By M. BEHZAD FATMI
Today if we were to describe what falling from grace really looks like, we can easily point our fingers towards Turkey.
A few years after the beginning of the 21st century, the world watched Turkey emerge from a deep economic crisis and present itself in the international arena as a democracy embracing, culturally rooted, proud Muslim country. The robust economic growth compounded by determined democratic reforms were setting examples for the many autocratic nations in the Middle East. The country was often referred to as the “shining star” of the region and its people were largely regarded as progressives espousing contemporary values.
Tragically, however, this trend did not last long and things started to take ugly turns, especially after a damning corruption scandal involving senior figures in the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) government emerged in 2013.
Since then the country has continued to make headlines in the international media but for all the bad reasons.
Although there were signs of growing authoritarianism in the government much before the corruption scandal became public, but the revelation marked the end of any effort by the government to even hide behind a façade. The government started making an overt assault on country’s democratic institutions – judiciary, media, civil society, universities etc.
Its justification for its actions was that the state has been “infiltrated” by members of a social movement known as Hizmet/Gulen movement and they are trying to overthrow the government by falsely accusing it of wrongdoings.
However, it was clear even then that the charges against the government were anything but false. Yet using that pretext judicial bodies were overhauled, media outlets were raided, civil society organisations were pressured, universities were fined and so forth.
A transnational social movement which sincerely embraces democratic values, promotes value-based modern education and initiates humanitarian, charitable projects became the primary target of the AKP regime. In order to keep the public from holding the corrupt government officials to account, the AKP decided to portray the Hizmet movement as a larger than life enemy of the Turkish state and channel public anger against it.
The adoption of this policy sabotaged solemn efforts by the movement to democratise the Turkish society through social transformation. Apart from inculcating democratic values in the minds of the followers at every level, one of the major projects initiated by it to promote the culture of dialogue, and open discussions and debate in the Turkish society was the widely acclaimed Abant Platform.
At Abant Platform meetings – an initiative of the Journalists and Writers Foundation which is now banned in Turkey – people from diverse sections of the society were invited and some of the most sensitive social and political issues were discussed in democratic ways. It was a remarkable effort to remove taboos around many critical issues in the country and try to amicably offer solutions to long lasting problems. It was a unique initiative of its kind in Turkey.
Now that the movement has been proscribed in the country, it has become total stranger to everything the movement stands for.
Democratic institutions have been destroyed, schools and universities are propagating radical views, and philanthropists supporting humanitarian, charitable projects are either in jail or in exile.
Dialogue initiatives – which were once embraced by the ruling elites – are now demonised as “Vatican project” and so forth. Polarisation and division in the society are at catastrophic levels.
The narrative of pluralism, contemporary values, compatibility between Islam and democracy has been lost.
Turkey’s really loss over the period of the last three or four years has been these. It can recover many other things, but reclaiming these invaluable assets will not be easy.