The Corner

‘Mildly Islamist’

Here’s a useful account in the Guardian of at least some of the opposition to the “mildly Islamist” (per The Economist) Recep Tayyip Erdogan:

For the protesters who have taken part in Turkey’s anti-government demonstrations, Ataturk is a hero. Dead for 75 years, he has become the reborn symbol of this student-driven anti-Erdogan movement. ..

The symbolism goes to the heart of what this unprecedented uprising is about: Turkey’s modern identity. At issue is whether Turkey should be the progressive, secular European nation-state that Ataturk originally envisaged and shaped from the ruins of the Ottoman empire, or a more explicitly religious country, a sort of Muslim version of Christian democracy. The protesters want the former; Erdogan, and his ruling Islamist-rooted Justice and Development party (AKP), it appears, the latter.

What has infuriated protesters is what they perceive as Erdogan’s clunking attempts to impose his Islamic values on everyone else…

Many also sense a creeping campaign to undermine Ataturk himself. Traditionally girls and boys would celebrate Ataturk day, 19 May, by dancing and singing in stadiums around the country. In 2012 Erdogan ditched the ceremony, saying no one wanted to see girls prance around in skimpy skirts. Then last week Erdogan defended his anti-alcohol legislation by obliquely calling Ataturk and his closest ally, Ismet Inonu, a couple of “drunkards”….

Analysts say that Erdogan’s neo-Islamist legislative project has backfired. “He [Erdogan] will never manage to control civil society. It’s completely empowered now,” said Cengiz Aktar, professor of political science at Istanbul’s Bahcesehir University. “To some extent this is re-Islamisation. Erdogan is a devout Muslim. But more than that he is a social engineer. He has a very high opinion of his own values, which happen to be Islamic values.”

According to Aktar, Erdogan decided to undermine the Ataturk reforms after winning a whopping majority in the 2011 parliamentary elections, his third election victory. “Political Islam always taught, and sometimes rightly so, that Muslims were a majority in this country, especially Sunni believers. Kemalist power de-legitimised them. That’s the fundamental paradigm. They [Erdogan and his supporters] started to challenge that.”

Critics believe that the plans for the square amount to a further assault on Ataturk and his historical legacy. On Friday, Erdogan said he wanted to demolish the Ataturk cultural centre – a modernist building on Taksim’s north side, which he says is not “earthquake-proof” – and replace it with a baroque opera house.

Most controversially, Erdogan wants to raze Gezi Park and rebuild the Ottoman military barracks that used to be there. The barracks were the site of a 1909 attempt by the Ottoman sultan Abdul Hamid II to stop the liberal reforms that eventually led to Ataturk’s modern republic. Erdogan has also named Istanbul’s “third bridge”, linking Europe and Asia, after an Ottoman despot who slaughtered tens of thousands of Alevis, Kurds and Turkmens back in the 16th century….

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