There is a reason that Turkey has long been the envy of the Muslim world: a place where stability and prosperity reigned, civil liberties and the rule of law were respected, and religious extremism found little refuge. Much of Turkey’s great success over the past century can be attributed to the principles of Kemal Ataturk, who founded the modern Turkish state.
He was held in such esteem that he was given the surname Ataturk, meaning “father of all Turks.” He embarked on an ambitious program of political, social, and economic reforms, aimed at constituting a modern, secular state. Women were granted equal rights, in many cases, before they received such treatment in Western countries. In 1926, Ataturk abolished the Islamic legal code, replacing it with a modern legal system modeled on Italian law.
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Recep Tayyip Erdogan poses a clear and present danger to the future of Turkey. In a short period of time, he has done all possible to transform Turkey from a vibrant democracy to an autocratic dictatorship, appealing to the basest instincts of Muslim fundamentalists, and using the Kurdish issue as a smokescreen to shut down dissent and consolidate his power.
Case and point is the conviction of Wall Street Journal reporter Ayla Albyrak to two years in prison for her journalism on the restive Kurdish minority. The article, entitled, “Urban Warfare Escalates in Turkey’s Kurdish-Majority Southeast,” has been reviewed by colleagues who have widely concluded that it is objective and independent reporting.
And that is just the problem for Erdogan. If you are interested in pursuing journalistic work favorable to the Ankara regime, then you can pursue your work in peace and tranquility. If your reporting is deemed to be unfavorable to Erdogan and his minions, you are deemed an enemy of the state, and can now expect to have the full weight of the Turkish legal system thrown at you.
Nina Ognianova of the Committee to Protect Journalists noted, “The conviction of Ayla in Turkey is a very worrying sign and an escalation of the crackdown on the press.” Turkey has been routinely condemned as one of the world’s leading jailers of journalists, and Erdogan can be thanked for that.
Erdogan is a Muslim fundamentalist who is slowly but surely seeking to erode Turkey’s secular democracy and the respect for the rule of law upon which it is founded. The American left, predictably, has little to say on the matter…in their minds it might be viewed as politically incorrect or anti-Muslim to address the unfolding disaster in Turkey. Of course, their real foe is Trump, and addressing human rights concerns related to a Islamic fundamentalist who enjoyed a close relationship with the Obama administration would be little more than a distracting sideshow.
Rarely in history has a nation fallen so far, so fast. For all true lovers of liberal democracy, Erdogan should be truly terrifying.
To those who consider Erdogan to be a moderate Muslim and downplay his radical nature, or the threat he poses to Turkey, Erdogan leaves a string of extremist statements in his wake. To those who suggest that Turkey will remain a secular state, Erdogan has opined “one cannot be a Muslim and secular. For them to exist together is not a possibility.”
During his 1994-1998 tenure as mayor Istanbul Erdogan described himself as “a servant of Sharia” and “the imam of Istanbul.”
Ominously a majority of Istanbul opposed a recent referendum, narrowly won by Erdogan, which granted him sweeping new powers and centralized his grip on power.
Liberals were rightly outraged over the recent primary victory of Judge Roy Moore in Alabama. Moore has made a number of statements that are troubling to libertarians such as myself, who believe strongly in the separation of church and state, and secularism. But where are the usual suspects on the left when it comes to Erdogan?
If Judge Roy Moore, as expected, wins his Senate seat later this year, he will find little sympathy from even his Republican colleagues to institute Biblical law or turn America into a religiously-based nation. Erdogan, on the other hand, almost single-handedly controls a nation of 80 million people…and not just any nation. A nation that is an economic powerhouse, a key US ally in the war on the Islamic State, an integral part of the solution to the European refugee crisis, and a NATO member to boot.
A large part of the reason the American left is silent on Erdogan may be attributed to his warm relationship with Barack Obama, who charmed much of the world with lofty speeches and high-minded ideals. Sadly, fancy speeches and kind words hold little sway with aspiring dictators; a lesson that Obama appears to have never learned.
He did, however, take the time to tell the American public about the valuable parenting advice he received via the Obama/Erdogan bromance: “And I also appreciate the advice he gives me, because he has two daughters that are a little older than mine…they’ve turned out very well, so I’m always interested in his perspective on raising girls.”
Erdogan, apart from dispensing advice on raising daughters to an enthralled Obama, proceeded to ban social media, crack down on religious and ethnic minorities, curtail alcohol sales and consumption, introduce a new fundamentalist curriculum in schools, outlaw gay pride parades.
In fairness to the Obama administration, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton did speak out on at least one of these subjects, using Twitter (of all things) to take Erdogan to task for banning Twitter in the entire nation. (The ban was later rescinded in the wake of virulent protests.)
The freedom to speak out & to connect is a fundamental right. The people of Turkey deserve that right restored. #TwitterisblockedinTurkey
— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) March 22, 2014
But in general, the efforts of the Obama administration were less than fruitful. Obama sat by and watched as Erdogan destroyed a vibrant secular democracy, aided and abetted by an outrageous crackdown on press freedoms.
Hopefully, both the American left and right will begin to speak out about the travesty unfolding in modern Turkey, a nation which is too big and important to ignore.