TURKEY’S DEMOCRATIC PROCESS ON THE ROAD TO TURKISH-ISLAMIC UNION
By Ceylan Ozbudak
Major steps have been taken in recent years to make Turkey a more advanced democracy. Significant progress has been made in areas such as individual rights and freedoms, equality before the law and the independence of the judiciary through amendments to laws with the coming to power of the Justice and Development Party (AKP). Important constitutional precautions have been taken to prevent any repetition of military interventions such as coups and military memorandums that have taken place since the 1960s and obstructed our democratic development. Success has to a large extent been established in the fight against organized crime, and the mafia and criminal gangs have been enormously weakened. An intensive fight against the alleged Ergenekon terror organization has taken place, and secret organizations in public bodies have to a large extent been neutralized. New laws have entered into force in order to put an end to domestic violence and oppression and abuse of women.
Through the referendum in 2011, various measures such as facilitating the legal process against Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK) rulings, an end to civilians being tried in military courts and citizens being able to apply to the Constitutional Court due to human rights violations have entered into force. These are all highly appropriate and hope-inspiring in terms of democratic progress. Yet democracy in a country such as Turkey with a powerful state tradition and which is the “older brother” of the Turkish-Islamic world should be much more advanced and sufficiently sound as to represent a role model for other states. Therefore, we still have a long way to go in terms of rights and freedoms, the overcoming of various errors in the justice mechanism and the establishment of equality of opportunity in society.
AN EXEMPLARY DEMOCRACY MUST BE BUILT IN TURKEY
It is Turkey, regarded as “an older brother extending its protective wings over its siblings” by the rest of the Turkish-Islamic world, that will lead the Turkish-Islamic Union that will be set up in the next decade. With its greater expansion of the spirit of union and unity in Ottoman times, Turkish-Islamic Union, with its greater justice, freedoms, affection, compassion and love, will become a place where democracy is enjoyed to the greatest possible extent by all people.
In determining countries’ levels of democratization today, this is generally based on the comparisons with the EU and the USA. And the EU and USA certainly are ahead of Middle Eastern and Central Asian countries in terms of many democratic criteria. Democracy having reached them earlier, their having a much longer democratic past, plays a large role in this. That people living in these countries have a democratic consciousness also binds the hands of regimes because the majority is aware of their individual rights and freedoms, and possesses an understanding and foresight never to permit oppression and imposition. To summarize, it is a fact that democratic awareness and the democratic tradition are more firmly rooted in Western countries.
While Western countries are more advanced in terms of democracy, it certainly cannot be said that their democracy is a perfect and ideal one. Indeed, the recent economic crisis has seriously damaged the EU and the USA. And the negative effects of the crisis have become more tangible in social life on a daily basis. Democracy is not and must not be a system implemented when the economic situation is good but that is put on the back shelf when material conditions go wrong. But similar situations have recently arisen in the EU. For example, the reform package put by the EU to Greece for implementation was to have been put to a referendum by the Greek government, but this was rejected by the EU. The rejection of this demand on no justified grounds is clearly not a democratic measure. In addition, European governments sometimes display racist attitudes. For example, “Roma” people who had migrated to France from Romania and Bulgaria were deported by the French government using force and violence, an unacceptable action by a democratic country. Such behavior on the part of a country that claims to respect human rights and seeks to give Turkey, which it regards as lacking in the area, lessons on the subject, is a clear sign that it does not possess the ideal democracy. With this measure, France once again revealed that it is a social-Darwinist country and regards races that are not white European as inferior, as Charles Darwin himself put it. This attitude on the part of the French government was regarded and criticized as racist also by the United Nations.
It is true that striving to adopt the good aspects of Western democracies, which also have their flaws, contributes to the democratization process in Turkey. Numerous legal reforms have been made in the country in line with the EU acquis communautaire, and more democratic practices have been adopted. For example, the recently passed “Law for the protection of family and the prevention of violence against women” represented a major step in terms of Turkey’s democratic progress. However, it also needs to be said that Turkey’s current foreign policy vision goes far beyond simply being a member of the EU. Turkey’s greatest desire is to lead the Turkish-Islamic Union to be established. For that reason, one of its main aims must be to represent a much better and higher quality democracy than those in the EU and the USA. And new political, legal and economic arrangements are essential for that.
An Independent and Just Judiciary Is Essential for a Sound Democracy
Serious work has taken place in recent years aimed at overcoming deficiencies and correcting flaws in the legal structure. But we also need to admit that sufficient levels required by a modern democracy have as yet to be achieved in terms of the judicial mechanism.
