria organized protests against the government and recruited young people. That was filmed and aired by Al Jazeera to give the impression that a rebellion was taking place. Murders were committed by foreign terrorists, against the Sunni and Christian communities, in an effort to sow religious and ethnic discord among the Syrian people. While in my experience, the Syrian people were actually very united.

Before the war, this was a harmonious country: a secular state in which different religious communities lived side by side peacefully. There was hardly any poverty, education was free, and health care was good. It was only not possible to freely express your political views. But most people did not care about that.”

Interviewer: Mother Agnès-Mariam, of your Mar Yakub (“Saint Jacob”) monastery, is accused of siding with the regime. She has friends at the highest level.

Father Daniel: “mother Agnès-Mariam helps the population: she has recently opened a soup kitchen in Aleppo, where 25,000 meals are prepared five times a week. Look, it is miraculous that we are still alive. We owe that to the army of Assad’s government and to Vladimir Putin, because he decided to intervene when the rebels threatened to take power.

When thousands of terrorists settled in Qara, we became afraid for our lives. They came from the Gulf States, Saudi Arabia, Europe, Turkey, Libya, there were many Chechens. They formed a foreign occupation force, all allied to al-Qaeda and other terrorists. Armed to the teeth by the West and their allies with the intention to act against us, they literally said: “This country belongs to us now.” Often, they were drugged, they fought each other, in the evening they fired randomly. We had to hide in the crypts of the monastery for a long time. When the Syrian army chased them away, everybody was happy: the Syrian citizens because they hate the foreign rebels, and we because peace had returned.”

Interviewer: You say that the Syrian Army protects civilians, yet there are all sorts of reports about war crimes committed by Assad’s forces, such as the bombardments with barrel bombs.

Father Daniel: “Do you not know that the media coverage on Syria is the biggest media lie of our time? They have sold pure nonsense about Assad: It was actually the rebels who plundered and killed. Do you think that the Syrian people are stupid?Do you think those people were forced to cheer for Assad and Putin? It is the Americans who have a hand in all of this, for pipelines and natural resources in this region and to thwart Putin.”

Saudi Arabia and Qatar want to establish a Sunni state in Syria, without religious freedom. Therefore, Assad must go. You know, when the Syrian army was preparing for the battle in Aleppo, Muslim soldiers came to me to be blessed. Between ordinary Muslims and Christians, there is no problem. It is those radical Islamic, Western-backed rebels who want to massacre us. They are all al Qaeda and IS. There are not any moderate fighters anymore.”

Interviewer: You once mentioned Hillary Clinton to be a ‘devil in holy water’, because as foreign minister, she deliberately worsened the conflict.

Father Daniel: “I am happy with Trump. He sees what every normal person understands: That the United States should stop undermining countries which possess natural resources. The Americans’ attempt to impose a unipolar world is the biggest problem. Trump understands that radical Islam is a bigger threat than Russia.

What do I care whether he occasionally takes off his pants? If Trump practices geopolitics the way he has promised to do so, then the future looks bright. Then it will become similar to Putin’s approach. And hopefully then, there will be a solution for Syria, and peace will return.”

Interviewer: You understand that your analysis is controversial and will encounter much criticism?

Father Daniel: “I speak from personal observation. And no one has to believe me, right? But I know one thing: The media can either contribute to the massacre of the Syrian people or help the Syrian people, with their media coverage. Unfortunately, there are too many followers and cowards among journalists.”

Maria Finoshina: Merry Christmas from Damascus!

Published on Dec 26, 2016

Maria: Merry Christmas from Damascus!
Santa told us he brought Peace for Syria this year.
Let’s all pray for this Christmas to be the last one in war.

Related Videos

Christians, the most persecuted by NATO-terrorist gangs in Syria, dies for their faith every 5 minutes: “Syria is over 6000 years old – its people will always restore what our enemies destroy” [Video Eng Subt]

the real Syrian Free Press

“Syria is over 6000 years old,
its people will always restore what our enemies destroy”

This short documentary film Expulsion (Izgnanie), made for the Russian television channel Rossiia, focuses on the plight of Christians in war-torn Syria. This subject is worthy of greater attention than it has received in the mainstream Western media, hence our effort to subtitle this project.

