By Robert Mann
I’m leaving this afternoon for Istanbul. Perhaps it’s not the best time to dive back into Turkey, with all the protests and turmoil. But it’s also a grand time to visit a country — when it’s struggling with the transition to democracy.
Turkey is far more democratic than many countries in that region and, for a time, it’s been held up the model of a Muslim country that embraces democracy.
This is my fifth trip there in as many years, and I can say that the Turkish people I’ve met and come to know — most of them devout Muslims — are deeply committed to democracy and pluralism.
They are happy that their economy is booming. They are delighted by the many freedoms they now enjoy. They are grateful that the current government headed by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has enabled them to freely express their faith, i.e., women wearing headscarves. (Imagine if, in the United States, it had been illegal for citizens to wear a cross around their necks when entering a public building or in a school.)
For the first time, Turks are experiencing prosperity and freedoms they didn’t have.
But the question I have for my friends in Istanbul and in the other cities I’ll visit is this: Are you willing to really embrace full democracy? If you are, it will be messy (freedom of speech and the press isn’t always pleasant), but it will also be worth it.
Right now, I have the sense that many Turks who support Erdogan are deeply fearful that the protests around the country, but centered in Istanbul’s Taksim Square, threaten their democracy. And they might have good reason to fear this unrest. In the past, it’s usually been just the excuse the military needed to rush in and overthrow the government.
That hasn’t happened this time. But it doesn’t mean that many Turks aren’t fearful that what they’ve fought for and achieved could be taken away in the midst of the turmoil.
That’s my take based on what I know and what I’ve read. I’m eager to see things firsthand.
It’s a fascinating country, and there’s quite a bit at stake there now — the very future of democracy in a very important part of the world, involving a very important U.S. ally.
I’ll do my best to report in from time to time over the next ten days to tell you what I’m seeing and learning.
- Erdogan Calls Protests a Conspiracy, Vows to Strengthen Police (louisdubois55.wordpress.com)
- Turkey’s struggle is about class (praguepost.com)
- Europe must condemn Erdoğan, but without hubris or illusions | Timothy Garton Ash (guardian.co.uk)
- Turkey on the Brink (strikemagazine.co.uk)
- Turkey unrest is a reflection of a maturing democracy: Siddiqui (thestar.com)
- Five things you should know about Turkey and the Istanbul protests (telegraph.co.uk)
- Turkey threatens to crack down on social media ‘agitators’ (thetimes.co.uk)