Turkey's Dilemma

How Secularism Is Threatening Democracy

Even if one cares little about Turkey per se, one should still pay close attention to the recent dramatic events in that nation, as they may play a key role in the development of a new approach to the Islamic world by the West. The Turkish drama is usually depicted as a conflict between military-backed secularists and Islamists. The conflict’s most recent round played out in Turkey’s Constitutional Court last month, when it ruled that the Justice and Development Party (AKP) would not be banned—at least for now. (The party’s members include Turkey’s president, its prime minister, all the cabinet members, and 341 out of 550 members of Parliament.) But the court imposed a major financial penalty on the AKP and warned the party to desist from violating the state’s secularist constitution.

The political futures of about seventy key AKP members (including Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan) hung in the balance. If the court had ruled in favor of the prosecution, these elected officials would have been banned from holding office for five years, so that they could not form another party. Those who wonder if a court would dare declare the majority party—the governing government—unconstitutional, should note that since 1963 twenty-four parties have been disbanded in Turkey. The court’s previous ruling that the current government’s lifting of the ban on wearing headscarves on campus was unconstitutional reveals the direction in...

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About the Author

Amitai Etzioni is a University Professor at George Washington University and the author of The New Golden Rule, The Moral Dimension, and The Active Society.