The struggle for Turkey's political soul continues -- and Turkey's self-proclaimed moderate Islamists are winning. The struggle has major implications for the global war on militant Islamist terror groups like al-Qaida.
This past Sunday, a constitutional referendum provided the latest battleground for the ongoing political war between Turkish Islamists and secularists. The governing Justice and Development Party (AKP), a political movement openly favoring Islamist policies, advocated the constitutional changes, and it won in a landslide. Fifty-eight percent of the country supported the AKP. The most critical changes affect the Turkish judiciary.
The AKP promotes itself as a "moderate" Islamist political party that believes moral values provide a bulwark against political corruption. It regards its opponents as hard-line secularists who run Turkey's "Deep State," a code word for a nefarious Turkish underworld of corruption, cronyism and manipulation tied to the Turkish military.
The AKP's opposition, centered in the secularist Republican Peoples Party (CHP), cast the referendum as another step in the destruction of the secular republic established by Turkey's 20th century political and military genius, Kemal Ataturk. Ataturk strongly believed radical Muslims insisting on imposing Shariah (Islamic) law were the greatest long-term threat to Turkish modernization. The Kemalists, as his political heirs proudly call themselves, label the AKP as a collection of stealth radical Islamists whose moralist balderdash cloaks a plot to create a theological tyranny and feudal police state.
The AKP responds by accusing the secularists of having corrupted Ataturk's progressive legacy.
Turkey's leading political organizations both portray the choice between them as "either us or darkness." This rhetorical demonization is typical of successful democracies. Ataturk deserves credit for establishing a democratic structure that survived his death in 1938 by 72 years.
Turkey's actual circumstances, however, are much more complex and murky. Start with the referendum's irony. The constitution had many undemocratic articles and was in fact imposed by the military after a coup in 1980. The European Union ruled that many of these elements did not meet EU membership standards. Thus the ironic situation of an Islamist political party promoting constitutional changes in order to meet Western European democratic standards. Aligning Turkey with Europe was one of Kemal Ataturk's long-term goals.
Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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