Turkey, Islam, ACORN, and the Death of Democracy 1

Democracy doesn't guarantee freedom.

The other week, President Obama returned from his Global Apology Tour to the standing ovation of the media.  Every day brought a new country, a new hand to shake, and a new American offense to say sorry for.  With all the bowing and scraping, it's no surprise our NATO "allies" barely scraped together a handful of additional troops to help in Afghanistan; no doubt Mr. Obama apologized for even asking.

Amidst all the mea culpas, a singular event took place which has mostly been ignored here in the US.  Not only does it serve us warning of bad things to come in Europe, it sheds a strong light on underappreciated dangers here at home.

As he has a propensity for doing, Christopher Hitchens brings us a blunt report of what happened:

At a NATO summit in Strasbourg in the first week of April, it had been considered a formality that the alliance would vote to confirm Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the prime minister of Denmark, as its new secretary-general. But very suddenly, the Turkish delegation threatened to veto the appointment. The grounds of Turkey's opposition were highly significant. Most important, they had to do with the publication of some cartoons in a Danish newspaper in 2005 lampooning the Prophet Mohammed. In spite of an organized campaign of violence and boycott against his country, and in spite of a demand by a delegation of ambassadors from supposedly "Islamic" states, Rasmussen consistently maintained that Danish law did not allow him to interfere with the Danish press. Years later, resentment at this position led Turkey - which is under its own constitution not an "Islamic" country - to use the occasion of a NATO meeting to try again to interfere with the internal affairs of a member state.

The government of Turkey is dominated by a political party by the name of the Justice and Development (AK) Party.  Headed by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, AK has gained repeated triumphs at the polls due to its reputation for clean and effective government.

Too Many Cooks Burning Turkey

It is, however, Islamist.

Turkey has been a Muslim country for many centuries.  Following World War I, the great general Kemal Ataturk converted the core of the collapsed Ottoman Empire into a new, modern secular democracy known as Turkey.  While the overwhelming majority of Turks were and continue to be devout Muslims, Ataturk carefully crafted the constitution of his new state to ensure a strictly secular government unentangled with religion, and placed the duty of maintaining that "wall of separation" in the hands of the army.

This system worked surprisingly well for many years.  From time to time, a political party or leader would become too overt in its calls for sharia law or Islamic governance.  Then the army would step in, removing the excessively devout leader and banning the offending party.  A secular leadership would take its place, new elections would be held with the lesson just taught held firmly in mind, and life went on.

The problem, as we've noted before, is that unlike Christianity, Islam has no sense of separation of church and state.  The Koran is just as much a book of civic laws as moral and religious ones; no truly devout Muslim can be entirely comfortable in a land that declines to endorse the commands of Mohammed as part of secular law.

As long as Turkey remained overwhelmingly Muslim and also democratic, the tension would remain.  Perhaps Ataturk himself hoped that his people would eventually move away from Islamic devotion as Europe has left Christian piety, but it hasn't worked out that way.

Enter the European Union.  Turkey has a teensy toehold on the continent of Europe, and as a major NATO nation, has long aspired to join the EU.  Europe is hardly going to accept a country prone to military coups, however, and is not particularly eager to embrace sharia law.

Even to discuss joining, the Turkish army had to give up their special status as guarantors of the secular nature of the state.  After all, thought the Europeans, our people were once mostly of one (Christian) religion and we get along fine without our militaries holding the line against the church, why not Turkey?

The result has been, let us say, worrisome.

Turkey is not an Islamic pesthole in the way that so much of the Middle East is.  Women still have vastly more freedom than they do in, say, Saudi Arabia; hands of thieves are not commonly cut off, girls are not beaten to death for going out on dates, and one rarely if ever encounters Turkish suicide bombers.  But the once-forbidden headscarf is returning with a vengeance; even the Turkish president's wife wears one.

Islam's history in Turkish politics is vastly too long and complex to thoroughly explore here.  Let's simply sum up the facts on the ground, as follows:

  • Turkey, a majority Muslim country, was nevertheless accommodating to Western freedoms and secular values for almost a hundred years, thanks to the system set up by its Founding Father.

