Saturday, April 28, 2007

Stopping Faith-Based Government at the Barrel of a Gun

For once, the U.S. and EU governments were in absolute synch and reached a reasonable conclusion. They warned Turkey's military on April 28 that, no matter what happened in Abdullah Gul's race for president, the military staff needed to respect democracy and not intervene, as they have far too many times in the last 50 years. The only observation to make to the military's credit is that the officers seemed much less worried about Gul's candidacy than about the new effort by some Islamic radicals in Turkey to intimidate secularists and enforce the sharia. In that they have a right to be concerned.

Turkey's military is faced with the problem that Algeria faced in 1992. What if an Islamic electoral party is leading in an election, yet freely admits it is not interested in upholding democracy after coming to power? The Algerian government canceled elections and faced a decade of a brutal terror war. Turkey does not really face such a problem, since Gul and Prime Minister Erdogan are among the nation's biggest modernizers.

For a military dedicated to secularism, the problem of "creeping Islam" can't be minimized. If a government is to respect human rights and equality of opportunity, it simply must be secular-based. Faith-based social policy and decisions made on the basis of sharia (or Scripture, for that matter) constitute de facto violations of human rights.

But the solution Kemal Ataturk came up with is no solution. In the coups of 1960 and 1980, the Turkish army instituted a brand of fascism that was far worse than the radicalism or creeping Islam it sought to replace. In the past, Jimmy Carter winked at the 1980 coup to preserve access to intelligence bases in Turkey, so the Bush administration's warning should be seen as a tiny step forward.

Since the EU still is debating Turkey's entry to that body, the position of its members is worth examining. Basically, European nations (many of whom are arguing their own limits to sharia) are suggesting that Islam in government can be limited, but only by civilian authorities. The problem with halting Islam through use of the army is a basic issue of the armed forces' place in society, and a resolution requires a modification of Turkey's constitution. Since that is highly unlikely, Turkey's entry into the EU is equally unlikely.

The role of Turkey's army has significance far beyond the Gul candidacy. Since the army is committed to upholding the (near-sacred) memory of Ataturk, it prodded the government to institute a ban on YouTube after some crude anti-Ataturk videos appeared. Defenders of true democracy recognize that there are no heroes above reproach, even heroes of the revolution. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson are regularly excoriated in this country for slave-owning and shady dealings. A democracy that lionizes its founders and prevents critiques of them is no democracy.

Whatever happens to Turkey in the next few months cannot be good - a military coup, a near-civil war, or growing Islamic terror against secularists seem to be the choices. But in any event, the military belongs back in its barracks unless and until the political situation deteriorates into gunfire in the streets. In the meantime, we can kiss goodbye to Turkey in the EU.

May 1 Addendum

At least the Constitutional Courts acted instead of the military, and maybe all the protesting pro-secularists are happy, but this is all beginning to smell very much like Algeria. Not a good thing.

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