Political Islam lost opportunity for Turkey to coexist with West - analyst

Political Islam in Turkey has lost the opportunity to mix with Western ideals and local dynamics, and ended up being restricted to parochial Islamism, Turkish political scientist Cengiz Aktar said in a podcast with Nervana Mahmoud, the host of Ahval’s “Turkish Trends” series.

Aktar wrote that Turkey was in a counter-process in terms of westernisation in a recent essay published by Transnational Press, titled, "The Turkish Malaise – A Critical Essay". 

Political Islamism is avenging the process that started during the reign of Ottoman emperor Mahmud II in the early 19th century, he told Ahval.

Aktar criticised those he called optimistic intellectuals who still believed in westernisation.

“Many Westerners still believe that Turkey is a normal country which can be reformed. They argue that all the misdeeds and wrongdoings of the present regime can be reversed, and Turkey can become a normal country,” he said.

Western norms, standards and principles are “fundamentally against the functioning of the political Islam in Turkey, including other countries where Islam has a pretension to govern”, Aktar said.

For Aktar, a mixing of Western ideals and local dynamics could have allowed political Islam to create a Muslim counterpart to Christian democracy, but the opportunity was missed.

The year 2013 was critical in this sense, Aktar emphasised, with two significant events shaping Turkey. The first was a peaceful protest in a public park in the heart of Istanbul which shook the Turkish government.

The Gezi Protests started out as a small sit-in against the proposed destruction of a small park in Taksim, one of the city's few remaining green spaces, to make way for a shopping mall in May 2013. They quickly mushroomed into nationwide mass protests after the extreme methods the police used to break up the demonstration. 

A total of 11 people were killed in the protests over the course of the summer, and another 8,000 were injured by police kettling, tear-gas, water cannons, baton charges and occasional live ammunition.

In December of the same year, a corruption scandal involving top officials of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s government and their family members rocked the political landscape. ‘The Corruption and Bribery Operation’, as it was dubbed at the time, was a criminal investigation that resulted in the detention of 52 members of Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).

Aktar pointed out that the Turkish strongman started to feel “a huge phobia” in the aftermath of the second half of 2013. He disagrees with those who argued that Erdoğan had been against democracy from the very beginning of his political career. 

“This is not true, he started to completely change the way he ruled the country after a certain point,” Aktar said, adding that he had in time become a “full-fledged dictator”.

Aktar also spoke of Turkey’s distraught relationship with the West. For Aktar, Turkey has lost a lot after its relationships with European states began to fail.

“Third countries in Caucasus, Middle East and North Africa have lost as well because Turkey was representing something for these countries,” he said.

That Turkey was a country which would peacefully coexist with the West was an extremely important message for Western countries, Aktar said. “This is gone as well,” he said.

For Aktar, the West also missed an opportunity to include Turkey in the European continent and to solve its problems in cooperation with Turkey. “Therefore, it is a joint failure,” he said.

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