Thursday, May 8, 2008

Washington Post Condemns AKP Closure

Contra Rubin (see April 18 post), the following editorial appeared May 2 in the Washington Post:
In many countries where elections and Islam overlap, religious political parties are suspected -- often rightly -- of trying to use the democratic system to advance an illiberal agenda. Turkey, the most advanced democracy in the Muslim world, has the opposite problem. Its mildly religious ruling party has led the way in introducing progressive political and economic reforms and preparing the country for membership in the European Union. Its secular opposition, meanwhile, has repeatedly resorted to antidemocratic tactics.

Last year the Turkish army, which sees itself as the ultimate guardian of Turkey's secular constitution, tried to stop the Justice and Development Party (AKP) from electing its candidate for president by posting a threatening statement on its Web site. This "e-coup" led to a ruling by the Constitutional Court against the AKP -- and then a general election that the party won decisively over secular parties that had abetted and cheered the court ruling. Abdullah Gul, a moderate and pro-Western politician, duly became president.

Rather than being chastened by this reversal, the secular establishment is attempting an even more radical maneuver. Egged on once again by opposition political parties, a state prosecutor filed a case in March seeking to ban the AKP and 70 of its members, including Mr. Gul and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, on charges of violating the constitution. The case is based in large part on the party's move to lift a ban on the wearing of head scarves by women in Turkish universities, a highly charged if largely symbolic domestic issue. The prosecution mainly serves to reveal the weakness of the constitution, which makes it far too easy for courts to outlaw political parties on flimsy grounds.

In other developments in the United States, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, a religious freedom watchdog group, criticized the free exercise of religion in Turkey and criticized the closure case. Turkish laicism, similar to the French treatment of reliigion in society, varies drastically from the American treatment of religion and the state. In the Turkish/French model, free exercise of religion is restricted from public institutions and its influence is held apart from the public sphere. In te United States, it is perfectly normal to make arguments influenced by religious belief and exert a religious identity in public debate.

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