Islam Edit Bureau
Have Consequences — Including Making More Room for Islam
in Turkey Has US Fingerprints on It
the Turkish Coup
Professor Ozay Mehmet
Challenge before Us
By New Age Islam Edit Bureau
Have Consequences — Including Making More Room For Islam
recent trips to Turkey to study constitutional reform, I asked everyone I
interviewed — politicians, scholars, activists — if there was any risk of a coup in the
country. They all said “Impossible.” Last Friday, as jets bombed the parliament
in Ankara and tanks blocked the bridges of Istanbul, I realized I should have
asked a few soldiers.
fifth time in six decades, Turkish armed forces tried to overthrow the
government, declaring, as they always have, that they were defending the
secular constitutional order. This time, for the first time, they failed,
thanks to a defiant president calling citizens into the street using his
has been defeated; now the war begins. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is
purging tens of thousands of soldiers, judges and bureaucrats, and has declared
a state of emergency. Soon the fight will enter another phase: for a new
constitution, something Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party, known as the
AKP, has long desired. Constitutional reform should worry friends of Turkey’s
democracy; so should opposition to it.
The AKP has
two main items on its reform agenda: a strong presidency to replace the
parliamentary system, and more space for Islam in the secular state established
by Kemal Ataturk. Both goals disturb liberals; they are afraid of Erdogan and
of Islam. But though they are right to fear Erdogan’s anti-democratic impulses,
they are wrong to see a threat to democracy in the AKP’s Muslim orientation.
For most Turks, public devotion and popular democracy are not in contradiction.
The challenge of constitutional reform is not only to restrain autocracy, but
to rid Turkey of the belief that its own people cannot be trusted.
Much of the
AKP’s Islamic agenda is consistent with a humane society. Nothing in human
rights law prevents a state from giving religion a role in the public sphere,
teaching religion in schools and supporting the construction of houses of
worship (as the AKP has done) or even establishing an official religion (which
it hasn’t). There are versions of Islam that violate fundamental human rights —
such as Islamic State in Syria — but the
AKP isn’t proposing anything like that.
Has Been Defeated; Now The War Begins.
is that the challenge to secularism is a consequence of democracy. The AKP’s
parliamentary fraction is just 13 votes short of what it needs to call a
constitutional referendum; if Erdogan called snap elections, he might get a
super-majority to amend the constitution directly. Should that happen, we could
criticize the voters’ choice, but we would have to acknowledge its validity.
negotiating a new constitution, there is room for a bargain. Many devout Muslim
AKP supporters are also uncomfortable with Erdohan’s authoritarianism. The
opposition could find common cause with them, and put Erdogan to the test, by
offering to make more space for religion in exchange for keeping parliamentary
many secular Turks — and too many in the West — don’t accept the need to
compromise. They cling to a secular constitutionalism so rigid that it denies
their fellow citizens’ legitimate right to change the system, as if Turkey’s
secular principles exist somewhere outside of politics, independent of the
Turkish people’s will.
liberals worry about religion being forced on people, in Turkey the historic
risk has been the opposite, with the state imposing secularism. It banned women
from wearing headscarves in universities, for example, and when an AKP
government nominated a pious Muslim as president in 2007, the army threatened
to intervene. In Turkey, secularism has never been genuinely democratic; behind
Turkish secularism is the logic of the coup.
If we fear
authoritarianism, it is not only Erdogan we have to worry about, but all those
who disregard democratic process. The coup leaders claimed they were upholding
democracy by trying to overthrow a popularly elected leader. The equivalent
here in the United States would be if the losing side in the November elections
were to roll tanks into the streets. No matter how bad you think Donald Trump
or Hillary Clinton is, that would be worse. Whatever other values we have, we
value democracy as a process.
should value it in other countries too. The AKP was never the poster child of safely
neutered Muslim democracy, and it’s not a Muslim Bund now. It’s a complex, pious, populist movement; it
wins elections because it appeals to millions of Turks whom the old system long
disregarded, economically and spiritually. Erdogan’s authoritarianism is a real
threat to the rule of law, but Turks’ desire to make a society that represents
and includes them — and their religion — is not.
have consequences, and so do coups. Now that Turks are united in opposing
military rule, those who value a secular society would do well to focus on one
victory that has long eluded them— at the polls. As long as they fail there,
they won’t, and shouldn’t, get their way. That’s democracy, which is one of
those universal values they — and we —
so highly prize.
