I will be visiting Turkey in July, just days before the general elections will be held. This crisis over the secular inheritance of Ataturk, father of modern Turkey, might mean the pro-secular military will intervene in politics if Abdullah Gul, the majority candidate with an Islamist background, is elected.
Ataturk abolished the Ottoman sultanate and the caliphate in the 1920s, and moved the capital to Ankara. Turks revere Ataturk, whose secular legacy is jealously guarded by the Army. A month ago the Army put out a statement criticizing the government’s choice of Abdullah Gul, the foreign minister, as candidate for the Turkish presidency, and implicitly threatening a military coup. The Army has always disliked the AK Party government for its Islamist roots.
You might expect that the worldly elite of Istanbul would deplore such heavy-handed military threats and firmly back democracy. But that is not the opinion of most of the journalists, former diplomats and bankers. They are overtly sympathetic to the Army, concerned to preserve secularism in Turkey, and suspicious that the AK Party has a hidden Islamist agenda to turn their country into a new Iran.
In an era of creeping fundamentalism throughout the Muslim world, such concerns are understandable. Yet to a Westerner from Europe or the US West Coast the notion that a military coup might be preferable to a woman’s sporting a headscarf in the presidential palace in Ankara seems bizarre. The truth is that, in Turkey, secularism has turned into another form of fundamentalism that trumps other values, including democracy and the country’s prospects of joining the EU.