The establishment of a modern secular Turkey nearly a hundred years ago marked an important turning point in the history of Middle Eastern Islamic practices. The Turkish constitution made clear that no party which endeavored to establish religious doctrine as the basis of Turkish law was to be allowed to exist. Turkey’s Constitutional Court is presently hearing charges levied by the Public Prosecutor to close down the Justice and Development Party(AKK) on grounds it has violated the constitution by its pro-religious efforts. Yush Kanli, writing in the Turkish Daily News who regards himself as a believer in secularism expressed his opposition to the effort to close down the AKP. “Some have gone to the extent of accusing me of ‘betraying the secular democratic Republic.”
He writes with passion, “Self-catering democrats, self-catering secularists, self-caterng supporters of individual rights and liberties may not of course comprehend the need to demand justice for all, equality of all in the need to demand justice for all, equality of all in front of justice, to oppose all anti-democratic moves without discrimination and e ven to be able to say, ‘if in principle I am against closure of political parties by a military junta or by by the Constitutional Court, I am against–in principles- the closure of the AKP as well through like many people I have very strong doubts that the ruling party has an agenda incompatible with the secular democratic Republic.”
Kanli raises the important issue of respecting the right of free speech of those you believe may well seek to destroy free speech. He believes the AKP is aware of past history in which other Islamist parties were closed down and will be careful to avoid angering secularist institutions such as the Army and the Constitutional Court. We hope he is correct and agree with his views on democracy for all viewpoints.
The Turkish government is experiencing turmoil and conflict as it awaits news from the Constitutional Court as to its decision of banning or not banning the ruling Justice and Development Party(AKP) as a legal political organization. The Court is reviewing a case brought by the Public Prosecutor who charges the AKP with seeking to undermine the Turkish constitution by working to end its secular base and institute a Muslim centered society which will govern on the basis of sharia law. In recent days, ultra nationalist leaders have urged Prime Minister Recep Erdogan, to stand down from politics if his party is banned in order to avoid further conflict in society. In parliamentary debate, Erdogan disregarded the request, and stated bluntly, “if a politician decides to stand down from politics, it will be due to the will of the people,” not because of a judicial decision.
Deniz Baykal, of the opposition Republican People’s Party, argued Turkey is fast approaching a decision if the Constitutional Court decides to ban the AKP. “Will Turkey remain a modern nation or become a weird Islamic state of the Middle East?”
However, there is a third option which Erdogan and many members of the AKP are urging– creation of a modern nation which respects the rights of its religious members while also respecting the rights of those who believe in secular principles. If this third path is taken, it offers a model for the entire Middle East.