Timothy Waters is professor of law and associate
director of the Center for Constitutional Democracy at Indiana University,
where he teaches Islamic law.
Turkey Has US Fingerprints On It
looks at all the military equipment strewn about after the recent coup attempt
in Turkey, it is overwhelmingly US hardware: tanks, M-16s, helmets, kits and
Secretary of State John Kerry’s many protests that the US had no involvement in
this coup, the stakes were too high to be ignored and odd patterns have
seemingly emerged from other countries that draw comparisons.
controls a large NATO airbase at Incirlik that still houses “live” nuclear
weapons, in the southeast of Turkey, near the Syrian border, where much of the
instability is. Turkey is fighting Kurds and Islamic State (IS) movement, but
not in the order that Washington has approved or desired, an asymmetry exists.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has been antagonistic to Washington with
his dictates, an initial refusal to allow attacks on IS from Turkish soil, and
demands for return of an elderly opposition cleric in the US. Essentially
Erdogan, while elected by 52 percent of Turkish voters, has been biting the
hand that orchestrates.
Thailand and before that Egypt had successful military led coups that had
toppled in both cases, duly elected governments. US hardware and realpolitik
seems to have been behind both episodes. Outside of Israel, Egypt, is the
second largest recipient of US aid in the world, receiving around US$2 billion
a year. By this we mean largely military aid: hardware and training in how to
use that hardware.
government seeks moderate Islamic governments at best. Anything demonstrating a
return to conservative Islamic rule or Sharia law is simply not tolerable to
the US, especially in an area with so many tangled US alliances and having the
largest “sweet” oil reserves in the world. Whether the governments there are
elected or not seems to be irrelevant.
puts a serious test to the US commitment toward real, one man one vote,
democracy. It seems more to be “democracy with approval” or a controlled
In the case
of Thailand, a nearby ASEAN country, and with some parallel to Indonesia in
terms of investment and export economy, an elected Red Shirt government under
Thaksin and later his sister (that tilted Marxist in doctrine) became a
nuisance to the US with its budding relationship toward China. This could not
be allowed to continue.
has been a useful ally for the US since 1965 when it was used as a staging
ground for bombings in Vietnam and Cambodia and a way-station for US troops
R&R. This long-term relationship might be at stake under this drift by the
coup ensued, and long-time US ally Yellow Shirt General Prayuth Chan-Ocha took
power. He has been quick to suspend civil liberties, install curfews, and
decided that he himself would push a new Thai constitution, that he wrote.
publicly praising Thailand’s relationship with China in the media, it is noted
he has been circumspect about his dealing with it, recently delaying a long
planned and China financed toll road project (that has irritated China). In
short, a rising China represents an offset to long held US sway in the area.
should not underestimate the Washington consensus by any means even today. It
was complicit in installing an unelected military leader in Indonesia in 1966,
who weathered nearly 32 years in power until deteriorating economic conditions
in Indonesia forced him out (that again with US soft-power intervention).
Indonesia invaded East Timor as part of an annexation. This was done with the
approval of Australia, a near ally and regional power, but the record has also
shown that Australia was itself acting under the greenlight of then US
president Gerald Ford and his secretary of state Henry Kissinger.
now has a non-military president who is under some constituent pressure to
honor Islamic party demands for social change in established areas, yet
Indonesia also has large US investments, particularly in the energy industry
(oil and gas), significant aid programs (such as MCC, US AID) and on-and-off US
military assistance in particular for training and intelligence sharing.
It is not
only the US but also their alliance free market partners: UK, Japan, France,
Germany and now even Korea. All have significant operations in Indonesia, not
only commercial, but also for “development”, educational, energy and building
civil society. In short, much is at stake.
considers recent events in Turkey, Egypt and Thailand, a message is being sent
that tectonic shifts in power, (the rise of China, sharia law, etc.) elected or
not, may not be welcome by established “free market” order or even “free”
countries seeking influence. Indonesia should take notice of this.
Washington consensus may be demonstrating that if soft power does not work,
interference at the least and hard power at worst is still very much on the
In a world
of political upheaval that is changing established orders, “democracy” may be a
nice ideal but no longer “a priori”.
Will Hickey is an associate professor and public
policy adviser for the School of Government and Public Policy in Jakarta.