After all, Christians are one the most persecuted groups in the world. Their depopulation is a general trend in the entire Middle East and North African region (MENA), not just in Syria.

This documentary states that, for instance, half of Palestine’s population was once Christian, but now only 5% remain. In Iraq, of the million and a half Christians prior to the U.S. invasion, only 10% are there today. In 2013, OSCE estimated that a Christian dies for his faith every 5 minutes.

syria-christ-flag

Now, with the escalation of the war and the consequent rise of the refugee crisis, the numbers are likely to rise. The Russian Orthodox Church has been consistently bringing attention to the disappearance of Christians in the Middle East–their source of origin, as has the Kremlin.

In contrast, international humanitarian bodies designed to deal with such issues have not been effective. Western powers, particularly the leading NATO countries that are nominally Christian in terms of their heritage, stay silent, at best, or support policies that aid and abet those radicals and terrorists that are trying to root out Christianity from its very birth place.

Indeed, there has been no cogent explanation for the incredibly costly and equally ineffective campaign carried out by the U.S., its Western coalition partners, and regional allies against the so-called Islamic State for a year; nor has there been a clear methodological way of differentiating between the so-called ‘moderate’ opposition groups and terrorist targets.

Washington’s policy of funding and pitting radical jihadist groups against legitimate governments or each other—in order to achieve its own geostrategic goals—goes back to the late 1970s.

More recently, the invasion of Iraq under the false pretext of weapons of mass destruction, the so-called ‘humanitarian’ bombing of Libya, and the ongoing illegal campaign in Syria have destabilized the region, plunging it into chaos, and creating a power vacuum that gave rise to extremists. Domestically, many Christian groups in the U.S., such as the Evangelicals, show greater preference for Israel than their fellow Christians in the region.

Thus, one of the key goals of Russia’s decision to aid Syria’s legal government—upon its invitation and compliant with international law—in its fight against terrorism and religious extremism is to stabilize the country and initiate political dialogue.

It is under secular governments like that of Syria that different religious groups were able to peacefully coexist until recently. This documentary film and its participants reinforce this notion.

syrian-christian-army


SOURCES:
Video by Inessa Sinchougova
English Subtitles by Inessa Sinchougova and Nina Kouprianova
Submitted by SyrianPatriots
War Press Info Network at:
https://syrianfreepress.wordpress.com/2016/09/27/christians-persecuted/
~

Why Assad’s Army Has Not Defected

 

The Syrian military’s resilience should not be dismissed—nor should its support.

February 12, 2016

Four years ago, Turkey’s then prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said that within in a few weeks he would be praying in Damascus’s Umayyad Mosque, as Assad was about to fall. Similarly, Israel’s most decorated soldier, former Defense Minister Ehud Barak, predicted that Assad and his military would be toppled within weeks. That was at the beginning of 2012, when there were no Iranian soldiers on the ground or Russian planes in the skies.

As another round of Geneva peace talks collapses and the world wonders what’s next for Syria, it is time to begin with the warnings of Henry Kissinger and Zbignew Brzezinski. Kissinger and Brzezinski, the most seasoned and influential U.S. policymakers on the Middle East since World War II, have gone against popular opinion and stated that President Bashar al-Assad has more support than all the opposition groups combined.

It is no secret that the Saudis and Qataris, with full U.S. support, have tried to bribe some of Assad’s innermost circles to defect. The all-important professional military cadre of the Syrian Arab Army, however, has remained thoroughly loyal.

The Syrian Arab Army was mostly a conscript force with only about eighty thousand professionals in its ranks. At the start of the war, much was made of the “defections” of thousands of officers, but these were mere conscripts who never wanted to be in the army in the first place, and would also have done anything to escape conscription in peacetime. The professional ranks, meanwhile, are still very strong and religiously pluralistic. When the Syrian opposition talks about a future pluralistic Syria, they fail to realize that while they may theoretically be pluralists in Geneva, Washington and Vienna, their representatives on the ground are allied with the most sectarian terrorist groups the Middle East has ever seen.

