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Trust in Ataturk: 200,000 Turks Talk Tough

Don't mess with the #1 Turk!Let’s hit it again Plaid Friends!  Today’s titillating talk tilts towards the Turks and the two to three hundred thousand of them that are talking tough on maintaining their Ataturk traditions.  And the legacy of Ataturk, the stalwart role of the Turkish military, and the tensions between secular and religious ideologies are all important components of today’s Turkey—affecting things like their political allies worldwide and more importantly their possible ascension into the EU.  Ataturk? Military? Secular? EU? What?  Well, read these, and let’s discuss:

Pro-secular Turks stage ‘Solidarity with Republic’ rally

200,000 protest against Turkey PM

Secular rally targets Turkish PM

Turkey academics oppose PM’s run

Turkish army keeps eye on politicians

As mentioned previously in the blog on Turkey‘s stymied ascension into the EU, Turkey is quite a unique country on today’s Plaid Planet.  Turkey is an overwhelmingly Muslim country (99% of the population), but is simultaneously a 100% secular state.  This makes it one-of-a-kind as far as states go, especially ones so close to the Middle East.  What does secular mean? It means that there is a strict separation between church and state—you know, just like the USA. 

Except you should know this: the Turks are even more extreme and protective over this separation than the US, or really any other secular democracy on the planet.  The state is the state, Islam is Islam, and in Turkey, the two shall never meet.  This can be seen in its most dramatic form by laws in Turkey which completely ban all forms of religious dress, symbols or ornaments inside government buildings.  Total ban.  So, if you want to visit the Turkish parliament building, you can not wear the traditional Muslim headscarf, a funny Pope-style hat, or even a pair of Star-of-David earrings. Not that I’ve tried…okay you got me—I actually was busted wearing all three at one time.  It did not go well.  Luckily, I was undercover in Brooklyn, so I didn’t have to tangle with any pissed off Turks…

But I digress.  Turkey has been this extreme on religious separation since the inception of the modern republic back in 1923.  Under General Mustafa Kemal aka Ataturk, Turkey embraced western-style democracy and social systems, tried to modernize and industrialize, and looked to emulate the Western European states as much as possible—which included adopting a staunchly secular outlook.  Just so you know, Ataturk is short for ‘Father of the Turks’ and he is largely seen as ‘the George Washington’ of today’s Turkey.  He is revered and respected still; perhaps even more than good old George is here.  He was a strong leader, with a strong military background, who genuinely believed that Turkey‘s best chance for the future was to look West rather than embracing religious/political systems from the East…Middle East that is.

He felt so firmly in this that he made sure that the Turkish military was very strong…specifically strong enough to always be able to thwart any organized attempt to introduce religion onto the political system. And thwart they have.  The Turkish military has cleaned house several times in the last few decades: essentially by conducting military coups, firing all the lawmakers/heads of state, and then re-establishing the democracy with fresh elections.  Hardly the most democratic way to do things, by western standards, but it still has seemed to work for Turkey.

Erdogan: Walking the Turkish tightrope

And thus, this: today’s Turkey is becoming tumultuous because there is a perceived threat that political Islam is making headway into the system.  As cited in the stories above, the current Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is himself from an Islamist party, and many fear he may pursue a pro-Islamic agenda if elected to become the next President…a post which will be vacant soon.  The Turkish ‘Congress’ is controlled by the same Islamic party and thus Erdogan would be a shoe-in for the nomination, and the subsequent victory if he so desires. (The ‘Congress’ elects the President, not the people—they vote for the Prime Minister position) 

And that is why secular fans are protesting across the country right now—to show at least through demonstrations that they are not keen on such a venture. Look at the pictures too—posters of Ataturk are everywhere.  After reading this short blog, you are probably now aware of another group that would not be keen on Erdogan as President.  Can you guess? Yep, that’s right: the military.  Look again at the story above about the general giving Erdogan a polite ‘warning’ concerning his possible candidacy.  Interesting stuff.

Is Erdogan actually going to push for an Islamic state?  In the Plaid view: not hardly.  No one in Turkey is dumb enough to do that, at least not openly.  Why?  The military coup option of course!  But beyond any threat of military action, Prime Minister Erdogan is a fairly ‘westward-leaning’ guy himself: he is one of the biggest forces behind EU entry.  And he has already been smacked down by the EU before for trying to pass laws to criminalized adultery (among other things), which where interpreted by the EU as being too religious-based.  So Erdogan may be from an Islamic party, but his EU-minded sensibities would argue against any radical ‘Islam-itization’ of the government. Well, that and the fact the army would probably come kick his ass.  Hmmmm…possible ass-kicking always seems to weigh heavily on the minds’ of world leaders…

Speaking of ass-kicking and world leaders, have you seen what Vladimir Putin has been up to?  Damn, that is one world-leader-cat that I would never want to piss off.

Anyway, be sure to watch Turkish developments in their next presidential election to see how things turn out.  The Ataturk secularists will be watching close, as will the Turkish military, as will the EU, as will the US—because the US wants Turkey to stay staunchly in that secular/western-leaning column since they are a NATO ally, and perhaps our ony damn friend left anywhere in/near the Middle East.  But that’s another story….

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