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Authoritarianism vs. Democracy in Turkey
in the news: What started as a peaceful protest over Turkish prime minister Erdogan's plan to turn one of Istanbul's last green spots (Gezi Park) into a shopping mall has morphed into a violent "Descent into Confrontation" as headline of The Economist June 15th article describes it. Erdogan's ordering riot police to tear gas protestors in clearing Taksim Square is the latest reason progressive young people have to be upset with the man who many feel is Turkey's most important leader since the founder of the modern secular republic, Kemal Ataturk. Many have feared Erdogan's social conservatism and support for reinserting Islam into schools and the public arena. His championing a law to restrict alcohol sales earlier in the year already drew their condemnation.
commentary and analysis (by Stephen P. Cook, project Worldview, www.projectworldview.org): Undoubtedly many Islamic conservatives in Turkey share a worldview built around Religious Fundamentalism (theme #9a), a Moralistic God (theme #14a), and Valuing Traditions (theme #34). Given the ideological and sociological contrast this presents with Ataturk, a man still much revered in Turkey and his worldview--built around Secular Humanism (theme #10)-- it is tempting to see the clash in Turkey in religious vs. secular terms. Refreshingly, a recent editorial in The Economist suggests otherwise, "The real lesson of these events is about authoritarianism: Turkey will not put up with a middle class democrat behaving like an Ottoman sultan."
It could be that roughly nine decades after Ataturk began restructuring Turkish society in a way that reflected his own valuing of Education for Democracy (theme #31), the majority of the Turkish people--including many comfortable with Islam and in mosques--prefer this to Authoritarianism (theme #20b). Until recently Erdogan has hardly seemed like an autocratic extremist. Governing as a mildly Islamic middle of the roader, he has been widely praised for presiding over Turkey's surging economy and for reigning in the army's power--something it exercised decades ago in ousting democratically elected regimes not to its liking.
Yet talk of plans to soon rework the Turkish constitution disturbs fans of Turkish secularism and democracy. If, as expected, such a rewrite preserves the inherent feedback loop built into democracy, with elections providing a mechanism for changing government policies and legislators, and if the Turkish people truly value freedom and democracy over dogmatic rigidity and authoritarianism, these folks have little to fear. Foreign investment provides another form of feedback. Given Turkey's stock market fall of 20% in the last three weeks, as the article in The Economist puts it, Erdogan's "polarizing tactics may rally his base, but they appear to be spooking investors."
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