Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Why the AKP's leadership may be wrong for today's Turkey


The title of the column may sound irksome especially while discussing the current talks of Kurdish opening. It is hard not to agree with those folks actually, for Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is the only prime minister since Turgut Özal who seems to understand the urgency of the Kurdish problem, the problem that has been bleeding too long. One must be ignorant at best not to see it.

One could still be ignorant and continue to play the same old politics, as it had happened since Özal up to now and inflict every kind of pressure to keep this wound frozen. It has proved, however, that inaction is not a politically preferable solution either, since those who showed ignorance of the problems in the Kurdish conundrum have been eliminated or rejected by the voters and erased from the political arena.

Therefore, Erdoğan, by taking this enormous political risk, shows how powerful his political instincts and political caliber are, which the country rarely has ever seen. And he should be credited for his courage to open talks, regardless of what his political thoughts might be. Today, Turkey is a country where politicians who administer the country take political risk by trying to bring some consensus to the table in order to solve the Kurdish issue, but the opposition, those who do not have any risk save adding one more election in their losing streak, at worst, still prefer to play safe and advocate the status quo.

There are not many countries one can imagine where the opposition parties oppose change, and the ruling party works for a change. Amid this equation, the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, distinguishes itself from the opposition parties, and proves it is better than other current alternatives.

However, the leadership of the AKP, while having all those great bonuses, seems to lack the understanding of today’s modern concepts of civil liberties and of those of the coming age. There are many missing elements in their vision that makes this leadership incapable of comprehending some of the basic tenets of civil liberties. Many of them are unable to see and understand what exactly is the meaning of living together under a secular state where religious, cultural, ethnic and political specificities are fully respected, since they did not live in or study such a society to excel the understanding of how such system works in other countries. AKP's leadership might be one of the last of the old generation of politicians who is well capable to deal with his country's economic and political problems, though when it comes to bring comprehensive and contemporary answers to social problems, this leadership has not enough experience to apply.

At the beginning of this column I complimented Erdoğan's courageous attempt to tackle the Kurdish issue, whatever the real reasons of these talks might be. However, for the reasons I mentioned above, it is doubtful that AKP has a vision of solving this historic issue. For example, it is not known whether the potential problems of giving collective rights to the Kurdish people of Turkey have been thoroughly examined, as Soner Cagaptay recently argued in this newspaper. Cagaptay rightly argued that assigning exclusive ethnicity-based group rights to the Kurds might further strengthen and solidify the Kurdish identity, and what is worse, increase the distance between the Kurds and the rest of the country's population. This would challenge the established social and historic proximity between the Kurds and other groups. Cagaptay's arguments have not received deserved credit or reaction as a unique approach that has not been seen much during months long debate over these opening talks. Whether this argument did not attract much attention because of Cagaptay's hard rhetoric toward AKP, or whether it was because the basic premise of the column, which is the rights of all, is too much to ask for the current administration remains to be seen.

The AKP started a road of opening to talk about a very important issue that it may not be capable of pursuing, because of the defect the leadership of the party has in its understanding of the gamut of civil liberties that have come to be known as basic civil rights. Those are the rights that set limits on the government so that its members cannot abuse their power and interfere unduly with the lives of private citizens; that is to say, freedom of religion, freedom of speech, due process of law, the right to privacy and so forth. Once a society is raised in terms of its basic human rights, meaning all groups, not only one group, it is a promise that much of the problem that long persist will go away.

With the latest row over the tax fine on Doğan Media Group, this leadership also once more has proven that they are unable to see the basic premise of the institution of the right to freedom of expression, as well as how a secular government should treat all its people or companies equally, without undue and discriminatory interference.

Erdoğan, when explaining his argument for the tax fine levied upon Doğan Media Group, stated that the press should not think itself above the law. However, Erdoğan fails to explain how it is exactly that the press imagines itself above the law. How can we separate that thin line so that the media can learn not to regard itself above the law, so that it would not do so ever? That could have been a great service for the media, if Erdoğan explained that separation as well.

I know this argument simplifies the problem a little; however, I still believe very much that one of the basic reasons why the leadership of the AKP fails to understand the basic premise of freedom of speech is because many of the top cannot read and listen to how the Western media treats its governments and what kind of criticism the leaders of the modern world have to endure every day to pursue their agendas. Consequently, whatever this leadership seems to know or think about freedom of expression and press usually is in the wrong tone. Yes, I do not believe Erdoğan knows what that thin line is, nor do I think he or many in AKP's top leadership are aware of other countries' examples to make sound judgment over the issue.

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