23 May 2007

Skillen on Turkey

The latest contribution to the Center for Public Justice's new Root & Branch series is by James Skillen and titled, Watch Turkey! Skillen analyzes the current debate in that country as one between two religions: Islam and Kemalist securalism. He has fairly kind words for the current prime minister and would-be president Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP). These, he believes, are advancing, not an islamist establishment, but public pluralism:

[T]he AKP has demonstrated that it is not necessary for citizens to believe in secularism in order to enjoy full citizenship in the republic. In essence, the AKP is putting something new into practice, different from both monopolistic secularism and monopolistic Islam. We might call it public pluralism through which people of all faiths, including both secularists and Muslims, are given room to live out their faiths in public life without any one of them being allowed to monopolize the political arena.

The thing to watch in Turkey now, with the upcoming July election for president (the only office not yet won by the AKP), is whether the AKP government can maintain popular support for public pluralism and an open democratic society. Will the more radical Islamists support such a society in which they have more room to express themselves but cannot dominate? And will radical secularists, including the military leaders, accept a system that gives believing secularists continued access to political life but no longer a monopoly on government, the military, and the bureaucracy? If so, Turkey may well be developing a model that could have potent significance for other Muslim countries, for religiously diversified countries such as India and Indonesia, and even for Western countries such as France and the United States.

Those with experience of Turkey, whether direct or indirect, might be forgiven for doubting the plausibility of such a happy outcome. To secure the agreement of both radical Islamists and radical secularists for a new public pluralism would be a considerable task that runs counter to both post-1920s republican and pre-1920s Ottoman history. It is unclear whether Erdogan is up to it or whether the military would even allow it. Nevertheless it would unquestionably be an improvement over the status quo.

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