One of the main elements needing to be put right as a matter of urgency is suspect interrogation. Under the existing procedures, initial interrogation of suspects is left to the security apparatus. But our security units’ main job is law-enforcement, the maintenance of public and societal order. And they work with great self-sacrifice to ensure that the Turkish public can live in safety. But giving them the right to question suspects may sometimes give rise to situations that violate human rights. Many such events took place in the past. The problem reached such grave dimensions that whole books were written about pressure and torture taking place during interrogation. Although there are now fewer cases of custodial torture compared to the past, it would be much better in terms of basic right and freedoms for the authority to interrogate to lie with public prosecutors, in the presence of a defense lawyer. Such an arrangement would both free the security forces from a heavy burden and allow them to keep away from likely suspicion and concentrate only on their real jobs.
Another important point about torture is that it is essential for the statute of limitations to be abolished in torture cases. Torture is a crime against humanity and the guilty must absolutely be punished. When torture cases that are prolonged for one reason or other then fall under the statute of limitations, if the accused really did commit torture, then they escape punishment. And this means that a fair trial has not taken place, and that is a violation of democracy. Therefore, it is essential for the statute of limitations to be done away with in torture cases.
Another very important matter is that new arrangements are needed in order to establish the full independence of the judiciary. The taking of precautions to prevent judges coming under pressure from politicians will be a significant step on the road to a strong democracy. This principle exists and is implemented in theory. But it is a fact that there are defects in practice. Judges being able to rule through their own consciences, without being pressurized by anyone, will be instrumental in bringing feelings of peace and security to society. People will not fear being punished even if they are innocent, and it will be easier to distinguish between the guilty and the innocent.
The lives and safety of our judges and prosecutors, one of the main elements of our justice system, being ensured to the highest level by the state is another important subject. Extra precautions need to be taken in the East and Southeast of Turkey in particular, where there are frequent terrorist acts, to ensure the safety of our judges and prosecutors. The martyrdom a few months ago by a member of the terrorist organization of the Ovacik Public Prosecutor is clear evidence of the urgent need to make up this weakness when it comes to security. It is obvious that these public officials cannot discharge their duties properly if they are afraid for their lives, and that advanced democracy cannot be established in a climate in which judicial personnel cannot function properly.
The Intensity of the Fight against Criminal Organizations within the State Must Be Maintained
Any relaxation in the fight against the alleged Ergenekon terror organization may lead to criminal gangs within some official bodies and organizations regaining their previous strength and mustering their forces once more. These gangs, that for years incited conflict between right and left, that laid the foundations for and triggered political conflict in universities, which should be seats of learning, that sought to make sectarian differences grounds for conflict and tried to use racial differences to foment separatism must be completely purged from all organs of state.
There can be no democracy, equality or freedoms where such gangs have free rein. Gangs are organizations that can give away anything, even the country itself, for the sake of their own and their proponents’ interests, and that damage stability and order. They seek to establish a realm of fear by unidentified murders and supporting terror from the inside. They seek to control others and limit their freedom of action by causing them to live in fear and terror. These gangs are a most important obstacle to freedom of thought, religion and conscience. They resort to all forms of pressure and violence in order to silence and intimidate those who do not agree with them. The terror and tension caused by unsolved murders of journalists, writers and politicians in Turkey in recent history are plain to see. There can be no freedom of ideas, religion or conscience in such a climate. For that reason, it is essential for the freedom of our citizens and the power of the country for there to be a resolute struggle against criminal gangs and exposure of all their extensions.
A Federative Structure Would Turn Back Our Unity and Union and Obstruct Our Democratic Development
Society as a whole is generally concerned about the recent discussions of transition to a presidential system. The concern is whether a presidential system will also be accompanied by a move to a federative one.
First and foremost, Turkey is currently under threat from a communist, separatist terror organization. Its aim is to divide us from people in the East with whom we have lived as brothers for many years. Everyone needs to know that there is no Kurdish problem in Turkey. Everyone is a first-class citizen. Our brothers of Kurdish origin have served as members of Parliament, and even as president. Our Kurdish brothers have gained the right to be able to use their mother tongue with the recent legal changes, and can learn their own language in state schools. The lifting of the old oppressive mentality is a cause for rejoicing in terms of our democratic progress.
