Loading ...
Sorry, an error occurred while loading the content.

Turkish Secularists See Red Over Islamists' Rise - LA Times

Expand Messages
  • Zafar Khan
    Turkish Secularists See Red Over Islamists Rise Politics: The republic s founder rejected Muslim traditions. Now, as religious parties gain strength, the
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 7 12:42 AM
      Turkish Secularists See Red Over Islamists' Rise
      Politics: The republic's founder rejected Muslim
      traditions. Now, as religious parties gain strength,
      the military guards his legacy.


      ANKARA, Turkey -- Ayse Calmuk knows that some Turks
      view her head scarf as a red flag flaunting support
      for an Islamic political agenda. But she says wearing
      it is simply a religious duty.

      "This is God's command," said the 31-year-old
      homemaker, who on a hot summer evening was bundled up
      in a black silk scarf, black jacket and loose cotton
      trousers. "My head scarf is not a political symbol. It
      has nothing to do with politics."

      Feride Acar, a professor at Middle East Technical
      University here in the Turkish capital, doesn't buy
      that argument. And as Turkey heads toward elections in
      November that could bring a party with deep Islamic
      roots to power, clashing views over head scarves
      reflect a potentially dangerous split in society.

      "In this country, sociologically speaking, the head
      covering is a symbol of violation of women's human
      rights. This is how many people understand it," Acar

      "As a woman, if you are claiming that you are covering
      your head because this is part of your religion and
      it's part of your belief system, then that same belief
      system has other things that are supposed to be
      accepted by women too," Acar said. "That includes
      polygamy. That same belief system also includes
      unequal inheritance. It includes the right of the
      husband to physically punish the wife. All of these
      are gross violations of women's human rights."

      Calmuk ridicules that notion.

      "I don't believe any of these issues--polygamy or
      unequal inheritance rights--are issues anymore in the
      modern world," she said. "People like me don't believe
      in them. It's wrong to associate them with Islam."

      Still, the government's fear of the head scarf is
      great enough that students and public employees are
      banned from wearing it at schools and on the job. The
      ban, itself often criticized as a violation of women's
      rights, is just one small piece of a system enforced
      by the Turkish army that supporters say is designed to
      ensure that religious leaders can never take political

      Modern Turkey was founded in 1923 on the Ottoman
      Empire's ruins by Kemal Ataturk. He had a secular,
      Europe-oriented vision that rejected what he
      considered a backward Muslim world. He forbade the
      traditional veil for women and fez for men, abolished
      polygamy and let girls go to school.

      The military has guarded Turkey's secularism ever
      since, even forcing out the country's first
      democratically elected Islamist-led government in

      Many analysts and politicians doubt that the army
      would allow the Islamist-rooted Justice and
      Development Party to take power if it won elections
      set for Nov. 3. The party is led by the charismatic
      former mayor of Istanbul, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Polls
      show the party with 20% to 30% popular support, at
      least double that for its closest rivals.

      In Turkey's system, only parties that win at least 10%
      of the vote are awarded parliamentary seats, so
      popularity at this level can bring a strong position
      in parliament, conceivably even a majority if most
      votes are split among a large number of parties.

      There are widespread fears that postelection conflict
      could erupt, pitting the military against Erdogan and
      other religion-oriented politicians. Such conflict
      would damage Turkey's democracy, its troubled economy
      and its hopes of joining the European Union. Although
      an open clash is far from inevitable, many say the
      risk exists.

      Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit declared recently that an
      Islamist electoral victory could trigger a crisis.

      "There is speculation that Justice and Development
      will end up as the first party," Ecevit said in an
      interview on state-run television. "If that comes
      true, Turkey will be faced with questions over its
      regime." That was taken as a reference to the
      possibility of military intervention in some form.

      "I do not want Erdogan's rights to be taken away from
      him or the party banned, but their true faces must be
      exposed," Ecevit added.

      Party leaders strenuously deny that they want to
      impose Islamic rules on the government or society.
      Erdogan insists that he has never chosen the label
      "Islamist" and that he simply tries to be a good

      Those who think the party wants to impose an Islamic
      state "don't know us," said Abdullah Gul, its deputy

      "We believe that being a religious party, or
      establishing a religious state, is not rational and
      not good, and doesn't help anyone, not even religion,"
      Gul said. "If you ask me individually, I try to be a
      good Muslim, and I want my family and children to
      follow that way. But I don't want to interfere in
      public life."

