Tuesday, May 30, 2006

fadiah, you read this if you have the time

i spent almost one hour talking to myself about it
The end of euphoria
Monday, May 22, 2006The massacre at the Council of State has raised many questions that will haunt Turkey for a long time. In fact these questions have been lingering for decades, but we tended to ignore them in the midst of the euphoria caused by the economic and political stability of the past three years. Doðu Ergil
The massacre at the Council of State has raised many questions that will haunt Turkey for a long time. In fact these questions have been lingering for decades, but we tended to ignore them in the midst of the euphoria caused by the economic and political stability of the past three years.
The first question was whether Turkey's economic growth was sustainable without narrowing the ever-increasing national debt arising from the gap between importation and exportation. Put another way, could economic growth be sustained on borrowed money without increasing investment and the volume of production? The second question was whether the political foundations of the republic could be sustained without sufficient modernization and reducing the tension between the modern and traditional segments of society. The last question can be broken to into two further questions: 1-- Can secularism, so far sustained by authoritarian ways and means, persist without incorporating the traditional social cohorts that have remained outside the modern core of society? 2-- Shall we protect secularism at the price of relinquishing democracy and social reconciliation on the basic characteristics of the regime? Indeed, we have refrained from loudly and clearly asking ourselves these critical questions. Now is the time, but we are confused and angry to see the detrimental effects of our neglect. Instead we are watching feelings boiling over as the election of the next president of Turkey approaches. There is a strong lobby that wants to deny Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan the presidency of the republic, not only because his wife wears a turban (although that is enough) but also because he represents an obscurantist section of the Turkish population that is believed to prefer a religious regime over a secular one.
Before any further analysis, let us look into the background and identity of the assassin who wreaked havoc at the Council of State, killing one and wounding more than half a dozen of the high judges. He is from Bingol, a southeastern town populated mainly by Kurds. The basic source of income of the town is drug smuggling and selfless aid from a family member who works in Europe and sends money to dependents back home. Family size is around eight persons. There is not a single factory in operation or job opportunities other than government employment. The town, although a provincial capital, is no more than an oversized village. There is not a single restaurant that serves alcoholic beverages except the police guesthouse. Yet alcohol consumption is very high, according to unofficial accounts of security personnel who serve in this very conservative and religious town.
Alpaslan Arslan, the assassin, seems to have found comfort and evaded an identity conflict in Istanbul, where he studied law. He apparently was lured into and socialized with ultranationalist Turkish youth organizations where he, among other status-seekers from small towns, was groomed to “tame” the “godless communists.” His bio has many references to attacks on left-wing university students with clubs, axes and knives. He has recently been identified (and has confessed to) as having bombed the Kemalist daily Cumhuriyet in Istanbul before committing his crime in Ankara. The organization he is affiliated with at present, the Union of Patriotic Forces, is the reformed Turkish Revenge Brigade (TIT), which was responsible for the shooting of Akin Birdal several years back when he was the president of the Turkish Human Rights Association (IHD). Among the members of the former gang were petty security personnel just as the new one harbors a former officer discharged from the army. Were the TIT members acting on their own initiative or were they the cogs in a wider, shadier machine? No one knew until this day. In a country where the organizational affiliations of attempted assassins of incumbent prime ministers (Bulent Ecevit in the late 1970s and Turgut Ozal in the early 1980s) still remain unknown, such questions are irrelevant.

Conflict of values:
The latest attack on members of one of the highest courts of the country, the Council of State, which deals with the most important matters of administration with appellate jurisdiction, has revealed a deep-rooted tension between two sets of values --the traditional values at the heart of which lie religion or religious interpretation of worldly matters or human conduct on the one hand, and the values of the more modern and secular social cohorts that are (or see themselves) as the founders and guardians of the regime on the other. The traditional-modern divide found its reflection in the debate as to whether religion would find its way into the public arena or not. In fact, all this ado was a power struggle of the more parochial and traditional (peripheral) social groups with those that are more modern and Western oriented with a claim that they have created the modern secular state. The former expresses its identity in more traditional terms and refer to religion as an ideological tool for both social solidarity and political mobilization as well as the definition of an ideal polity.
The wish to fashion law after religious doctrine is less a desire to establish a fundamentalist regime than create a world in which they would feel comfortable, with their parochial and non-modern ways of thinking and living. Yet their insistence on clinging on to their traditional practices and symbolism fuels the suspicions of the secular groups who see the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government as the vanguard of a wider conspiracy of fundamentalist takeover. Erdogan's meaningless insistence on penalizing adultery, which almost aborted Turkey's membership claim to the EU only two years ago, the party's constant advances in legalizing the wearing of headscarves (turban) while declaring that it is the “wish of Allah to cover women” (the Turkish Constitution prohibits use of religious symbolism in official institutions and transactions) and provocative rhetoric of the parliament speaker, who does not try to hide his desire to enact laws with religious inspiration have led to the raising of eyebrows many a time. But recently, the scandal born out of the publicity of an AKP deputy with multiple wives (an aberrant violation of the secular civil code), beating his wife and not even been reprimanded by the party organs despite clauses to this effect in the party bylaws was the straw that broke the camel's back. The AKP deputy was not reprimanded by his party, and even the female members of the AKP -- including the prime minister's wife -- remained silent, leaving the poor woman to face her humiliation and isolation alone. This case was a litmus test for the AKP in which it failed morally and publicly to produce a modern and secular presidential candidate
The recent distasteful events were further confounded by a sudden devaluation that plunged the value of the Turkish lira by more than 10 percent, further adding to feeling of a crisis in the making. The combined effect of the events created fertile ground for provocation, and soon enough the provocation came in the form of an attack on one of the most important institutions of the republic that has a critical role in upholding the secular regime through its jurisdiction. The perpetrator is also a lawman (an attorney at law) but more importantly a militant who has been used before to keep dissidents in line. His murder weapon was a sophisticated pistol that is imported to be used by security personnel and which bears the same brand name (Glock) as the one that killed a Catholic priest a few months ago in Trabzon. In that case the assassin was an underaged boy who amazed even his parents by his deed. Who is hiring and using these thugs?
All right, the wish to prevent Erdogan from becoming the next president of Turkey is strong in some circles. Is it stronger than the well-being of the country, which is about to lose its stability and slide back into uncertainty? Is this patriotism? If it is, it must be an odd one based on the love of country but hatred for its citizens. Since those who plan these murders will not change their deadly tactics, to force the AKP to an early election and ultimately out of office, the burden is on the AKP government to wind down the tension and not to push the party's conservative values and practices as a way of life that will be overseen by only AKP-minded people. Insistence on replacing an independent-minded president and installing a like-minded governor at the central bank have caused a credibility gap in the economy that has had negative repercussions to this day. The turban issue is another case that can and will be abused by the AKP's opponents that will escalate the crisis until the calling of early elections, which they hope will bring them to power. But by looking at alternatives (political parties in opposition), one sees cloudy days ahead.

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