Justice demand to be Achilles’ heel for Erdogan
“March for Justice is an attempt to remind Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party that democracy is not an elusive concept for the Turkish people. We shall not let it slip away”, were the words, which caught my ear yesterday, of a protestor talking to CNN anchorperson. What insinuation has been in the conversation is a malaise peculiar to our part of the world. Sliding into authoritarianism has been the worst fear in the Muslim world that keeps on haunting democracy, if it happens to attempt to take hold in any of its countries. It begins to falter as soon as comes about, descending the whole process into chaos, and recasting the dictatorship anew. The latest example of this is Turkey after the most recent of Egypt.
Following the abortive attempt of coup in last July, Turkish government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan made it a subterfuge to round up, detain, coerce and sack millions of people from jobs—which included judges, academics, municipal governors, lawyers and senior police officers—on politically motivated charges and without any explanation, making his disdain for democracy epic and loathsome all over the world. His intimidation was a wile attempt to cast atmospherics of panic, dismay and distress to maneuver politics. He, first, let fear reign in Turkey to make democracy a demon and hold referendum, then brought in constitutional amendments to ‘exorcise’ that demon of democracy from the Turkish nation, making the parliament a body to play the President’s second fiddle. The coup attempt might have been a revolt of the handful of military men against Erdogan, but robbing the Parliament of its powers is more than a coup—far more insidious, dreadful and grim for democracy and Turkey alike.
Another interesting aspect of current politics in Turkey has been the growing realization that the country had fallen prey to the machinations of a political party under an elected figure, who, playing religious sensibilities, played off the nation against democracy to usher in his authoritarian rule— a breach of trust. Restoring that trust is the immediate concern of the hundreds of thousands of people, who participated in the three-week long ‘Justice March’—starting from Ankara and reaching Istanbul this Sunday—under the leadership of Kemal Kilicdaroglu, head of the Republican People’s Party (CHP, as goes by the acronym in Turkish).
Kemal Kilicdaroglu, a social democrat and civil servant turned-politician, last week wrote in New York Times, “If democracy and rule of law are suspended, if people are afraid to freely express their views, if legislators are in prison rather than in the parliament, if the courts are incapable of serving justice, we stand up and call for justice with our words, with our bodies on the streets.”
Erdogan, who believed the die is cast for his eternal rule through constitutional amendments, is taken aback by the protesters’ demand for nonpartisan, independent and fair judicial system which is certain to turn out to be the Achilles heel for him sooner or later, making his retaining power impossible. For Turkish nation, justice is the principal to define and safeguard democracy against adventurism of every form—either that is civilian, martial or of populist McCarthyian nature —and is evident from the opposition’s support for Erdogan during the coup days, which now opposing his authoritarian ambitions. The protestors, following the justice principal that change in rule has to be through elections, not protests, remained peaceful throughout 458 kilometer long distance they covered in 3 weeks and none of the opposition parties demanded government’s ouster from power. They did not want to be perceived an anti-government protest, rather a collective expression of the desire, in nonpartisan manner, for an independent and fair judicial system, which Erdogan has dismantled in Turkey.
Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party, ingrained to think in the manner of medieval age a’ la other conservatives, failed to understand that Turkey—unlike other parts of the Muslim world—has outgrown this medieval orthodoxy. Its aspirations and outlook are much more modern now and any attempt to authoritarianism, on the pretext of religion or otherwise, is bound to backlash, falter and, of course, cause wrath of the people.
Bernard Lewis, an outstanding scholar and celebrated author, with specialization on issues of the Muslim world, once commenting on Turkish democracy stated;
“[Turkey] has endured three military interventions in half a century, and still faces massive problems and powerful challenges. But despite these difficulties, the successes of Turkish democracy, as compared with other countries of comparable background, traditions, and experience, have been remarkable. They were made possible by profound and far-reaching changes in social, cultural, and intellectual life, which preceded, accompanied, and followed political and economic changes. To one who has followed the transformation of modern Turkey for more than half a century, it seems certain that while this process of change may still be delayed or even halted, it can no longer be reversed”.
Apart from being a human rights activist and part-time green farmer, the author teaches philosophy in Pakistan. His interests are language, migrations, history, politics, philosophy and political economy. He may be accessed via email@example.com and Twitter handle @ariftaj