To be inclusive or not. To be transparent or not.
To remain “clean” or not.
To be respectful, understanding, compassionate and trustworthy or not.
To seek national reconciliation regardless of the risks and odds, or not.
What American foreign policy analyst Strobe Talbott called the “tragedy” of Turkish politics offers us now, has, at its epicenter, the sad story of a leader who will most probably go down in history under the category of “victim of his own success.”
Recent history undeniably tells us that no other elected personality was given such extended luxury to get it right for a nation that had long waited for not just short-term prosperity, but also a sustainable stability, built upon a solid combination of a strong economy and democracy.
Erdoğan was given opportunity after opportunity, chance after chance and credit upon credit to accomplish this mission; at his peak he had the backing of nearly two-thirds of the citizenry and at one time up to 75-80 percent social backing for his (now rather unlikely) thrust for EU-based reforms.
Beneath all the aggressive confrontations, supposed devilish plots against his elected party and ill-mannered maneuvering in Ankara, what always looked like a power struggle actually concealed a much bigger and more persistent debate, the outcome of which would define whether or not the story of Turkey would manifest a shining example for the Islamic world and beyond.
Would the offshoot of political Islam pass the test of becoming democrats in the broad sense that they respect all others who peacefully dissent with their ideology and views, and provide a strong foundation for diversity through which all would feel equal and enjoy the same rights and freedoms?
Would they use the doses of religion in politics — which still seem to be inevitable in all democracies — benevolently or maliciously? Would they not take the easy route of simply replacing one tutelary system with another?
Would their political acts result in a belief that Islam and democracy are compatible?
On another level, would this offshoot from Islamism prove to us beyond all reasonable doubt that immoral behavior like thievery and cronyism will be fought by their government/party with zero tolerance to prove that the days of the “old, dark Turkey” are definitely over?
Would they show that, as many Christian offshoot movements eventually proved about themselves, Islam is truly a religion of profound moral values which can be a guiding light for good governance? Similarly, would they be able to show, once and for all, that justice will reign supreme to ensure the stability of the democracy they claim to building in Turkey?
Erdoğan’s failure on all these key points — that seem to be just ugly power struggles, but go way beyond that — is unmistakable.
He has failed to be inclusive and willingly ceased to be a uniting force for a nation, whose democratic future is dependent on gathering around basic values. His miscalculations began when he misread the polls in 2011 and broadened the ground of social disagreement, opening the gates to deep trouble.
If today we are witnessing how segments of society (including business associations, unions, bar associations, urban protesters, football club fans, civil society movements such as the Hizmet movement, Alevis and secular citizens) agree in their disagreement with his political moves, sadly, we know who the victim of his success is.
There is no doubt that when Fethullah Gülen said in his recent interview with the Zaman daily that he voices a shared concern from a part of a sharply and deliberately divided society:
“It is extremely dangerous to polarize society along various cleavages or identities in Turkey. This is like playing with fire. How can a father provoke certain members of the family against other members with different ideologies? We are a large family with roots dating back several centuries.
“We must refrain from treating our differing ideologies or diverse identities as a means for quarrel or conflict. Everyone must respect diversity. The freedom of speech and expression cannot be restricted. While the views of the majority certainly deserve respect, the views of minority groups should be treated with the same level of respect as well. If you suppress the masses, this will trigger action according to social divisions. And this is such a big risk that no political party must take it for whatever political gains.”
Wise words indeed, but I am afraid we are beyond the point of sound reason in politics today. Who will listen all such calls coming now from all the directions from the society?