July 10, 2014

İhsanoğlu says he is ‘against any kind of witch hunt'

The joint presidential hopeful of an alliance of opposition parties, Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu has said that he is against any kind of witch hunt based on political or ideological accusations in the absence of evidence.

In an exclusive interview with Today's Zaman on Wednesday, İhsanoğlu said: “We have been exposed to a variety of witch hunts in our country throughout history, with political or ideological underpinnings. We have assumed that, with the most recent constitutional changes, and with improving relations with the EU, we would have got rid of this type of persecution. My desire is that the recurrence of such things should cease in 2014.”

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has defended the purges of public officials following a sweeping graft scandal which broke on Dec. 17 of last year, going so far as in his recent speeches to threaten a government “witch hunt" against the members of the Hizmet movement inspired by Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen.

“No one should violate people's rights and freedoms,” said İhsanoğlu, adding that whatever you do in the name of law, should be done according to law.

In his interview with Today's Zaman before the Aug. 10 presidential elections, İhsanoğlu has predicted that he would gather 60 percent of the votes based on the recent polls, saying that, “We are confident that we will win a resounding victory at the ballot box.” İhsanoğlu stressed that a president needs to act with a responsibility to the people, being sensitive to universal norms and remaining loyal to the principles of basic human rights and freedoms which are stated in the constitution.

The former Secretary General of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), İhsanoğlu also emphasized that the allegiance of public servants should be to the state that they are serving, in reference to the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government's accusations of the existence of a “parallel structure” within the state. İhsanoğlu said that so far he has not seen any evidence proving the existence of such an organization. He said such accusations should be investigated and, if found to be valid based on evidence, should be brought to justice.

Calling the Turkish schools abroad as “Turkey's source of pride,” İhsanoğlu stressed he doesn't see anything wrong with these schools and that no country in the world would allow them if there was any wrongful activity being committed by these schools.

On Turkish foreign policy in the Middle East, İhsanoğlu criticized taking sides in the region based on theoretical, ideological approaches without understanding the map of the Middle East, demographic makeup, social and political culture and sensitive relations between the regimes. “We need to understand the problems of our neighbors and adjust our policies by considering these sensitivities,” he said.

On the Kurdish issue, İhsanoğlu said he is taking the side of peace, and if there is going to be a peace deal, it should be based on a sound foundation which will be acceptable to the people of Turkey. Sending a strong message about the rise of Islamophobia in Europe, İhsanoğlu criticized some European politicians who are using anti-immigration, racist and Islamophobic rhetoric in order to gather extreme right wing votes.

Speaking about the recent rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Iraq, İhsanoğlu remarked that no religion, no sect would adopt such extremist behavior and brutality, saying that “We all need to reject such extremism.”

What percentage of the vote do you expect to receive from in the presidential election on Aug. 10?

İhsanoğlu: Actually, the joy and attention that we have received from different people has been unexpected. It was a surprise for our team to see this kind of attention in the first days of our campaign. Preliminary polls have showed that we might receive just over 50 percent in the presidential elections. But since June 16, our popularity seems to be at about 60 percent. Of course, there are different polls being conducted by different groups. Some are objective; some only reflect the desire to display their side as superior. But we are confident that we will gather a resounding victory at the ballot box.

If you were president, what would your reaction to the recent Internet law and the law that changes the structure of the judiciary have been? What would you do? Would you have approved the laws or would you have sent them to the Constitutional Court?

Sending them to the Constitutional Court would create problems for a president doing his job. Sending certain laws to the Constitutional Court effectively transfers the president's discretion to another institution. In fact, I do not want to go in that direction. A president needs to act in accordance with the responsibility he holds to 76 million people; he needs to remain loyal to principles of basic rights and freedoms in the Constitution and display sensitivity towards universal norms. I would have act differently. I would take responsibility and decide on such issues by myself. You asked me if I would have sent it to the Constitutional Court. I say I would take the responsibility and decide by myself within my power.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's Justice and Development Party [AK Party] government has been talking about a 'parallel structure' that has also been described as a 'state within the state.' What is your view on that?

My personal view is that it is not right to establish an organization within the state. There should not be double loyalty within a state. In a constitutional system, the allegiance of public servants, from the most junior to the most senior positions, should be with the state. Apart from that, a public servant should be accountable before the law.

To me, it is not acceptable to have loyalty to any other place when you are serving the state. It is not possible to explain it any other way. As to the question regarding the existence of such an establishment within the Turkish state, I have not yet seen sufficient proof of that. Of course, this is something that the courts will decide on. And such arguments should be brought to courts with a legal basis as soon as possible.

There is a sort of 'witch hunt' going on in which people who are accused of being a member of certain 'parallel' groups have been exposed to profiling. The prime minister himself has used the term ‘witch hunt.' What is your approach to that issue?

Naturally, everything done under the rule of law should be done according to the laws. No one should violate people's rights and freedoms. It is not right to accuse people of anything without proof. Our country has witnessed different kinds of witch-hunts throughout history, with political or ideological accusations [being made]. We assumed that with the most recent changes to the Constitution and by improving our relations with the European Union, we would have been able to get rid of this type of witch-hunt. My desire is that such occurrences would not re-emerge in 2014.

