The party versus the community
These days, the hottest topic in Turkey is the growing tension between the AKP (Justice and Development Party) government and the Fethullah Gülen Movement, a powerful Islamic community with millions of followers and a large civil society presence.
In fact, these two powerful forces, “the party” and the “the community,” used to be close allies until a few years ago, against the old guard, the hardcore secularist establishment. But once the common enemy is defeated, the differences between the two sides began to grow into a dispute, and lately, a bitter war of words. Meanwhile many names in the media have taken sides in this conflict, unless they are sworn enemies of both.
To those who ask me “which side” I support, I say that I merely support my principles. The first of these is the professionalism of the bureaucracy. In other words, I believe that state institutions such as the police force should be professional, in the sense of doing its constitutionally defined job and not serving any religious, ideological or sectarian agenda. I therefore admit that the much-debated alleged presence of the members of the Gülen Movement in the police force, and even judiciary, as a “parallel state” with its own subjective goals is unacceptable. If the government sees such a risk, it certainly can take measures within the bureaucracy to defuse such a subjective concentration of power. The state, after all, is the realm of the government.
However, the autonomy and the freedom of civil society, private enterprise and free market are among my core principles, too. Therefore, I would be against any authoritarian intrusion by the state into these civil realms.
The core of the new tension, Erdoğan’s effort to close (or, euphemistically “transform”) “prep schools” is such an authoritarian move that I certainly oppose. These weekend courses are a form of supply the market has offered in the face a demand: preparing students for the national university exam. If the state wants to change anything, it can only improve its poor education system and therefore help in decreasing the demand for these prep schools. But it cannot legitimately close them, as it cannot legitimately close restaurants, shopping centers or department stores.
Some argue that when the governing party passes a law which will effectively close down the prep schools, the opposition in the Parliament can appeal to the Constitutional Court. If this happens, and the court annuls the law finding it contradictory to the constitutional guarantees for private enterprise, it will be a good step for Turkey. We will see that “the national will” can be, and should be, constrained by fundamental rights and freedoms.
On a broader level, what we Turks should learn from this party-versus-community conflict is the burning need to define the boundaries of state and the proper functioning of civil society. The government needs to learn that its authority is limited with state bureaucracy, whereas the society has no obligation to praise, support and even respect those who are in power. Meanwhile, religious or ideological groups in society should accept that their freedom in the civil realm is untouchable while the state’s neutrality is uncompromisable.