The Turkish regime is gradually suppressing freedom as its society moves
steadily toward a more hardline Islamic identity. Keep in mind that
Turkey has been a very self-consciously modern and secular country. While there
were always restrictions on freedom – especially regarding the expression of
Kurdish nationalism – it was miles ahead of the usual Middle Eastern standards
in that regard. And Istanbul was the ultimate expression of modern, secular
Thus, a minor incident is of immense psychological importance.
Here’s one of many. A woman wearing sweatpants sought to board a public bus and
a dozen or more passengers blocked her way. One man said, “Look at her. Her head
is not covered, shame!” Nobody on the bus came to her defense and the driver did
Why is this especially significant? Because the implication is
that head covering for women should be mandatory in public and that those who
advocate such measures will use intimidation to achieve this goal, unafraid of
any possible consequences. On the contrary, it is those who would advocate
freedom of choice who are intimidated.
Then there’s the new law requiring
that every shopping mall, movie theater and indeed every public facility in the
country have a Muslim prayer room. One newspaper columnist who ridiculed this
idea wrote, “Have you ever heard any conservative or religious person in this
country complaining: ‘I can’t live my religion if there are no [mosques] in
opera or ballet houses?’”
In other words, such legislation is not happening
because there is a burning need for such things but because the government is
Islamizing the country. It should be pointed out that anyone who wants to pray
could easily find an existing mosque not far away and, indeed, a dedicated room
isn’t even a requirement for Muslim prayer.
OF COURSE, it should be
understood that the government is offering a lot of incentives for becoming not
just a practicing Muslim but an Islamist. Consider. You want a high-level
career, especially in government. Do you go to an academic high school with a
tough curriculum or to an Islamic school which focuses not only on religion but
on an Islamist interpretation?
The number of students attending such religious
(imam-hatip) schools has tripled in 10 years, rising to seven percent. The gap
is narrowing, especially true for “regular” students since enrollment at open
admissions schools fell from 50% to about 25 percent. The rest go to selective
schools (21%) or vocational schools (50%).
The government has now decreed
that Islamic schools be accorded equal status with academic schools for purposes
of admission to university and also that Islamic junior high schools will be
established. These decisions will accelerate the relative growth of
education that indoctrinates students with the regime’s ideology.
THERE’S Prime Minister Recep Erdogan’s announcement that virtually all abortions
will be banned, even if the woman was raped.
prosecution of a famous Turkish concert pianist, Fazil Say, for sending tweets
critical of Islam is another sign of the times. So is the sentencing of a
student to eight years’ imprisonment solely for the crime of holding up a sign
demanding free education at an Erdogan rally. So is the sentencing of a former
top general to one year in prison for telling a villager in a personal
conversation that the regime had sold out the country.
Most recently, the
government has decreed that it will choose two-thirds of the Turkish Academy of
Sciences’ members. Until now, the existing members chose the new ones, and
one-third of them resigned in protest.
Then there’s the foreign policy
realm, where there are also dozens of examples of the regime’s Islamist
orientation. The basic trend is anti-American, ferociously anti-Israel, and
supporting Iran and radical Islamist movements. Despite differences with Tehran
over Syria – the Turkish regime wants a Sunni Islamist government there; Iran
wants to keep its allied incumbents in power – the two countries are constantly
expanding their trade to hitherto unprecedented levels.
When a US
airstrike against terrorists went astray and 24 Pakistani soldiers were killed,
Erdogan quickly demanded a US apology and called the dead “our martyrs.” It
symbolized his eagerness to take the side of any Islamic country or movement
against the United States. The Turkish regime has ignored, with US permission,
the sanctions on Iran and the media in both countries is full of reports about
their ever-tightening relations. The large portion of the Turkish media
controlled by the regime systematically spreads anti- Americanism and public
opinion polls show ever-rising hostility to the United States.
Israel, the regime is so unrelentingly hostile that the leader of the opposition
asked whether Erdogan intended to go to war against that country. It has now
decided to file criminal charges against Israeli officials involved in the
attempt to stop the ship Mavi Marmara from running the blockade on the Gaza
Strip, a situation in which Turkish jihadists were killed after assaulting
Israeli soldiers. It should be noted that the Turkish government was directly
involved in working with a terrorist group – defined as such by the United
States and Germany – in mounting that deliberate provocation.
Erdogan has had three non-negotiable demands: that Israel apologize, admitting
it committed a crime; that reparations be paid to the families of the dead
extremists on the basis of Israeli guilt; and that Israel stop all sanctions on
the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip. In response, Israel offered to express regrets and
pay compensation on a humanitarian basis. Erdogan has refused all compromise –
as indicated especially by his third demand – and has no desire to settle the
Erdogan’s anti-Israel campaign has continued with such actions as
insisting that NATO installations in Turkey not provide information to Israel,
that Israel be excluded from joint maneuvers in which it formerly participated,
and that Israel not be permitted to attend a NATO meeting and an international
counter-terrorism conference. (The real problem with the counter-terrorism group
is that the Obama administration made Turkey the co-director and didn’t even
include Israel as a member when it launched the project last September 11.)
have no problem if individual Turks want to be more pious in their religious
observance. The problem is that this quickly slides over into intolerance,
repression, extremism and a radical foreign policy. Moreover, in the long run
the spending, restrictions and anti-intellectual policies might undermine Turkish
democracy, stability and economic progress.
The writer is the director of
Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center. He also publishes the
Rubin Report blog http://rubinreports.blogspot.com/