      Views vary widely as to whether such statements can be

      "I do acknowledge that there's a threat of radical
      Islam in this country, people who would like to see
      Turkey run as an Islamic state," said Husnu Ondul,
      president of the Human Rights Assn. of Turkey. "But
      those people are not members of the Justice and
      Development Party. There may be a few people like that
      [in the party], but they're really marginal."

      Few people believe that religion-based parties could
      succeed in imposing an Islamic political system even
      if they won elections and tried to do so.

      Erdogan "can't form an Islamic state," said university
      student Fatih Budak, 21. "That's impossible, because
      there's strong opposition. There's us young people.
      There's the military. We won't allow him to do
      anything of that sort."

      Efforts are already underway to undermine the Justice
      and Development Party, said Kemal Can, a political
      analyst in Istanbul, the country's largest city. "The
      coming three months will be a period during which the
      military will do everything possible to ensure they
      don't come to power," he said.

      Can noted that legal action against Erdogan might well
      keep him off the ballot. He faces trial on charges of
      defrauding the state by fixing contracts and illegally
      transferring money into his personal account while he
      was Istanbul's mayor, from 1994 to 1998.

      Erdogan was convicted in 1998 of inciting religious
      hatred for reciting a nationalist poem, even though
      the poem is taught in Turkish schools. A court
      recently ruled that the conviction bars him from being
      elected to parliament, but legal appeals continue.

      "If it becomes clear that Erdogan is not eligible to
      run for parliament, that would be a huge blow to
      Justice and Development," Can said.

      Still, Gul predicted that his party will win an
      outright majority in parliament and form a government
      smoothly. "Democracy will work," he said. "I don't see
      any reason for [military] intervention."

      But Hasim Hasimi, a Kurdish member of parliament,
      predicted that the courts will keep Erdogan from
      running and that if his party nevertheless wins, the
      military won't allow it to form the next government,
      either alone or in a coalition with other parties.

      "Turkey is still being governed by a constitution
      drawn up by the military in 1982 following their last
      coup," Hasimi said. "Although there've been a huge
      number of changes to that constitution, the spirit of
      the military dictatorship is still enshrined in it."

      Turkey has been under direct military rule three times
      since 1960. Before withdrawing for the third time, in
      1983, the generals wrote a constitution enhancing
      their power behind the scenes.

      Though few people predict that the army will stage
      another coup, it has enormous influence over some
      political parties, the courts, the media and business

      The military exercises its power in part through the
      National Security Council, which is made up of top
      political and military leaders. In 1997, the generals
      used the council's monthly meetings to badger
      Necmettin Erbakan, the nation's first Islamist prime
      minister, into agreeing to curb Muslim religious
      schools and foundations. When his government balked,
      the commanders orchestrated a campaign by pro-secular
      business, labor and women's groups that forced Erbakan
      to resign.

      The constitutional court banned his Welfare Party
      several months later and slapped him with a five-year
      political ban that expires early next year. His
      supporters in a successor party, Saadet, favor holding
      elections next spring, so that he can lead their

      Those fearful of state-imposed Islamic rules see
      Erdogan as the current leader of that cause. "I really
      hate him," said Ayhan Sarinalbant, a retired
      schoolteacher. "I think he's awful. Erbakan was
      dangerous, but this man is 1,000 times more dangerous.
      He has a lot more energy, and he's very clever."

      But Ramazan Hoca, an Istanbul resident who runs a
      stand selling religious trinkets and music tapes, said
      Erdogan was a great mayor. The corruption charges
      against Erdogan "are completely illogical, absurd and
      stupid," he said. "Certain powers who fear for their
      own power are doing this. But the people know this. If
      all the legal obstacles are removed, he'll get enough
      votes to rule on his own."

      Do You Yahoo!?
      Everything you'll ever need on one web page
      from News and Sport to Email and Music Charts
    Your message has been successfully submitted and would be delivered to recipients shortly.