Destination ‘great Muslim democracy’: Time to get off the train

Destination ‘great Muslim democracy’: Time to get off the train

Every new day adds fresh validation to the adage that “Turkey is fun unless you have to live in it.” In one recent speech, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan described himself as an enemy of interest rates “because interest rates are a means of abuse.” 

Where did Mr. Erdoğan say that? At a ceremony at the Presidential Palace for the signing of $1.1 billion in foreign financing for two city hospitals that will be built in Turkey. Mind you, Mr. Erdoğan is the president of a country where the government pays $19 billion in interest rates every year.

Not all Turkish news is amusing. Indeed, it is often gloomy, unless one is captivated by Mr. Erdoğan’s neo-Ottoman illusions of grandeur than by Turkey’s ballooning democratic deficit that can no longer be hidden anywhere in our galaxy. 

That deficit and its perpetual growth should in no way surprise anyone who knows how consistent Mr. Erdoğan can be. In the early years of his political career, he famously said that “democracy is like a train; you get off once you have reached your destination.” If you think Mr. Erdoğan said that a long time ago so it is now out of date, take the president’s March 2016 statement that, “For us, these phrases have absolutely no value any longer.” How much more honest a politician could be?

So it is “shocking” for this columnist that Turkey and the world were “shocked” with the Oct. 31 detention warrants for 15 executives, columnists and journalists from the Cumhuriyet newspaper on charges of “terrorist activity.” The “Turkey is fun” dictum is quite visible in the prosecutor’s allegations: The journalists are not members of either the Fethullahist Terror Organization (FETÖ) or the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), but they have committed acts of terror on behalf of these terror groups. 

Funny? Maybe, but not when you are the target of the indictment. But it is fun because we all know that if a prosecutor applied the same legal logic and jurisprudence to sympathizers of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Turkey, he would have to imprison millions of jihadist-minded Turks: They are not (official) members of ISIL but they have acted acts of terror on behalf of the group – such as by praising the jihadists in their blogs or by chanting the same slogans that ISIL’s fighters chant.

Mr. Erdoğan recently suggested that Istanbul should be the center of the United Nations. There are no means to know whether he also thinks Turkey should be the only permanent member of the U.N. Security Council. All the same, judging from the new rounds of the prosecutors-going-after-critical-journalists/terrorists scenes, this columnist would suggest that Istanbul also deserves to host the headquarters of other international institutions like Reporters Without Borders, the Committee to Protect Journalists and the International Press Institute.

In a 2010 interview with the Italian daily Corriere della Sera, President Barack Obama referred to Turkey as a “great Muslim democracy.” He was right. Turkey was (is) not a democracy; it was (is) a Muslim democracy, great or not – a democracy with a religious prefix. 

Civil liberties, the rule of law and pluralism are things about democracies. Muslim democracies, on the other hand, feature other niceties: Hundreds of journalists in jail, a deeply politically-motivated judiciary, random detentions, incommunicado detainees, and ruling politicians declaring suspects as guilty without trial. 

I’m not sure if it will make President Obama happy to be accurate, but Turkey perfectly fulfils all the criteria to qualify as a “great Muslim democracy,” with slimmer and slimmer chances that it may one day miraculously metamorphose into a democracy without a prefix.