July 27, 2016
foreign observers are puzzled by the popular support for President Erdogan in
the failed coup of Friday night, July 15, 2016. Why this support when he has
been so authoritarian in his presidential role? And how come he is getting away
with the unprecedented purge that looks like a massive crackdown on enemies and
consolidation of power?
The cue to
decoding the paradox lies in the fact that Turkish citizens know about the
Gulen Movement. It seeks to build a “parallel state” on the road to an
Iranian-style theocracy. For Kemalists and secularists, it is a huge tarikat
(secret societies, religious or charitable, but also political) the forerunners
of which had challenged Mustafa Kemal so violently in 1920s at the start of the
It is, of
course, a story of clash of two personalities: Fethullah Gulen and Receb Tayyib
Erdogan. Both Islamist and allies till a few years ago, they are now bitter enemies.
Their enmity is now wrapped up in the Syrian conflict and Big-Power
Gulen? He is a self-exiled Muslim cleric, living in Pennsylvania, USA. He is
super rich, having made his fortune from a network of 'prep-schools” in Turkey,
which subsequently grew into a multinational educational conglomerate. Gulen's
schools are considered the very antithesis of Koran-teaching medreses, often
accused of training Jihadists. They are modern, focused on liberal arts.
Movement is mysterious and international with schools and institutes in Asia,
Africa and North America. In the USA, Gulenists run the biggest charter schools
and are often subject to tax investigations. In Kanata, near Ottawa, there is a
Gulenist 'Intercultural Dialogue Institute' which maintained warm relations
with the former Harper government. Like an iceberg, one sees only 10 percent of
what the Gulenist movement represents.
effectively been under American protection, thanks in part to his NeoCon links,
because he represents “Moderate Islam” (as alternative for radical, Jihadist
Islam), a brand that is part of the US model. This is a NeoCon scheme to
reshape the Muslim world. It is strongly rejected in Ankara which has no
interest in exporting religious ideology.
not appear to be any credible evidence of American role in the coup. But,
American policy in Syria and Iraq are very much factors. Specifically, the
relative American failure to stem the Syrian conflict, lack of success against
ISIL terror globally, and most significantly its opting for Kurdish PYD
alliance, has angered Ankara. The rise of Russian and (in the background)
Iranian support for Assad is also relevant, along with Brexit and indifference
of Europe to do anything about the Syrian conflict beyond entering into a
refugee agreement with Ankara to contain flooding of refugees into European
the Syrian conflict has spilled over into neighbouring Turkey, already bulging
with some three million refugees. The nation is divided over an existential war
with PKK separatists. Daily lives and security of ordinary Turkish citizens
have been badly hit by waves of terrorist attacks in Ankara, Istanbul and other
Turkish cities, exposing state weakness to protect life and property.
divided society, the Gulen phenomenon is the last straw. The exiled cleric fell
out with his former friend and ally Erdogan first over corruption charges, over
youth and education policy and finally, over the handling of the Gezi Park
demonstrations. Erdogan, never tolerant with dissent, reacted with limited
purges of Gulenist supporters in the judiciary and public service.
Gulenist rot ran deep. Turkish society is cult-oriented, organised on clannish
lines in a local feudal system. These are tarikats that owe allegiance to its
chief or the sheik at its head. Gulen has, over the years, channeled his wealth
into building and nurturing an elaborate cultist system. He owned newspapers,
TV and movie stations, and his secret societies expanded with members from
academe, military, civil service and judiciary.
aim? To prepare the social and political ground for Gulen's triumphant return
from exile similar to Khomeni's success in Iran. With his (undemocratic)
assumption of power in Turkey, Gulen would establish a Turkish theocracy, a
living example of the US 'moderate Islam'.
very much the darling of USA Mideast think-tanks in the early days of the Obama
administration, has in recent years pulled away from 'moderate Islam' schemes.
He has felt “betrayed” by Obama's U-turn on Assad, and has become increasingly
critical of US policies in Iraq and Syria. Recently, the US has opted for
alliance with the Kurds, not only in Northern Iraq with whom Ankara has good
relations, but what is anathema to Ankara, with Kobani Kurds, the PYD, an
affiliate of PKK which, strictly speaking, is a terrorist organisation in the
USA and Europe.
Erdogan's terrorists are not necessarily Obama's. Just recently, the Pentagon
signed an agreement with the Kurds to launch a fight to retake Mosul, Iraq's
second largest city, now under ISIL. Ankara views the US-Kurdish alliance with
alarm, wondering if it signals the first stage in the dismemberment of Turkey
with American endorsement, toward the creation of independent Kurdistan.
