I and many others have written for quite some time about the erosion of democracy, liberalism, tolerance, and constitutionalism inside Turkey. Many liberals and reformers inside Turkey, however, had little patience for such hang-wringing about the dangerous dismantling of checks and balances or for concern about the intentions of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Turkey’s prime minister.
No longer. In recent months—starting first with the crackdown on protestors in Istanbul’s Gezi Park, continuing to Erdoğan’s subsequent efforts to stir the hornet’s nest, and most recently his efforts to segregate the sexes—have led many Turkish intellectuals—liberals and moderate Islamists both—to realize they have been had. There is no more doubt inside Turkey Erdoğan cares an iota for democracy or for individual rights.
In recent days, there have been two important columns eulogizing the end of democracy, or at least hopes for true democracy written by once-close aides and supporters. First, Ahmet Hakan, once very close to Erdoğan, has now published an important column declaring just how dangerous Erdoğan has become. Asking “Why is he [Erdoğan] doing this?” he answers with a list describing Erdoğan’s dictatorial mentality and his desire for a police state:
- “Believes that his own idea of morality should be adopted by everyone;
- Does not even regard it as possible that there may be other moral concepts…
- Thinks he has the right to interfere in other people’s lives and thinks he is doing this for the happiness of the people;
- Assumes that he can arrange Turkey as if it his own house;
- Believes that he is obliged to prevent the committing of sin…
- Divides the lives of his citizens into “legitimate” and “illegitimate” lives;
- Sees no harm in openly expressing that “illegitimate” lives could be raided with the police;
- Thinks that citizens who are not controlled by the state will pursue all kinds of malice in their private lives;
- Believes there are parents who want police to monitor the lives of their children;
- Is convinced that he could solve issues by assigning police to every household;
- Has over-expanded the archaic mentality of “I am responsible for the decency of the neighborhood” to “the decency of Turkey is my responsibility;”
- Is not even aware of the difference between “crime” and “sin;”
- Is able to plan bans, crimes and punishments based on sin;
- Embraces the opinion that even houses can be breached to prevent sin;
- Does not consider such interference as an intervention into people’s private lives if it is done to prevent sin;
- Is not even aware that what he is doing is simply social engineering;
- Sees social engineering as bad when it is Kemalists who do it; regards it as wonderful if he is doing it;
- Has totally discarded the issue of individual rights and freedoms from his personal agenda.
- Well, this prime minister has plunged into this matter with all his sincerity, without acting or pretending, without considering any strategy, without any doubt that what he is doing is right, without any tactics. And, this is the “worst” and the “most dangerous” side of the thing.
- But even worse and more dangerous is that there is not a single person left around the prime minister who has the courage to say, “What you are doing is wrong; you can’t do it like this,” even though they do think that what the prime minister is doing is wrong.
Likewise, in Today’s Zaman, the newspaper of Islamist cult leader Fethullah Gülen, columnist Bülent Keneş laments the end of democracy in Turkey:
The men of the nation have been involved in a strong, bitter struggle against the Kemalist/militarist state, dominated by a minority, for the sake of natural rights and freedoms. Of course, this was not a bloody or violent struggle. It was a struggle for democracy, the rule of law and rights and freedoms. It was a justified struggle and because it was just, the struggle was actually won for the most part… As these men of the nation had overcome every difficulty and obstacle as well as instances of victimization thanks to the support and prayers of the people, they had become stronger. They were both morally and legally right in this struggle and, as a result, they were winning. And as they have continued to win, they have become stronger. And as they have become stronger, they have changed. Imagine this vicious cycle: as they have changed, they have lost the ethical and moral ground they held as their major asset.
The irony is that even as Erdoğan’s aides come clean, President Obama, the State Department, and a succession of U.S. ambassadors to Turkey have refused to recognize Turkey’s dictatorship for what it is. There can be no democracy when the government refuses to recognize the importance of individual rights and liberty. Never again should an Islamist leader be blessed as a democrat by the State Department unless that leader subscribes to the notion that individuals have rights that transcend communal religious dictates.