Don’t give up gentlemen, one day we’ll be a second-class democracy

Don’t give up gentlemen, one day we’ll be a second-class democracy

When Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu firmly stated last year that “Turkey is not a second-class democracy,” I fully agreed with him, and wrote: “He is right. Turkey must walk a long way and reform its crippled electoral democracy to earn that title.” A third-class democracy would have been a more realistic tag.

Less than a year after that, and only two days after Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said “Turkey’s freedoms and democracy have advanced remarkably,” the Freedom House published its 2014 rankings and put Turkey into the “not free” category of countries, down from an earlier “partly free” class.

According to Mr. Erdoğan’s usual chorus of cheerleaders, the Freedom House had downgraded Turkey because its chairman was Jewish. Some claimed the Jewish Lobby was behind it, and others said it was George Soros.     

Fortunately, there is not a category Turkey can further regress into. It is now the only country in Europe that is “not free.” All the same, that should not discourage Mr. Erdoğan. Turkey can one day really become a second-class democracy, but not when he believes “criticism over his rule in the western media confirms he is doing the right things.”

Mr. Erdoğan’s speech in Parliament last week was vintage Mr. Erdoğan. He claimed that certain powers, inside and outside Turkey, were trying to keep Turkey “distant from the matters in Egypt, Syria and Palestine.” A few minutes before, he had narrated his meeting with Germany’s president, Joachim Gauck: “I told [Mr. Gauck] we would never tolerate intervention in our domestic affairs.” So, Turkey’s domestic affairs are “domestic,” but Egypt, Syria and Palestine’s are “international.” Or are they Turkey’s domestic affairs too? 

According to Mr. Erdoğan, President Gauck “perhaps still thinks he is a pastor.” But ironically, Mr. Erdoğan spoke like an imam: “He once was a priest … He still views [politics] from that perspective. These are indecent things.” Mr. Erdoğan did not explain what “these” were: Mr. Gauck’s speech in Ankara that was unusually critical for a visiting dignitary, or that the German president had displayed “a priest’s perspective?”

But can anyone believe this? “Can you believe,” a roaring Mr. Erdoğan asked in the same speech, “that [they say] there are ‘atheist Alevis’ in Germany?” – a question that inevitably reminded one of former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad’s famous line that “there was not a single gay in Iran.”

From his disbelief, it was not quite clear if Mr. Erdoğan expects “the priest” to put atheist Alevis in German prisons, or extradite them to Turkey so that they could stand trial before by Mr. Erdoğan’s “independent” judges. But someone should give the real bad news to the prime minister: Can you believe there are atheists in Turkey too, and some of them might be viewing the Alevi tradition more as a culture than a religion.

If a certain number of adherents of an Islamic sect prefer to be just adherents on the basis of cultural bonds rather than religious, it should not alarm a prime minister – although it may alarm an imam. Mr. Erdoğan should understand that he no longer is an imam.

But I do not think he will. He does not hide the fact that he wants to rule Turkey like an imam. I do not know if President Gauck ever said that his mission is to raise devout Christian generations, but Prime Minister Erdoğan has said precisely that – just replace the word Christian with Muslim. So if Mr. Gauck still thinks he is a priest, as Mr. Erdoğan claims, he is not as serious about being a man of religion as his Turkish host is.

The problem about Mr. Erdoğan’s incompatibility with pluralism lies in his religio-political dogmas: A stubborn belief that Muslims like him and only Muslims like him are right and do not accept the validity of other views/interpretations. Add to that a wholehearted commitment to the supremacy of Sunni Islam, you get an explosive, third-class democracy.

Was it not a parody, if not extreme naivety, to believe 10 years ago that Mr. Erdoğan’s “not free” Turkey would show the whole world how Islam(ism) was compatible with democracy?