Repeated Turkish warnings have fallen on deaf ears in Washington, DC, in part
owing to Neo-Con influence.
geopolitics of the region are changing fast. Erdogan has ended his feud with
Israel. No less importantly he has promoted normalisation with Putin, whom he
will visit in Kremlin. He is also warming relations with Iran. All this is
intended to assert a new Syrian policy in Ankara, aimed at preserving the
existing national boundaries in the region. Ankara is acting more independently,
reacting to what it sees as a strategic American vacuum on Syria at a time when
Europe is entering structural and long-term uncertainty over Brexit. Erdogan is
hedging that EU needs Turkish cooperation over refugees immediately, while
Brussels' influence in post-coup Ankara remains rock-bottom, victim to years of
double-standard in EU handling of Turkish membership talks.
for these new realignments may fall on ordinary Turkish citizens. For the next
three months, likely much longer, it seems, with a civilian-run state of
emergency, Erdogan will be the strongman in Ankara as Gulenist cells in the
country are rooted out. Hopefully, the death penalty will not be reinstated and
vengeance will not determine post-coup purges.
people have saved democracy. From this point forward, Erdogan's Turkey will
build a new system of political stability, the army will be remade under
presidential rule and economic confidence may rebound. As for the existential
threat of PKK separatism, it will be contained either through a closer
Russian-Turkish deal, possibly in the context of a Syria deal, or, as part of
renewed relations with the US. The latter will largely be determined by the
extent of American cooperation with Ankara over the Gulen extradition and how a
post-conflict Syria and Iraq are rebuilt.
Professor Ozay Mehmet is Senior Fellow, Modern
Turkish Studies, Distinguished Research Professor, International Affairs
(Emeritus), Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada.
J uly 27,
subcontinent was partitioned in 1947 on the basis of religion. Bangladesh was
born 31 years later, in 1971, on the basis of nationalism, democracy and
secularism. Democracy we lost first, in the mid-seventies and then in the early
eighties, and are yet to recover it fully. Secularism, which was on a gradual
decline, now faces its most severe threat.
freedom fighter I remember, as I we sat glued to a one-band radio, on the
evening of December 16 1971, along with others in a guerrilla camp, listening
to the surrender ceremony of the Pakistani army to the joint command in Dhaka
and shouting “Joy Bangla” (Victory to Bangla), I was certain that my new
country would be a place of prosperity, freedom and religious harmony. Never
again would a Muslim or a Hindu lose his or her life for religion.
night of July 1, as most inhabitants of Dhaka stayed up all night watching the
hostage tragedy on television unfold and hoping that the end would not be as
tragic and gruesome as we were beginning to fear, I could hardly imagine that
it was the same country to whose birth I, with millions of others, had
- the people, government, civil society, intelligentsia, media, etc. - is still
reeling from the events of July 1 that saw the killing of 20 people; 17 foreigners
and three Bangladeshis. Two police personnel also died while trying to fight
the terrorists in the first rescue attempt. It was not only the act of cold
blooded murder but also its bestial nature and the age of the
perpetrators-between 20 and 28 years- that has raised many questions as to
where the country has come in terms of values and beliefs in its post-
people, we firmly believed that our culture and history, especially the
syncretic Islam that we practice here, and our religiosity that blended our
diversity and devotion to produce a living culture of tolerance and openness,
was enough to protect us from the extremism that seems to afflict so many other
countries where Islam is the dominant religion.
Proved To Be So Thoroughly And Tragically Wrong.
government made the cardinal mistake of being in denial from the start,
thinking that any admission, either of the seriousness of the initial killing
of bloggers, atheists and LGBT activists, or of any outside link will provide
an excuse for the international community to term us as terrorist or a terror
prone country with all its paraphernalia of negative 'advisories' and other
possible restrictions and actions.
