Today’s Turkey is a cautionary tale for the West. But Western leaders are loath to consider its lessons.
Ever since Turkey’s Islamist Justice and Development AKP party under Recip Tayip Erdogan won the November 2002 elections, Western officials have upheld the AKP, Erdogan and his colleagues as proof that political Islam is consonant with democratic values. During Erdogan’s June 2005 visit to the White House, for instance, then-president George W. Bush praised Turkish democracy as “an important example for the people in the broader Middle East.”
Unfortunately, nine years into the AKP’s “democratic” regime it is clear that Erdogan and his colleagues’ embrace of the language and tools of democracy was a mile wide and an inch thick. They used democracy to gain power. Now that they have power, they are systematically destroying freedom in their country.
Turkey ranks 138th in the international media freedom group Reporters Sans Frontieres country index on press freedom. Sixty-eight journalists are languishing in Turkish jails for the crime of doing their job. The most recent round-up of reporters occurred in early March. And it is demonstrative of Turkey’s Islamist leaders’ exploitation of democratic freedoms in the service of their tyrannical ends.
As Der Spiegel reported last week, veteran journalists Ahmet Sik from the far-left Radikal newspaper and Nedim Sener from the highbrow Milliyet journal were among those rounded up. As radical leftists, both men oppose the AKP’s Islamist politics. But they shared its interest in weakening the Turkish military.
The Left opposed the military’s constitutional role as the overseer of Turkish democracy because the military used that role to persecute leftists. The AKP party opposed the military’s power because it blocked the party’s path to Islamizing Turkish society and politics. When the AKP turned its guns on the military it used leftist journalists to support its actions.
This collusion came to a head in 2007. In a bid to destroy the legitimacy of the military, the AKP regime has engaged in unprecedented levels of wiretapping of the communications of senior serving and retired generals.
This wiretapping operation preceded the exposure in 2007 of the so-called Ergenekon conspiracy in which senior military commanders, journalists, television personalities, entertainers and businesspeople have been implicated in an alleged attempt to topple the AKP government. As part of the Ergenekon investigation, over the past four years, hundreds of non-Islamist leaders from generals to journalists have been arrested and held without trial.
Caroline B. Glick is the senior Middle East fellow at the Center for Security Policy in Washington, D.C., and the deputy managing editor of The Jerusalem Post, where this article first appeared.
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