Conservative Democrats, Conservative Autocrats or Islamists?
PM Erdoğan’s recent remarks on university students’ co-accommodation in dormitories and students’ flats is no joke. The PM openly condemned co-accommodation of girls and boys even in student flats as immoral, he stated that they should be supervised and called on security services to intervene in the case of neighbors’ complaints. As such, the issue has rightly sparked heated discussion on the democratic credentials of the governing party.
Some criticized the PM’s remarks on legal and Constitutional grounds and others raised objections on ideological grounds that such an attitude is illiberal and non-democratic. It is not secret that the PM and his party has long slid toward authoritarian politics in many fields like press freedom, political freedoms of all sorts. Nonetheless, this time it is more serious, since it is an attempt to control the private lives of adults and limiting freedoms in the name of “morality.” In fact, one should not be surprised that we came to this point after so many freedoms have been curtailed. I think that the issue of freedoms should have been thought of as a matter of political calculation but had to be guarded as a matter of principle, from the beginning. It is that the ex-Islamists started their new political party as “conservative democrats” and then turned to be “conservative autocrats,” especially during their third term in office.
So far, the current government’s authoritarian politics have been excused as political manipulation and calculation for election politics, as if political legitimacy sought by authoritarian measures is “agreeable” concerning democratic politics. On the contrary, it should have been thought of as an unhealthy sign for democracies. Besides, so far, most of the democrats assumed that it is the personality of the PM and his views are not shared by all members and supporters of the governing party. In fact, it is even worse if it was so, since it means that the PM and some hardliners have not been challenged only because of opportunism. We should not forget that, after all, authoritarian politics are not solely dependent on the power of the hard liners of any ideology, but such regimes are also dependent on cooptation of “opportunists” or simply of “pragmatists.” It seems that this is the reality of the so-called “New Turkey.”
Finally, I do not know if PM Erdoğan and his political friends ever meant what they said when they declared that they changed their Islamist views and turned into conservative democrats. I have never been skeptical, since as a matter of principle, I evaluate everybody by their words. Now, it seems that either they have never changed their idea of transforming society by political power or they changed their opinion again, since some AKP politicians and their supporters started a morality talk in the name of the values of a Muslim society.
By the way, I am not totally against the “idea of politics in the name of Islam,” after all Islamism is also an ideology among others and it must be legitimate to defend this ideology. Yet, it is not fair to claim to be non-Islamists in the beginning of the political ascent and then coming up with Islamist politics after monopolizing power. Besides, it is quite dishonest to talk of democratic freedoms to gain power and then turn to curb freedoms in the name of a non-democratic sort of political discourse.
Nobody should console himself/herself by underestimating the extent of the political challenge that Turkey faces, let’s name it; it is going to be some sort of confrontation not only between conservatives and seculars, but also among the conservative (who may tend to be more democratic) and Islamist (who may tend to be more repressive) supporters of the AKP. As for opportunist supporters, they may also find themselves in difficult positions, but no worries, that sort has always been very adaptive to changing conditions.