The Syrian Arab Army has held its own for more than five years. Its numbers might have been depleted, as is normal for any wartime military, but a close glance at its military reveals that its core, perhaps unexpectedly to many, is Sunni. The current minister of defense, Fahd al-Freij, is one of the most decorated officers in Syrian military history and hails from the Sunni heartland of Hama. The two most powerful intelligence chiefs, Ali Mamlouk and Mohammad Dib Zaitoun, have remained loyal to the Syrian government—and are both Sunnis from influential families. The now-dead and dreaded strongman of Syrian intelligence, Rustom Ghazaleh, who ruled Lebanon with an iron fist, was a Sunni, and the head of the investigative branch of the political directorate, Mahmoud al-Khattib, is from an old Damascene Sunni family. Major General Ramadan Mahmoud Ramadan, commander of the Thirty-Fifth Special Forces Regiment, which is tasked with the protection of western Damascus, is another high-ranking Sunni, as is Brigadier General Jihad Mohamed Sultan, the commander of the Sixty-Fifth Brigade that guards Latakia.

The history of the Syrian Army that Hafez al-Assad built is instructive today. As president, the elder Assad brought senior members of the Syrian Air Force into the military high command. Naji Jamil (another Sunni) served as air force chief from 1970 to 1978 and was promoted to the General Staff committee overseeing defenses on the Iraqi border. Another air force commander was Muhammad al-Khuli, who until 1993 held coveted logistical positions between Damascus and Lebanon. Other prominent officers above the rank of Brigadier in military and civil defense positions post-2000 were Sunnis, including Rustom Ghazaleh, Hazem al Khadra and Deeb Zaytoun. Since 1973, the strategic tank battalions of the Seventieth Armored Brigade, stationed near al-Kiswah near Damascus, have had rank-and-file Alawis under the command of Sunni officers. As well, two of the most decorated officers who rose to be Chief of General Staff under Bashar al-Assad were Sunnis: Hassan Turkmani and Hikmat Shehabi. 

From the 1970s until the 1990s, the Syrian Arab Army had a mandate to stabilize Lebanon. During these years, it worked to outmaneuver both the IDF and the U.S. Marines by supporting various proxies in Lebanon. In post-Saddam Iraq, the Americans could never understand which elements of both the Sunni and Shia insurgencies were supported by Syrian military intelligence, much of this owing to the stealth with which the Syrian Army controlled various Iraqi agents dating back to the Lebanese civil war.

The Syrian Arab Army is also the only Arab army with multiple Christians serving as generals. The most famous of these was Daoud Rajha, the Greek Orthodox army chief of staff. The two most influential Lebanese Christian leaders, now on the verge of becoming the next president of Lebanon, are Michel Aoun and Suleiman Franjieh, who are also allies of the Syrian Arab Army and President Assad. Deir al-Zour is an entirely Sunni city which has held out against ISIS encirclement for two years—and is commanded by the Druze General Issam Zahreddine.

The fact remains:

The moderate Syrian opposition only exists in fancy suits in Western hotel lobbies. It has little military backing on the ground. If you want to ask why Assad is still the president of Syria, the answer is not simply Russia or Iran, but the fact that his army remains resilient and pluralistic, representing a Syria in which religion alone does not determine who rises to the top. The military also represent as challenge against the spread of terrorism, which is why three of the top British generals of the last five years have openly called for the recognition that the Syrian Arab Army, loyal to President Assad, is the only force capable of defeating ISIS and Al Qaeda in the Levant.

Kamal Alam is a Fellow at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) in London and a Syrian Military Analyst advising several Damascus-based family offices.