What foreign powers are seeking to do through the communist terror organization is to oppress our Kurdish brothers through the establishment of a communist Kurdistan. Communism is a bloody ideology that is the enemy of democracy and liberties and that regards violence and oppression as a policy of state. A terror organization holding to such an ideology will obviously not worry about the health and well-being of our Kurdish brothers or bring about an environment in which they will enjoy a better quality of life. For that reason, all decisions and actions that might smooth the way for the existing communist threat in the region must be scrupulously avoided.
The entire Turkish people are opposed to such suggestions as the establishment of a federative system, in other words the strengthening of local administrations, and governors being directly elected. A federative system may be successfully implemented in the USA. But every country has its own unique differences. We are currently facing a severe separatist stratagem. That is why, may Allah forbid, a federative system is a mistake that could lead to the partition of the country. We have no doubt that our administration will see the danger and strongly avoid the implementation of federalism.
By Almighty Allah’s leave, Turkey will now speak of the days when all our brothers embrace one another under the spiritual umbrella of Turkish-Islamic Union, rather than speaking of division.
THE MOST CORRECT APPLICATION OF DEMOCRACY IS DESCRIBED IN THE QUR’AN
Social scientists have not been able to reach consensus on a definition of democracy. Everyone interprets democracy in the light of their own philosophical views and describe definitions from those holding opposed views as deficient or erroneous. This ideological conflict is particularly prevalent between leftists and liberals. Leftists criticize liberal democrats for not espousing the concept of social justice and not protecting the economic and social rights of low-income groups. Liberals, on the other hand, accuse social democrats of preparing the foundation for the state intervening, under the concept of “social justice,” in social life, in other words in citizens’ liberties. To summarize, one group wants any likely imbalance in income distribution to be prevented in a democratic system, while the other group is keen not to see people’s rights and freedoms being restricted by the state. In fact, both sides’ wishes are clearly perfectly legitimate, and both can be combined in a single conception.
In order for all the above and similar disagreements to be resolved, democracy urgently needs to be set out as a form of government that protects the interests and benefits of all sections of society. Almighty Allah tells us the concept of democracy that is the best suited to human nature in the Holy Qur’an, in which He says, “The Words of your Lord are perfect in truthfulness and justice. …” (Surat al-An’am, 115) Concepts such as equality, freedom of religion and conscience, and social justice described in the Qur’an are the most suitable and applicable for human beings.
Freedom of conscience and religion is guaranteed in the Qur’an with the verse “There is no compulsion where the religion is concerned….” (Surat al-Baqara, 256). This commandment means that no pressure should be put on Christians, Jews, and members of other faiths or atheists. These people must not be exposed to any form of compulsion. Everyone is free to believe as he wishes and nobody can be despised or excluded because of his beliefs.
In a society that lives by Islamic moral values, the lives and property of everyone, not just Muslims, will be under protection. In the Holy Qur’an our Lord says, “If any of the idolaters ask you for protection, give them protection until they have heard the words of Allah. Then convey them to a place where they are safe…” (Surat at-Tawba, 6), advising that precautions be taken to ensure that everyone in Islamic lands, whoever they may be, can live in peace and safety.
Almighty Allah also issues commandments about concepts such as “social justice, material solidarity and helping the needy.” For example, in verses 2 and 3 of Surat al-Ma’un, our Lord reveals that He wishes the needy to be helped:
“… He is the one who harshly rebuffs the orphan and does not urge the feeding of the poor.” (Surat al-Ma’un, 2-3)
In another verse, our Lord advises people to spend what remains after they have met their own needs “on His path:”
“…They will ask you what they should give away. Say, ‘Whatever is surplus to your needs’.” (Surat al-Baqara, 219)
Almighty Allah reveals that He wishes the goods and property to be given away to be able to be used by others and to be valuable:
“You will not attain true goodness until you give of what you love. Whatever you give away, Allah knows it.” (Surah Al ‘Imran, 92)
“You who believe! Give away some of the good things you have earned and some of what the earth produces for you. Do not have recourse to bad things when you give, things you would only take with your eyes tight shut! Know that Allah is Rich Beyond Need, Praiseworthy.” (Surat al-Baqara, 267)
Clearly, freedom of religion and conscience, essential elements of democracy, are placed under protection in the Holy Qur’an, while the concept of “social justice” is also established for people. Therefore, in a society that lives by the moral values of the Qur’an, people will not be deprived of their liberties, and there will be no material weakness resulting in their being oppressed.
Insha’Allah, Turkish-Islamic Union that will bring peace, abundance, well-being and joy to all places as people live by the moral values of the Qur’an will represent a climate in which democracy flourishes in its ideal form, and will be described as “the true home” of democracy.