‘How Muslims do politics’
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was perfectly honest and right when he said recently that “we have redefined democracy and shown the world how Muslims do politics.”
How do Muslims do politics? That line first needs a clarification: Mr. Erdoğan’s reference to “Muslims” in his statement in reality refers to either “devout Muslims” or, in a more realistic sense, to “Islamists.” His predecessors in Turkey’s 66-year-long multi-party political system were Muslims too, but they were in his view probably “not Muslim enough.”
Turkey’s “how Muslims do politics” experience has produced a loose cannon on deck for the more democratic parts of the world, an asset for the majority of Turks who worship pro-Sunni and nationalistic majoritarianism, and a sad liability for the minority who would prefer a pluralistic and secular regime based on the rule of law. After years of Erdoğan’s “how Muslims do politics” experience, the World Justice Project’s rule of law index placed Turkey 99th of 113 countries measured, ranking behind Iran and Myanmar. This basically is how Turkey’s Islamists have “redefined democracy.”
But there is no doubt that this “redefined” pro-Sunni and nationalistic democracy sells well in the country, which the democratic world defines as the world’s top jailer of journalists. Most Turks believe, like the leader they worship, that all journalists in gaol are terrorists. And they demand more: Hang them!
Sure, says Mr. Erdoğan. “Whatever my nation wants.” As always, Mr. Erdoğan prefers to be selective in his “whatever the nation wants” dictum. He once said the Swiss referendum on banning mosque minarets was “archaic.” So if “whatever the nation wants” is in a country where Muslims are in minority, and is on a matter that does not really please Muslims, it cannot be put to a public vote. If, however, “whatever the nation wants” is majoritarian in a predominantly Muslim country like Turkey, it is simply holy: The will of the nation.
It was Mr. Erdoğan who only a few years ago said “[civil] rights cannot be put to referendum.” Now he says he would “immediately” stamp the bill that would reinstate the death penalty. Does he not think the right to life is a (civil) right, or has he changed his mind? Neither. Back then as prime minister he was talking about the Swiss referendum on minarets. For Mr. Erdoğan, having minarets in a non-Muslim land was associated with the (civil) right to worship. In contrast, he must be thinking that being hanged on flimsy charges of terrorism cannot be associated with a (civil) right by birth. Hence a parliamentary vote in favor of capital punishment and a presidential stamp: Whatever my nation wants.
But that “whatever my nation wants” rhetoric does not apply to issues that may be problematic for Mr. Erdoğan’s rule. Anyone with a 101 degree on Turkish affairs can predict the popular vote results if “the nation” is consulted on whether to hang all Turkish atheists, to expel all non-Muslims, or on whether the price of gasoline should be reduced to 10 cents a liter. Other interesting referendum ideas around the theme “whatever my nation wants” could be as follows: “Shall we invade the rest of Cyprus?” “Shall we invade the rest of the former Ottoman lands?” “Shall we hang Abdullah Öcalan?” “Shall we expel Turkish citizens of Kurdish origin?” or “Shall we declare the Islamic caliphate?”
Recently one cabinet minister called on Turkish mothers to change lullabies to emphasize Mr. Erdoğan’s “2071 targets.” Let me suggest one: “My little baby, grow up to the days when we shall re-conquer the infidel lands … sleep my little baby … and grow up soon to die as a martyr in our jihad.”
In Il Duce’s times, at least the trains ran on time. In Mr. Erdoğan’s Turkey, not even the trains run on time. But at least there is stability: Every day we wake up to a worse day.