  • In response to European demands, Turkey dismantled the undemocratic protection of secular values via the military.

  • An Islamist party won free and fair democratic elections, meeting every reasonable standard of electoral legitimacy.

  • Turkey is now attempting to enforce Islamic values of repression on other European countries, as well as increasingly at home.

It is not fair to say that Islam cannot have democracy, as we sometimes hear; Turkey has been both Muslim and democratic for a lifetime.  The problem is that both Europe, and all too often Americans as well, equate democracy with freedom.

But this is false: freedom requires at least some level of democracy, but democracy in and of itself neither guarantees nor provides freedom.

Democracy Does Not Equal Freedom

Erdogan and his AK came to power fair and square.  Their attempted enforcement of Muslim dogma against every free-speech tradition of Western culture is not an imposition on the Turkish people, it's reflective of their heartfelt beliefs!

Turkey's government is doing exactly what the majority of the Turkish people freely voted for it to do.  Does that make it right?

What sort of a nation attacks free speech?  Normally, we'd say not a free one - but Turkey is every bit as free as a clear majority of its citizens want it to be.  That's not good enough.

The United States, today, is a democracy - and that's causing problems.  Barack Obama won his election fairly, just as did Erdogan.  However, Mr. Obama is at least in theory restricted by the Constitution.

The left clearly wants, not merely to defeat the right, but to drive all conservative thought from the public square altogether.  Why can't they?  Because, as long as the Supreme Court honors the Constitution, they won't be allowed to.

Turkey's equivalent of our Constitution, their guarantor of liberties against the predation of power-hungry politicians, was the military - and the EU stripped all Turkish minorities of this protection.

Now, the majority of Turks are just fine with that, even as a majority of Americans support Mr. Obama.  Rights are not there to project the majority; a majority can protect itself.

Rights are codified for the protection of the minority.  What will become of Turkey's secular, Christian, Kurdish, Armenian, and other minorities?

Well, for now, they've nobly continued to struggle via the political process (some Kurds excepted).  Turkish law now permits headscarves and Islamic garb, but it doesn't require them.  What, though, will happen as the years pass, the rules and expectations grow tighter, and those who would not live as Muslims find themselves being pressured to do so?

What will happen as their free participation in the political process grows more difficult?  How about when restrictions are placed on women, such as are common in so many other Muslim countries?

And that brings us to the concept of the social compact.

The Peaceful Exchange of Power, and Fighting Another Day

Throughout 2008, the nutroots on the left incessantly fulminated that, if Mr. Obama won, Mr. Bush would simply declare martial law and continue as a dictator.  Of course, nothing of the sort happened.

Despite grossly inappropriate jeering at the Inauguration and casting of slander and blame such as our country has rarely if ever before witnessed, Mr. Bush peaceably made his way to the helicopter exactly on schedule and rode off into the sunset.  He turned over the keys of office to a man who has pretty much sworn his opposition to everything Mr. Bush stood for, and who desires to undo virtually everything Mr. Bush accomplished - a fundamental, existential political enemy.

Yet, rather than fight, Mr. Bush surrendered the field.  Why?

Because the battle is not over.  Mr. Bush and the Republicans expect another try at Congress in two years, and at the Presidency in four.  Just as Carter handed off to Reagan, Bush Sr. to Clinton, and Clinton to Bush Jr., politicians on both sides are confident that Mr. Obama will, in his turn, pass on the reins to his legitimate successor no matter which party he may hail from.

It is this understanding of turnabout and fair play that has kept America whole and mostly peaceful for two hundred years.  The great exception, the Civil War, took place precisely because the South quite accurately came to believe that the North was out to destroy their way of life.

Rather than tolerate that destruction, the South chose to fight.  Of course, the destruction came anyway, but the Confederacy went down fighting and was a long time in recovering.

Obviously, slavery was wrong and was worth fighting over.  The point is that the North was bound and determined to impose its will on the South, and the South was equally determined not to submit while any other options remained.  Some things are amenable to negotiation; slavery wasn't one of those things.

