Friday, October 23, 2009

Is the Turkish opposition in peril?


I have been writing for the Hürriyet Daily News for almost a year, and have heavily criticized a wide variety of the policies of the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, many times. I was raised, however, in an environment that was ideologically driven by Islam, the same roots as the AKP, so I now find it thrilling to watch the victories of these conservative Muslims from a distance.

And from this long distance, I have tried to understand what it must feel like to succeed in almost every development in today's Turkey after so many decades of feeling inferior. What I witness is an equally interesting parade. The conservative and religious segments of Turkey are flourishing at an ever-faster rate. This change, however, has not happened over night; on the contrary, it has taken place over years of meticulously prepared stages. The religious and conservative population of Turkey has worked hard and got richer. They have studied ardently, excelled in learning foreign languages and gained familiarity with the outside world, becoming much better accustomed to it than secular Turks. The conservatives, along with some pro-Islamic movements, adapted themselves to the times, polished their arguments and continued walking on a difficult path. Though they occasionally compromised on issues – and perhaps even lost some battles – they eventually came back to their original issues when they deemed the time appropriate.

Conservative Muslims in Turkey became well versed in Western pragmatism by excelling in their knowledge of the international arena, receiving every kind of degree in the West and establishing their own academic institutions in both there and here. They educated their own strategists, something Turkey has rarely seen. Rather than drafting policies with only today’s concerns in mind – as was the earlier custom – or simply being reactive in their foreign policy decisions, these strategists, whether one likes it or not, have drafted plans for the long term future because they now understand the region and the world better than before.

And today's administration in Turkey has been trying to bring some kind of compromise to issues that have dragged on for decades. For example, the Kurdish people, co-founders of the Republic, might now become a partner in the country again. This exciting new adventure might be to the advantage of Turkey. And it is a natural course as well because, when one looks at it closely, the love and the inseparable bonds between the two nations are just too powerful to be broken. This inseparability is, in essence, about to end terrorism in Turkey; the rest is mere politics. The present administration, despite its mistakes and shortcomings, is doing the right thing with this reconciliation process, regardless of whether it is with international help or because of the changing dynamics in Iraq.

Turkey has also been gaining the status of a regional power. The Arab world has started to appreciate our country. In this day and age, trade, rather than ideology, drives much of the foreign agenda. In many cases in fact, pragmatism is the driving force, not the other way around. No country conquers any other anymore, as hard power has proven fatal to the countries that resorted to that option in recent history. Instead, the power of the brain and of science has circumvented most of the problems between peoples and promises a better life. Even though ideologies appear to be on the rise in some parts of the world, in countries like Turkey, people who once had a taste of a better quality of life tend to make the most of this pragmatism and look for ways to continue on this road.

Could there be a dangerous turn of events along the way? Could this adventure be hijacked by the more extreme elements of some movement? Quite possibly. However, what we see today is a new generation of rich conservatives that are not the kind of people who want sharia law to be implemented in place of secularism.

In brief, whether it is the Armenian issue, or close relations with Syria, improving the lot of Kurdish people or supporting the unification process of Cyprus, it seems that the ruling party in Turkey is reading the region's affairs much better than the opposition parties.

What does this equation tell us? At present, there is no viable opposition party in today's Turkey that can challenge the AKP's foreign policies. Today the opposition in Turkey is lagging behind in terms of defending basic freedoms and understanding modern democracy. They have no ability to give lessons on the subject of a modern secular regime that treats its citizens equally and protects different societal segments from oppression by others. Turkey needs new and open-minded leaders who can elaborate ideas of social justice for its people.

Turkey needs an opposition party with at least a couple of experts in international foreign policy, so that every once in a while, they can show up in the capital of the United States, the center of world politics, and explain their stance on any given policy conflict. Sadly, the opposition argues that it does not need the backing of a foreign country; instead, just as in Ottoman times, it turns its back and says "istemezük/we don't want it" for almost every critical issue facing Turkey. As such, the conservative right is much better equipped to address these issues.

While freedom of the press is under enormous scrutiny – Reporters Without Borders, or RSF, ranks Turkey 122 out of 173 countries on this index and there are serious concerns about rising corruption – there is no opposition party in Turkey that has the credibility or the energy to discuss these issues with any manner of eloquence.

This said, I hope that pragmatism will prevail, and, based on technological innovations and the Internet, I hope too that Turkey's youngsters will have open hearts and minds and be able to meet their peers from around the globe with tolerance and compromise. They will learn that the good life is about living happily and enjoying things as much as one can while respecting others.

The evidence that this will happen in Turkey is "the moral direction in history," to quote U.S. author Robert Wright. This direction will once more prevail, and history will once more carry "human consciousness toward moral enlightenment, however slowly and fitfully." And for now, the best path toward such a future is the present administration, rather than the opposition. We will know when we find a viable alternative.

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