Poor Analysis of Turkish Election in Western Media

Turkey has executed yet another successful test of its democracy apparatus. The elections were clean of scandal and violence. The Turkish military remained on the sidelines and it should be commended accordingly.

For this observer, perhaps the most disappointing aspect of this July political experiment did not actually take place within the borders of Turkey. Rather, the very inadequate manner in which the election was covered in much of the Western press deserves great criticism. In particular, it seems more than fair to point a finger at the American media, which continued to use a litany of recycled analysis for its election coverage.

The journalist intelligentsia at publications ranging from the New York Times to Salon.com appear to have a one-track mind when it comes to analyzing Turkish affairs. They repeatedly choose to explain their analysis of Turkey in the following light: An election as complex as the country in which it is taking place or the clash of two Turkey's - one secular and one religious or Turkey is increasingly turning its attention away from Europe and the West. While some of these statements or observations might indeed hold some truth, they are nonetheless woefully superficial in terms of their level of helpful analysis.

In short, these journalists would appear to be interviewing my English students (upper-middle class, educated, secular) as opposed to my taxi driver from the Istanbul airport (lower-middle class, uneducated, religiously observant but not necessarily conservative), who predicted on June 25th that the AKP would win the July 22nd election without any trouble. His thesis was straight to the point: Turkish people were pleased with the country's strong economic performance under the AKP. As it turned out, the taxi driver was a very accurate observer of his fellow countrymen; the majority of Turkish people don't particularly care about the dialog concerning Turkey's place in Europe or whether they were drifting away from democracy or toward the east. What does concern them is whether they have a job in order to feed their family.

In the aftermath of this decisive victory for the AKP, Turkey's secular upper class elite continues to howl about the prospect of their country evolving into an Iranian style society by November. The irony of this clamoring is that they are essentially complaining about a possible outcome delivered by the very system that they so strongly associate with their secular society -- democracy!

and the AKP did not come to power through a 1979-style Islamic revolution. Nevertheless, these compassionate supports of secularism will neither accept the democratic will of their fellow countrymen, nor do they even have genuine faith in the prospect of a future democratic election turning the country in a direction, which is more favorable to their interests. Instead, they accuse Prime Minister Erdoğan of wanting to dismantle the democratic system and/or impose Islamic Sharia law on the country.

The claim that Erdoğan might represent a threat to democracy and to secular law probably has some validity over the long term. But more importantly, this reaction of the secular elements of society illustrates that Turkey might have a democratic political system, but it is certainly *not* a pluralistic society that practices democracy. Democracy was forced onto Turkey by the founder of the modern Turkish state, Ataturk. Ataturk never encouraged his new Turkish nation to accept other types of people or political ideas (see further: Armenians, Greeks, Kurds, Alevis etc.) since that would have undermined the emergence of the new secular, western oriented Turkish state for ethnic-Turkish people. Thanks to the lack of military intervention over the last seven years possibly due to pressures by the EU, Turkish democracy has finally matured to the point that there is more than one democratically legitimate political approach for the nation.

Unfortunately, Turkish society is not yet ready to accept the idea that democracy can serve as a vehicle for *co-existing* social views or political opinions in a single society. Whether one is a religious conservative or an ardent secularist, the Turkish people still tend to maintain the "all or nothing" mentality, which was originally instilled in them by Ataturk. I very much doubt that Turkey will organically evolve into a society that maintains a certain level of self-awareness regarding the values of pluralism. Perhaps the only hope for this, if it is in fact pluralism is important or relevant for Turkey, is through the continuation of the stick and carrot strategy utilized by the EU.

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