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Gul's Election As Turkey's President Not "A Victory For Democracy"

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Message Victoria Knox

In the latest example of mass media groupthink, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal and other major papers hailed the election of Abdullah Gul - a devout Muslim whose wife wears a headscarf – as president of Turkey "a victory for democracy" (in fact, both the WaPo and The Times used this very phrase).

So what if Gul was elected? So were Adolph Hitler and Hugo Chavez. "Democratic" elections do not ensure "a victory for democracy."

In a presumptuous editorial, The Times even goes so far to advise the Turkey’s military, which has overthrown four governments (in 1960, 1971, 1980 and 1997), to "help the elected government to succeed - by staying out of politics." The Times adds:

Though nearly all of Turkey’s 70 million people identify themselves as Muslim, the Turkish Constitution calls for strict secularity in public life. The insistence on secularism, in place since the country’s founding in 1923, was intended to counter what were viewed as anti-modern strains within Islam that impeded development. …

Ataturk’s ultimate goal was for Turkey to become a Western-style democracy. And in such a democracy, the military exists to serve the government, not the other way around.

The generals, who treasure Turkey’s ties to the West as a member of NATO, have yet to grasp this …

Has anyone at The Times - or any other major U.S. paper - actually read the
Turkish Constitution, which has been rewritten as many times as the military has overthrown the government (1921, 1924, 1961 and 1982)? The very Articles that define a Western-style democracy are contravened by several blatantly unconstitutional laws. Not only the Turkish judiciary has never invalidated or banned application of these laws – as obligated to under Article 9 – lower courts have applied them unhesitatingly to stifle or punish dissent.

For instance, Articles 26, 27 and 28 of the Turkish Constitution, which establish freedom of expression and guarantee freedom of the press, are negated by Turkish Penal Code Article 301 (which makes it a crime to "insult Turkishness" or to "insult Islam") and Article 305 (which makes it a crime to "promote" the Armenian Genocide as settled history). Dozens of journalists, novelists and playwrights have been charged and, in some cases,

prosecuted under Article 301 and/or Article 305. One of these was Armenian journalist Hrant Dink, who was repeatedly charged and prosecuted under Article 301 – and was convicted in October 2005.

And what about Article 10 (which prohibits discrimination based on "language, race, color, sex, political opinion, philosophical convictions or religious beliefs") and Article 12 (which guarantees "fundamental rights and freedoms", including right to life, security of person and right to property)? None of these protections seem to apply to Muslims who convert to Christianity. Turkish law treats converts as having renounced Turkishness – and they are routinely prosecuted and jailed for "insulting Islam." And when Dink - who received numerous death threats from Nationalist sympathizers after his Article 301 conviction - appealed to the local magistrate for police protection, his pleas went unanswered. Turkish writers brought up on Article 301 charges received protection as soon as they asked for it. They are all alive today;

Dink was gunned down in the street in front of his newspaper’s offices in January. So much for Article 10’s barring discrimination based on race, political opinion and philosophical conviction – to say nothing of Article 12’s guarantees of life and security of person.One of the few papers to get it right is The Hartford Courant:

Abdullah Gul's election as president of Turkey will put to a test the contention that democracy and human rights are compatible with Islam. …

Turkey's attempts to join the European Union would come to naught if the government limits women's rights, abuses the rights of ethnic minorities and refuses to change anti-democratic laws that punish citizens for "crimes" under the umbrella of "insulting Turkishness."

One longstanding requisite for joining the European Union is for Turkey's government to acknowledge that its imperial Ottoman predecessor waged a genocidal war against Armenians.

In practice, Turkey’s Constitution is not worth the paper it is printed on when it comes to guaranteeing a secular, pluralistic and democratic government for its non-Muslim minority population. As the judiciary has not been inclined to rein in Nationalists – even after Dink’s murder, which involved a conspiracy that included the police chief of the town of Trabzon – there is little hope that Islamism will be checked by the courts.

The Times has "yet to grasp" the vital role the military plays in stepping in when all other government institutions fail. True, Turkey will never be a Western-style democracy – but at least it won’t become another Islamic republic.

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Victoria Knox (AKA The Stiletto) blogs about politics and " you name it, since these days everything has become politicized..

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