It’s become an article of faith among some conservatives that Islam is, always and forever, an aggressive, threatening, dangerous faith.
And it’s true that there are aspects of Islam that are giving large swathes of the world headaches (I’m a master of understatement) right about now.
Of course, those critics ignore the broad swathes of the planet where Muslims coexist just fine with the rest of the world. India, Indonesia, Bosnia, Senegal are all places where Islam is not synonymous with unrest, extremism and anger.
And now, Turkey – a majority Muslim country which many in the west had seen as sliding into the Wahhabi fold in recent years – has staved off the Islamists under Recep Erdogan, dishing out serious electoral losses to his Islamist party and forcing him to moderate is once-concerning rhetoric.
It appears Turkey’s experienced voters, the beneficiaries of Ataturk’s vision, gave a would-be strongman a lesson.
Erdogan began as a reformer pursuing free market economic reforms and battling corruption. For a decade (roughly 2003-13), Turkey’s economy grew. He was popular. However, he also used his single-party majority to collect and solidify power for himself and his close supporters.
At times, the reform mask fell, revealing a bully with a penchant for jailing critical journalists and using highly questionable prosecutorial tactics to jail respected senior army officers on vague charges of terrorism.
Erdogan was on the verge of becoming Turkey’s biggest political problem, which is why his loss of majority control has enormous implications.
He sought a two-thirds AKP parliamentary majority. He then could have amended the constitution and imposed a powerful presidency on the political system. Opposition parties feared Erdogan’s goal was imposing by insidious osmosis — “rule by the big man’s whim” — for who would have become this empowered super-president bossing a less democratic and ever-more majoritarian government? Why, the fellow whom critics refer to as Sultan Recep. Prior to the June 7 election, the AKP had 327 seats in Parliament. Based on the most recent count, it now holds 258, far short of two-thirds. Single-party government control in Turkey requires 276 seats.
Erdogan had his positive aspects; he was an economic conservative, by European standards, and Turkey’s economy showed it.
But his drive toward being an Islamist strongman was justly concerning, as was any traction he gained among Turkish voters…
…which, it seems, may have turned.
The lesson for right now? Islam and secular democracy can coexist, although there are tensions.
Just like in any other democracy.