This led to
the initial downplaying of the gruesome murders of writers, publishers and
'free thinkers' as “isolated incidents “and not taking timely steps to
galvanize serious and effective preventive measures that could have prepared us
better to handle the situation that we unfortunately faced on July 1.
vigilant Bengali intellectuals, known for their anti-colonial and
anti-imperialistic struggles and for being the first to raise their voice
against all forms of oppression and for their uncompromising stance against
extremism and for secularism, appear to have failed to fully grasp what was
happening around them. Instead of making a robust call for waking up to the
fundamentalist threat they made the fatal error of allowing themselves to be
sucked into partisan politics and rather than being the voice of freedom and
democracy that they traditionally were, they became a tool of the two dominant
political parties who, for their own narrow ends, flirted with the
fundamentalist forces whenever it suited them.
society, especially the grassroots based non-governmental organisations (NGOs),
which were spread throughout different corners of the country; appear also to
have failed to grasp the spread of extremism. For, ordinarily they should have
been among the first to sense what was happening on the ground in the remote
areas. Here again, the government, in its deep suspicion of the role of the
NGOs and mainly considering them to be peddling a donor-driven agenda, probably
ignored whatever warning they might have given, if at all.
also accept its share of the blame for not going deep enough with investigative
reports to challenge the government's narrative that these were “isolated”
incidents, and that everything was under control with the leadership repeating
for years the policy of “zero tolerance” of extremism; all the while it grew
under the very feet of the administration. A few who tried to project a
different story were branded as trying to damage the image of the country and
for working for interests inimical to that of the country.
challenge now before all of us is to determine how deep and wide the spread of
extremist ideologies is, how entrenched is the threat and, more importantly,
how we can effectively fight it.
The first question
to face is where is all this extremism coming from? So far the culprit was
thought to be poverty, ignorance and the Madrassa based education. The rural religious schools were generally
considered to be the breeding ground of fundamentalist ideals and activists.
However, the killings at Holey Artisan Bakery showed that only one of the five
kids that carried out the massacre came from a Madrasa. As we discover the
identity of others it is becoming increasingly clear that most of these kids
come from middle and upper middle class, have studied at expensive English
medium schools and private universities, few had even studied abroad. They were
the usual boisterous kids, donning T-shirts and jeans, frequenting hangouts
like youngsters of that age do everywhere in the world. So what had gone wrong
with these kids and at what point in their lives?
There is no
denying the fact that the overall impact of religion in general has
significantly risen in the country. It is more a part of our lives than ever
before. More men and women are seen in religious clothing and men sporting
beards. Friday prayers are far more widely participated in than ever before.
Religion, no doubt, is in the air.
Bangladesh are traditionally religious. However, our religiosity must be
clearly distinguished from extremism some signs of which we see today. It is also true that there has been an
overall corrosion of secular principles in Bangladesh. It is a fact that when
bloggers, atheists, so-called 'free thinkers' and LGBT activists were being
murdered one after another there was a murmur that since they criticised
religion and some professed not to believe in any they, somehow, deserved to be
Do We Go From Here?
still to gauge the full impact of terrorism on our lives. But the 'normal' is
no longer so. Personal lives are restrained, social lives significantly
narrowed and public gatherings are few and far between. Shopping malls and
restaurants are almost empty and roadside shopping is down. Factories are
running and our major export, the readymade garment sector, is still holding in
terms of order. However, many buyers are refusing to come to Bangladesh. Many
countries and foreign businesses are considering declaring Bangladesh as a
non-family post, with some having already done so. Some big international
conferences - much business related ones - are being shifted away from Dhaka.
news is that our government appears to have moved away from the denial mode and
by the large-scale anti-militancy operation that we are seeing it appears we
have taken the threat seriously. However, so far the moves have been by the
police and other law enforcers. Those familiar with religion based extremist
movements say that these are not mere law and order problems that can be solved
simply by use of force. The challenge here is to “win the hearts and minds” for
which there must be motivational campaigns alongside the use of force. The
campaign at Dhaka University launched last Monday, is a step in the right direction
but needs to be replicated all over the country.
has a long history of resilience and of beating the odds. From a country of
disasters we are now a country of doers and achievers, almost always proving
our sceptics wrong. It is my deeply held belief that in fighting back extremism
we can prove to be equally successful. The balance between religion and culture
ingrained in our tradition, the hospitality inherent in our society, our unique
blend of Islamic heritage and Bengali heritage, our fundamental nature of
tolerance, our tradition of openness and acceptance of the 'other', our rich
heritage of political struggle have prepared us well to resist a fundamentalist
and extremist thrust.
It is what
makes us unique as Bangladeshis that will, in the end, help us win in this
battle against extremism.
Mahfuz Anam is Editor and Publisher, The Daily
Star, Bangladesh. This is part of a series of columns by editors from the Asian
News Network (ANN) and published in member newspapers across the region.