Erdoğan is trying to have Turkish schools abroad closed down even though they are a source of prestige for Turkey. Due to government restrictions, the finale of the 12th Language and Culture Festival, previously known as the Turkish Olympiads, was held in Düsseldorf, Germany.

It is a shame [that the Olympiads took place outside Turkey this year]. Turkish schools abroad are a source of pride for our country. Since the establishment of those schools, I have been visiting them along with leading members of society and the government. I have seen these schools in Central Asia, Indonesia, Tatarstan and Senegal, for example. If there were anything wrong going on in Turkish schools abroad, the host country would not have allowed their existence. Personally, I have not heard anything negative about those Turkish schools. If there is anything wrong with these schools' activities -- any proof of their negative actions -- they should be shared with the Turkish public.

How can we fight against rising Islamophobia in Europe?

Islamophobia is a new name for Islam being targeted. I have systematically battled against Islamophobia in the international arena. There are three phases of this battle. First, I have fought against a campaign targeting our Prophet [Muhammad] and our religious values against people in Europe who are exploiting the freedom of expression there. I have proved to Western leaders that such exploitations of rights and freedoms are in fact against international norms; they are against United Nations conventions. We have worked on UN Security Council [UNSC] resolutions regarding this issue and have succeeded with political support and with the majority of votes. This has been a very important success.

In the second phase, based on the success of the first phase through negotiations with our Western friends -- including Secretaries of State Condoleezza Rice and Hillary Clinton -- we have reached a common understanding. Following my proposal in 2012, the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) unanimously adopted a resolution -- a consensus based on religious freedoms and mutual respect. Therefore, a common ground has been established between the Islamic world and the West. This has cleared the air surrounding actions such as the burning of Qurans, disrespectful expressions targeting our prophet and arrogant cartoon incidents.

But in the third phase, which is currently ongoing, [Europeans] aiming to gather votes from the far right by using racism and animosity towards Muslims has reached a dangerous level. It is becoming widespread among Europe political mechanisms to increase votes from the far right by emphasizing cultural differences, social hardships and negativity towards immigrants and racism. This is a dangerous path. The OIC [Organization of Islamic Cooperation] should continue its battle against such things. But, having held responsibility as the head of OIC for nine years, [I know that] the OIC secretary-general's power is limited. Member countries [of the OIC] need to deploy a concerted effort on multilateral level with EU countries; the same is required within the EU and the Council of Europe [CoE].

What do you think about Turkish foreign policy, especially with the current situation of hostages being held in Iraq and the recent gag order on reporting the developments?

Since 1948, Turkey's position in the Middle East has been to support the Palestinian cause. Turkey has always been supported the legitimate requests of Palestinian people. Turkey should never refrain from providing this support. I praise myself for the service [I did] for the Palestinian cause as the secretary-general of the OIC. I issued a statement today [Wednesday] condemning Israel's attack on the innocent civilians of Gaza. However, condemning it is not enough. It is just a first step towards affirm your position.

Beyond that, we need to cooperate with the international community and parties involved in the peace process; we need to do everything we can for the success of the process. The Palestinian government and people have greatly appreciated my service in Jerusalem; [I have worked] towards the recognition of Palestine and towards it being a UN observer as well as a full member of UNESCO. The strategic documents we have prepared about housing, education and health services in order to meet the needs of people of Jerusalem were adopted during an OIC summit and people in Jerusalem have started to receive these housing, education and health services.

Due to all of these [efforts], Palestinian people and the government have expressed their appreciation for my efforts a great deal. Last autumn, [Palestinian Authority] President Mahmoud Abbas has bestowed the Jerusalem Star medal upon me. It is the highest state award. I am greatly honored to receive this award, not only for myself but also for Turkey, as [I am] the only person from Turkey to have received the award. I am aware of this responsibility.

How do you find Turkey's policies in the Middle East, especially in Egypt, Iraq and Syria?

Jumping into Middle East by taking sides -- either theoretically or ideologically --without understanding the emergence of the picture and map of Middle East today thoroughly, without knowing the demographic structure, sociological state and political culture and the sensitive relations between the regimes, would never allow us to reach successful results. Therefore, we need to understand the problems of our neighbors and we adjust our policies under those considerations.

Some assert that the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) has created a negative image for Sunni Islam. What is your position on that?

Anyone who commits acts of terrorism in the name of religion has nothing to do with the religion or sects they claim to be part. No religion or sect would adopt such extremist, brutal behavior but then go on to call such things inhuman. It is very sad when a group comes about and claims such things. We all need to reject this. It is a shame for humanity to commit terrorism and discrimination under the name of religion and based on sects. It is the greatest insult towards Islam. Besides, you can never cooperate with terrorist organizations, no matter what tactical or strategic reasons you have. Anyone who does so will be frustrated in the end. There are examples of such things around us. We have experienced many examples of it in the past.

What is your approach to the Kurdish issue?

I naturally take sides with peace. Taking sides with peace means being against war and death. As a nation, we have lost many people, many things. We are experiencing many problems. We need to take care of them. It is every citizen's right to support peace. This means protecting our country's unity and integrity. Everyone should make his or her own contribution towards peace. Any deal should be brought to Parliament and needs to be adopted as a national agreement. Anything that has been done based on political calculations or tactical exchanges will never be consistent or valid. Therefore, such a deal should be based on a sound foundation and should be accepted by the nation.

Published on Cihan, 10 July 2014, Thursday