June 19, 2015

The captain who fights with his compass

Abdülhamit Bilici

Interim Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu cited the following as reasons for the election failure of his party: “We were poisoned by power, we were spoiled and we were arrogant.” There are others including lies, slanders, oppression and corruption; but he is right.

A number of figures who sided with the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) when it was fighting pro-guardianship structures such as the Turkish army, including Hasan Cemal, Cengiz Çandar, Nazlı Ilıcak and Ahmet Altan, have been making the same argument for a few years. But, rather than hear their criticisms, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his aides preferred to decry them as traitors and send some of them to jail. And those criticisms also paid attention to the pro-guardianship structures. Now the party is reaping the results of its behavior. Many of those who previously supported the party are now leaving it.

Arrogance, poisoned power, slanders and corruption may be the reasons for the defeat. But in fact, these are the symptoms of a major problem and illness. Erdoğan's old worldview suggested that the EU was a Christian club and democracy was a tool. But when founding the AK Party, he pledged to follow democratic leaders like Adnan Menderes and Turgut Özal, work towards European standards in the protection of the rule of law, to avoid exploitation of religious sentiments in politics and to develop good relations with the Muslim world and the West.

Back then, none of the Islamic movements had a proper paradigm compatible with this new path laid out by Erdoğan. This path basically called for reconciliation with the universal values including democracy, human rights and inter-civilizational dialogue while protecting Islamic identity and embracing the West and the East. The only movement in Turkey paying attention to this vision was the Hizmet movement, also known as the Gülen movement, inspired by Fethullah Gülen.

In the 1990s, when Islamists largely saw democracy as a tool, Gülen said democracy was a final goal. He has viewed the EU membership bid as a great opportunity for democracy and dialogue since 1987 when Özal applied for Turkey's full membership. As a civilian scholar and opinion leader, Gülen also met with the pope and non-Muslim leaders in Turkey. The Abant Platform, a forum that gathered together intellectuals from different backgrounds including Turks, Kurds, Alevis, agnostics, liberals, Armenians, seculars and nationalists, was a Hizmet movement initiative for democratic peace.

And the Hizmet movement has been a source of legitimacy for the AK Party in terms of its paradigm on this path. It was no coincidence to see that the ministers in the first AK Party government were previous participants in the Abant Platform. This was the reason for the rapprochement between the AK Party and the Hizmet movement.

Problems emerged as deviations from this path were observed. As the guardianship circles declined, the government felt that it no longer needed the EU membership bid, the Hizmet movement and the democrats. This led to growing authoritarian tendencies, corruption and unlawfulness as well as a top-down social engineering project by which the AK Party sought to transform society by relying on Islamist arguments and assumptions.

The change was so huge that a leader who was jailed because he recited a poem was transformed into a leader who sent journalists to jail. A country praised for being a model of democracy for the Middle East was replaced by a state that was modeled on repressive regimes and their practices, and ruled by a leader called a sultan by not only the Western media but also the Arab media. A political party once victimized by the decisions of the National Security Council (MGK) was transformed into a party that relied on the MGK's decisions as threats to others.

Hizmet's vision was a precious compass for the AK Party because of its balanced approach towards the West and the East; but the captain of the ship preferred to fight with the compass in the middle of the ocean. And the compass was replaced by the guidance of unreliable figures, some of which called the AK Party an American-Israeli project a decade ago. The destination of the ship was obvious.

However, despite the AK Party's efforts to rely on the state apparatus to destroy it, the Hizmet movement remains loyal to its path, which pays attention to the rule of law and democracy. And it is being praised in different parts of the world including Belgium and Pakistan. Its image is being promoted in Palestine, Nigeria, Morocco, Germany, Bosnia and Albania.

Published on Today's Zaman, 19 June 2015, Friday