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Madisonian Turkey

"Madisonian Turkey" Continued...

Issue: "2004 Election: Countdown," Oct. 23, 2004

That doesn't give non-Kemalist political parties much running room. Secularists argue that any religion is a threat to the Kemalist constitutional structure, just as ACLU Americans argue that any religion is a threat to the U.S. Constitution. (One big difference, of course, is that aggressive secularism is written into the Turkish Constitution but not into the American one. But Mr. Akyol, the Turkish journalist, says that the moderate Islam he supports is merely asking that religious people have space in the public square so that they do not have to set aside Islam to participate in public life.)

The key question now for Turkey and the EU, and perhaps for the entire Middle East or even the whole world, is whether the Justice and Peace Party's "moderate Islam" is real, or a false hope arising from temporary tactical needs. Various pundits call the party Islamist, conservative, mildly Islamist, or post-Islamist, but it's not yet clear whether that party will work for a Turkey that respects both liberty and democracy.

Mr. Akyol, who writes for the daily newspaper Referans, says a Turkish compromise is workable, and that in the process "medieval Islamic understanding will be reformed." Moderate Muslims like himself, he says, have looked to the United States and praised America as a religious country that gives freedom to different beliefs. He argues that Turkey's entry into the EU will help moderate Muslims in their battle against radicals who would otherwise gain support from the growing Muslim populations of England, France, Germany, and other EU countries.

The Ankara think tank leader, Ozlem Caglar Yilmaz, perceives problems but fights on. She observes that "Turkey has fundamental problems in terms of responsive government and the rule of law. We have an official ideology, Kemalism, trying to promote a uniform character through education and books. Everything related to religion is seen as a big threat to the regime. We still have a collectivist economy."

But Mrs. Yilmaz also argues that Islam is not inevitably autocratic. She says Muslim states have corrupted Islam by infecting it with Western socialism. She acknowledges one basic problem-that Islam believes in complete unity of mosque and state-but hopes that Turkey will see a growth of civil society in which diverse interests can all have a role.

Mrs. Yilmaz sees the European Union membership process as helpful, because Turkish leaders will be forced to mind their manners so as to win admission to the swank Euro club with its French chefs. (The irony of France and some other countries pressing Turkey to improve its policy on religious liberty is intense, of course. France bans headscarves and is calling for an end to the EU ban on arms sales to China, despite its continuing human-rights violations.)

Metropolitan Ozmen on the Mardin frontier also says that "Turkey's entry into the EU should be supported. We will have more freedom of religion." The increased liberty required by the EU should allow Christians to open churches, schools, and seminaries. But the democratization process could cut the other way. If the 10 percent to 15 percent of Turkey's voters who are Muslim traditionalists can convince a critical mass of others to join them, and the army does not intervene, the next generation could witness the imposition of Islamic law.

Will liberty and democracy advance together in Turkey, now the great moderate Muslim hope in the Middle East? The West held up Iran in the 1970s as a moderate Muslim leader, but power in that country was still centralized and could readily be seized by the radical forces of the Ayatollah Khomeini. Turkey's moderates argue (or hope) that influence in Turkey is now spread among business executives, government bureaucrats, various factions of imams, media and academic leaders, and of course the army, so that factions have to negotiate with other factions.

That is essentially a Madisonian position. James Madison pushed for checks and balances within government and religious pluralism within society. He contended that the establishment of one religion creates tyranny and the existence of two religions leads to civil war, but the presence of three or more can create the grounds for liberty. Opposing those who thought that a country as large as the United States could not stay together, Madison in his newspaper columns that went into The Federalist Papers contended that size would help, because the conflict of powerful factions would keep any one from becoming ascendant and lording it over the others.

Now that it's common to talk about "red America" and "blue America," defined by voting patterns, maybe it's time to talk about a red and blue Turkey (or perhaps a secular gray and Islamic green one), with various shadings in between. The EU's "qualified yes" should put into sharp relief Turkey's chance not only to enter the club but to show that a Madisonian Turkey can be the hope of the Muslim world.

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