Why Turkey’s secular opposition now references Prophet Muhammad

Why Turkey’s secular opposition now references Prophet Muhammad

EDITOR’S CHOICE | 15.09.2016

Why Turkey’s secular opposition now references Prophet Muhammad

Mustafa Akyol is a columnist for Al-Monitor’s Turkey Pulse, a columnist for the Turkish Hurriyet Daily News, and a monthly contributing opinion writer for The International New York Times. His articles have also appeared in Foreign Affairs, Newsweek, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal and The Guardian. He is the author of Islam Without Extremes: A Muslim Case for Liberty
Since its founding by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in 1923, the People’s Republican Party (CHP) has been the staunch defender of Turkey’s French-style secularism. It always opposed using religious references in politics, arguing that it would amount to the “exploitation” of religion for political ends. It also opposed, for decades, “religious symbols in the public space,” such as the Islamic headscarf…

 

Yet the CHP has been changing lately, especially since Kemal Kilicdaroglu became its leader in 2010. First the CHP abandoned its intolerance for the headscarf, accepting hijab-wearing women’s right to go to college or get public jobs. Then it welcomed some conservative politicians with Islamic credentials to its ranks, such as Mehmet Bekaroglu. Moreover, Kilicdaroglu began to allude to Islamic values to support his arguments.

One notable example of the latter trend came last weekend, when Kilicdaroglu gave a press conference criticizing the mass purges and arrests the government initiated after the failed coup attempt of July 15. One of the violations he criticized was the arrest or suspension of the family members of some of those who are accused of the coup plot. For example, when the police could not find Adil Oksuz, a suspected civilian mastermind of the coup who is on the run, the man’s mother-in-law, father-in-law and sisters-in-law were detained. Against such persecution, Kilicdaroglu said:

“There is a principle called individual criminal responsibility. They [the government], however, created a notion of collective crime… Let me refer to the farewell sermon of our beloved prophet, which is accepted as one of the most important human rights declarations in history. Here our beloved prophet said, ‘Everybody is responsible for his crime; a person’s crime can never be associated with his mother, father or child.’ This, in fact, is a universal rule. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights declares the same norm.”

The farewell sermon Kilicdaroglu referred to was delivered by the Prophet Muhammad to his followers near Mecca in 632, soon before his death. It has been one of the key documents in Islamic history, with important moral injunctions on various matters including, indeed, human rights. “O people! Your Lord is one and your father is one,” it reads, for example. It continues, “There is no superiority of an Arab over a non-Arab, nor of a non-Arab over an Arab, nor of a white over a black, nor a black over a white.”

There are various versions of the text, and not all of them have the line that Kilicdaroglu referred to. But it does exist in the version presented by Turkey’s Encyclopedia of Islam, which has the following clause: “Everybody is responsible for his own crime. The father cannot be held responsible for the son’s crime, nor can the son be held responsible for the father’s.”

What is more important for Turkish politics today, of course, is not the content of the farewell sermon, but how it has become a reference for human rights — and in the hands of the all-secular CHP, among all parties. This, I believe, underlines two important facts.

The first is that the CHP is now finally “getting religion.” It is, in other words, understanding that religion, in particular Islam, is deeply rooted in Turkish society, and a political party that does not comprehend this fact is doomed to be marginalized. One could argue that this change was forced on the CHP by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). The latter not only ended the secularist hegemony in the state, but also spearheaded the rise of a more religious rhetoric in society. But then the CHP is only wise to adapt this transformation, as its old, rigid secularism was already out of fashion.

The second important fact is that in the past few years, the CHP gradually established itself as the party that defends human rights, civil liberties and rule of law against an authoritarian state. That, too, is a novelty in Turkish political history. Because, with the exception of its short-lived flirtation of “social democracy,” the CHP has traditionally been the party that defended the state against those who defended human rights, civil liberties and rule of law. This was true even in the first decade of this century, when the AKP controlled the government and the CHP was in the opposition. As paradoxical as it may sound, the AKP was the defender of liberal values in those years, whereas the CHP still identified with the draconian state, which was then still under the control of the secularist military and judiciary. With the AKP’s full dominance of the state, however, that anomaly ended. The CHP is now a real opposition party that opposes a growing authoritarian state.

What does this all mean? It all means that those who hope for a more liberal and democratic Turkey, including religious conservatives who are disillusioned with the AKP, should give the CHP a chance. Yes, the party’s 20th-century heritage includes many unpleasant episodes of authoritarianism. Yet there is a increasingly “New CHP” that Kilicdaroglu has promised to mold. The very fact that the party now defends human rights with references to “our beloved prophet” is a remarkable indication of that new reality in Turkish politics.

al-monitor.com

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