What aspects of American life are not worth fighting for?  Our taxes rise higher, and we grouse but continue to pay.  We have manifestly not reached the point where taxation is so onerous that armed resistance becomes worthwhile (and let's all pray we never do.)

How about regulations, red tape, and all the other petty indignities great and small?  Again: they're not yet worth actual fighting over, and those on both sides who believe that their cause is just are willing to struggle peacefully because they're allowed to, and they believe the system is fair.

In Turkey, the secular minority is becoming increasingly concerned that the system will no longer be fair - that they will no longer be permitted to a) win or b) enjoy the traditional rights that they have for so long.

The social compact of a free democracy is an agreement that, in exchange for respecting the rights of your opponents to make their cases, attempt to persuade voters, and to take office if they win, you can enjoy the same rights and privileges.  Extremist groups often take advantage of the second half of this compact in order to win elections - Adolf Hitler comes to mind; he legitimately won a free and fair election in Germany.

And it was the last such free and fair vote for a long, long time.

Dictators don't necessarily disbelieve in the concept of "one man, one vote."  They simply add another modifier: "One man, one vote, one time."

How does Turkey, the social compact, and the peaceful exchange of power relate to our situation in the United States?  We'll explore that in the second half of this article.

Petrarch is a contributing editor for Scragged.  Read other Scragged.com articles by Petrarch or other articles on Foreign Affairs.
Reader Comments
The Turkish supreme court (I'm not sure if that is actually what its called off hand, but the highest court in their nation) did over turn some actions taken by the ruling party. We can hope that their court respects the rights of all people and has the political will to enforce those rights.

Only time will tell however.
May 14, 2009 8:37 AM
You blathered: "Obviously, slavery was wrong and was worth fighting over. ... Some things are amenable to negotiation; slavery wasn't one of those things."

This is one of those nice, politically-correct statements that happen to be pure horse-hockey.

The lamented War Between the States occurred because of tariffs, and the economic vise being put on the (largely agrarian) southern states by the (largely industrial) northern ones. Abraham Lincoln was completely in the pocket of northern industrialists, who depended on the high tariffs to force the south to trade with them at rip-off prices, and preventing them from getting a fairer deal from England for their produce.

Lincoln himself could not have cared less about black slavery - his concern was keeping the western territories open to "free white men" as he put it. His primary task in life was to keep the union together and the south under the economic bootheel of the north - if he never freed a single slave to achieve that, it was OK with him.

We DO have something called an historical record. Check it out.
May 14, 2009 12:51 PM
I must disagree: "We have manifestly not reached the point where taxation is so onerous that armed resistance becomes worthwhile".

We manifestly HAVE reached that point, if the standards of the founders mean anything. They fought a revolution over a few pennies in tax on tea, and innovations by Parliament outside the generally accepted common law. The White House's current occupant has, as part of his domestic policy, a vast body of goals that are completely and totally unconstitutional - yet we permit him to carry on, "giving him a chance," etc for whatever reason.

What we haven't achieved - or more accurately, what we have lost - is a populace more concerned with liberty than the beneficient hand of the imperial federal government. In a country populated with such people, a man who so obviously HATES this country and has associated all his adult life with others who do as well would have been a laughingstock, not a serious contender for the White House.
May 14, 2009 2:23 PM
If the great Gen. Kemal Ataturk would have been a Christian, the nation of Turkey would be even more developed than it is today. He held Islam back while reluctantly staying a part of it. Islam and the nature of freewill are at great odds with each other.
May 14, 2009 2:51 PM
Western style democracies are doing everything they can to reject the philosphies that were responsible for their original success. Obama believes that everything that happened in the US prior to his administration was part of a centuries-old imbalance that he is not working to correct. Brother John is right. Physical revolution is upon us. There is no other solution.
May 14, 2009 3:38 PM
@ Brother John

"We manifestly HAVE reached that point, if the standards of the founders mean anything"

May 14, 2009 4:25 PM
Add Your Comment...
4000 characters remaining
Loading question...