One important part of the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) story in the past dozen years has been the redefinition of Turkey’s stale, tutelage-shaped politics, and the dosage of religion in the new era of free, fair competition between the parties.
The measurement of the religion — in the case of the AKP, through the Sunni identity — inserted has been done in the implementation throughout its governance.
This puts the issue into a broader context. Since all religions are framed by ethical guidelines, what the world keenly observes is whether or not an elected party with roots in political Islam would not only act on moral ground, but also institutionalize it.
There is no doubt that the AKP’s story had an incredibly sharp twist, roughly in the period between the crucial referendum that took place on Sept. 12, 2010, and now.
Under the increasingly strict rule of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the AKP abandoned all efforts to deliver a democratic constitution and, pressing the gas pedal to the bottom, set about to dismantle all the institutions it had shaped, and to fight against the reforms it had launched since its coming to power.
Despite the immense exposure through allegations on abuses of power, corruption, bribes and possible money-laundering, the party and its leader are managing to add a unique chapter to the history of politics worldwide, by still winning as sweepingly as before.
One of the dimensions is, of course, the chronic insufficiency of the opposition.
But, given the overwhelming vote from the mainly “silent Sunni majority,” the key question remains to be addressed: If the values of religion are expected to play a role in the new politics of Turkey, how “moral” is the majority?
This one will be a profound debate, under the shadow of the erroneous perception that the post-Dec. 17 phase in Turkey be marked by a “power struggle” between Erdoğan and Fethullah Gülen.
Actually for all those who monitor the story of political and social Islam in the post 9/11 environment, it is about the role of religion in daily politics, and whether or not Islamists and post-Islamists are able to embrace and promote ethics in their conduct.
In one crucial aspect, we are now witnessing an exposure of a gap — a morality gap, arguably — between the Anatolian Sufi tradition with strong values based on tolerance, ascetism, correct behavior and a political Islam, copy-pasted from abroad, which stands close to being seen as a vehicle to autocratic formats of ruling. The closer Islam is regarded as a tool for absolute power, the more systemic its deviation from all morality becomes.
Two articles in the Zaman daily invite us to discuss the issue further, one by Abdulkadir Civan, from Gediz University, and Mehmet Kamış, managing editor with Zaman. Both refer to a study done by Scheherazade Rehman and Hossein Askari, published in the Global Economy Journal in 2010, compiling a global list of all countries, according to how “Islamic” they are, by its values.
Indicators such as economic opportunity, economic freedom, equal access to education, corruption, financial systems and human rights were used to measure the degree of Islamicity in 203 countries.
The results are striking. Most self-declared and labeled Islamic countries are not conducting their affairs in accordance with Islamic teachings — at least when it comes to economic, financial, political, legal, social and governance policies. Iran and Saudi Arabia, for instance, do not make it to the first 100. Turkey ranks 103. Malaysia is listed at 38th. As Kamış noted in his article, Israel ranks higher than all Islamic countries, except two.
One may say that we would not have this debate in Turkey, say, a decade or two ago.
But now, almost all the pressures of military-based tutelage and oppression on the pious segments gone, we should ask the questions.
How “valuable” are the moral values of Islam to those who voted for the AKP, after all the allegations of corruption, abuse of power, promotion of injustices, claims of impunity and sheer lying?
The March 30 vote is politically legitimate, but morally, deeply questionable. Do the Turkish conservative masses interpret Islam as a belief system stripped of its core ethical values? What does that say to us? This is the debate we are bound to have.