The Turkish experience

Having experienced a tumultuous political landscape for the last several years led by overzealous political Islamist rulers, this predominantly Muslim nation with a strong Sufi tradition officially began a restoration process after the June 7 national election that will soon take Turkey to a new stage where Islam, not political Islamists, is in perfect harmony with the rule of law, fundamental rights and democratic principles. The reason the Justice and Development Party (AKP) has been successful in Turkish politics is not because of its Islamist policies, which appeal to only a narrow constituency, but rather due largely to the delivery of political, economic and social reforms that were long sought after by the Turkish electorate as well as the terrible performance of mainstream parties while in power, or in the opposition, for that matter.
When the AKP was taken over completely by zealots that wanted to implement their short-sighted Islamist ideology, the party inevitably sealed its fate. While the disconnect with the voter base has already occurred, many voters continue to stick with the AKP because they did not see an alternative center-right party to which to defect, despite being unhappy with where they are now. All of the available polling data suggests there is a big power vacuum on the center-right that many hopefuls are keen to tap into. The political history of the country tells us that there will be unsuccessful attempts until a party emerges as a standout from the crowd and gets it right by appealing to the disenfranchised voters who believe the AKP is the lesser evil. The political Islamist base will return to its normal size, which has been traditionally around 2 percent at most.
This painful experiment under chief Islamist President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been instrumental for Turkey to realize that political Islamist ideology, which abuses religion for personal career aancement and wealth accumulation, is as bad as — or perhaps worse than — the nosy generals who used to interfere in politics. Through this ordeal, Turks have also learned that there are no hawks and doves, or moderates and hard-liners, among political Islamists when it comes to taking a stand on rights, freedoms and democracy. The largely unified position among the Islamist base — despite the massive corruption investigations and the embarrassing exposure of illicit and utterly wrong involvement with Islamist proxies in other countries, including sending them arms and munitions — helped reveal that the notion of having hard-liners versus moderates in that camp is nothing but an illusion. Despite the differences in their tone and the way they communicate different messages, Erdogan and his predecessor former President Abdullah Gandul are basically the same at the core. They are cut from the same cloth, but of different colors. Gandul and other seemingly moderate Islamists may offer a more polished version of hard-liners, but in the end they all care about power, wealth and position. If a lingering factionalism among Islamists is to divide them into many disparate groups, it is because they are jockeying for power and status rather than out of a genuine interest to improve the democratic deficit in Turkey resulting from issues such as the Kurdish problem and failure to address the demands of the Alevi. Their approach to various faith-based groups can be seen from the vantage point of attempting to gain strength, rather than an outreach effort to understand and address their legitimate concerns.
Just like the AKP under Erdogan has tried to neutralize the opposition by employing several tactics such as buying off key opposition members with positions, co-opting them with money or blackmailing them with threats to expose their infidelity, Erdogan and other Islamists have either enlisted the support of civil society groups, faith-based or religious communities and businesses, or divided, persecuted and oppressed them. While he was president, Gandul did not stop what Erdogan was doing but in fact supported him fully with actions such as signing anti-democratic bills and approving the appointments of Erdoganand’s henchmen to key government positions. He spoke about the rule of law and rights and freedoms, but never ensured their protection while in office. Gandul tolerated Erdoganand’s antics and protected him while trying to preserve the stability of the Islamist base and ensure the longevity of the Islamists. Now after being sidelined from politics the former president reportedly expresses remorse after so much damage has been done to state institutions, domestic politics and foreign policy. I do not think many in Turkey are buying Ganduland’s hypocrisy. The correction made by the electorate in the last election has confirmed the view that Turkey will soon do away with the political Islamist experiment that eventually came to a point of juggling between orthodoxy and extremism amid the glimmer of hope for moderation in the initial years. This will give rise to the moderate Islamic experience the people in this country have long been practicing by having different groups represented in various political parties on the political spectrum from conservative to social democrats. This richness, overshadowed by the authoritarian political Islamists for some time, will now freely contribute to democratic space through a range of engagements and outreach activities.
The fact that the center-left Republican Peopleand’s Party (CHP), pro-Kurdish Peoplesand’ Democratic Party (HDP) and others have all recently developed a strong counter-narrative using Islamic principles to neutralize the abuse of religion by Islamists, offers renewed hope for a successful Turkish model. Fethullah Gandulen — the Turkish-Islamic scholar who has inspired a worldwide movement called Hizmet that strongly emphasizes the importance of interfaith and intercultural dialogue, aocates science education, and promotes charity and social works — deserves special credit for the transformation taking place in the country.
He supported the AKP when it was on a progressive, embracive and reform-oriented path. He did not hesitate to part ways when it became so corrupt, oppressive and exclusionary in its governance. Even though he was vilified and demonized in the pro-Erdogan media and prosecuted on trumped-up charges by Islamists, Gandulen did not flinch. His unwavering stance on the fundamental principles of Islam, based on tolerance, compassion and free will, not only helped expose the charade put on by the Islamists to gain power and money, but also rescued the centuries-long Islamic tradition from the abusive hands of Erdogan and his ilk. As a result, Hizmet helped restore the faith of millions in Turkey who might have otherwise completely turned away from religion due to the pervasive and blatant abuse of Islam for political ambitions. Perhaps Gandulen set a good example for others in the world in terms of presenting how Islam is perfectly reconciled with democratic values.
Turkeyand’s political Islamist experiment — a hybrid model between Iranand’s politicized Shiite ideology and Saudi Arabiaand’s orthodox Wahhabism — is over. The Turkish nation has all that is required to prove to the world that a new paradigm shift is in the making and will soon set a better example for countries from the Horn of Africa all the way to Southeast Asia. If the world is to live in peace and harmony with respect for different faiths and races, the common values that represent human beings as a whole should bring us together, rather than cause us to part ways, especially in the face of significant challenges from state and non-state actors that threaten our different, yet colorful and complimentary, ways of life.

SOURCE: Today’s Zaman