Turkey PM: Storm in the tea cup – Has political Islam failed?

June 8, 2013 by  
Filed under newsletter-world

A barricade set up by protesters on Taksim SquareTurkey, June 07, 2013: The crowd was shouting as it opened the beer cans. They were celebrating the marching out of the police who had orders to beat a retreat.

The venue was Taksim Square in Istanbul, Turkey. Tayyip was the name of their Prime Minister of more than ten years, who had very recently proposed curbs on the advertisement and sale of alcohol. But they said, the protest was directed against the bulldozing of trees at Taksim Square. The mob cheered and jeered with the beer cans. But the protests soon turned violent and there were reports of arson ,injuries and arrests with accusations of Turkish police being excessively harsh in the first few days of the protest. The gory images spread like wild fire on the internet and the western media jumped the gun asking Has political Islam failed Turkey? The issue was local or say municipal and the protesters didn’t seem to just protest what they claimed to. It was said they were protesting against the building of a shopping mall at Taksim Square which would reduce the size of the green space at Turkey’s largest square.

You can’t deprive us of our oxygen, they said.

One can’t agree more. These protests which began in what seems in right earnest against a development project at Taksim Square , Istanbul , soon morphed into nationwide demonstrations against the AK Party government on the first of June. Tayyip Erdogan had emerged as world Muslim leader, bravely pronouncing things which we were itching to hear, since ages , from our Arab friends. We knew he had arrived when his minister was seen among Myanmar Muslims and when his wife held the hands of a wailing Myanmari Muslimah.

A fact finder says that the decision for implementing the Taksim Gezi Park Project at Taksim was made by the municipality several months ago. AK Party had announced the project at the 2011 elections. This project consists of the expansion of the pedestrian roads and the rebuilding of an old military barrack called Topcu Kislasi. The Topcu Kislasi was constructed in 1780 and remained there for a long time , till 1940 when the mayor of the city ordered its demolition. PM Tayyip Erdogan has repeatedly said that there are no plans to build a shopping mall there. The interesting thing which exposes the demonstrations, is that this new project would not decrease but increase the green space at the Taksim Square. The plan is to reserve the whole area of this largest square in Turkey for pedestrians. [ How greener could one get than this ?] The automobile traffic is proposed to be taken underground and there would be really fresh air to breathe deep, for the cheerers who gulp down the beers and hold kissing competitions there, just to mock the conservative views of Team Tayyip. A decision made at the municipal level has turned into a national political issue overnight.

The amount of coverage Taksim Square protests have drawn , from the world media is astonishing . It was raining Turkeys everywhere which soon were discovered to be cold ones. But the true anti climax, were those red flags waving in the hands of the protesters. The communists had come calling!

This issue based opposition with a particularized interest group converting into a national issue is interesting. It was manipulated into making it an ideological opposition against the AK Party rule and PM Tayyip Erdogan, without a specific purpose and legitimate goal and demand. The protesters were neatly divided into two groups, the first one consisting of people from diverse backgrounds, who sincerely wanted to halt the project and the second one of leftists, Marxist-Leninist and neo nationalist groups whose one point agenda is to oppose Tayyip Erdogon, tooth and nail to see his conservative ideology turn to dust.

What concerns is the inclusion of ill famed radical groups as TKP [Turkey Communist Party] and the outlawed leftist organization DHKPC, among the demonstrators, which carried out the attack on the US Embassy on February I , 2013. The second group as such are not the forces of democracy, these people in the past have supported violence and military coups, have opposed the peaceful solution of the Kurdish problem, and more dangerously refused to acknowledge , the rights of non Muslim religious minorities in Turkey. Not only do they support a crude form of Turkish nationalism but also oppose freedom of speech and religion. PM Erdogan in his Sunday speech clearly discerned between these two groups and supported people’s right to protest in a peaceful way.

The first group is a disgruntled one, sulking after the successive wins of the AK Party at the elections and is miffed about a few of his policies like regulating the purchase of alcohol. The government officials are reaching out to this specific group for addressing their concerns. The second group is like that enfant terrible, who wants to have his way, any which way. It is this second group which is embroiled in violent clashes with the police and has attacked public buildings, police cars, private shops, media buses and other places . When conventional methods to deal with the violent mobs failed , the police resorted to tear gas. But PM Erdogan severely criticized the excessive use of it in Istanbul and Ankara and an investigation into it has been ordered by the interior ministry. On Saturday June I, the first day of the protest the police were asked to retreat from the Taksim square. But the violent mobs have been prevented from attacking the PM’s office and other ministerial buildings.

The Western media went haywire as usual perhaps as the issue was of the alleged failure of the political Islam in a European Muslim country. Amnesty International brought out the report of two protesters being killed . They however had to apologize soon after for their false report on June 2 , and said they should not have published it without verification, from the authorities. Turkish main media was late in capturing the protest and was busy telecasting a Penguin documentary, in the initial days but soon enough it got the story. A lot of misinformation and false propaganda against the Turkish government generally and PM Tayyip Erdogan especially, can be discerned since the beginning of this movement.

Tayyip’s fast emerging front role as a World Muslim leader might have ruffled a few feathers. Whispers allege that the presence of some behind the scene players could be felt – like Syria, Iran and Hizbollah and some other Arab countries. They might have seen a good opportunity to malign Tayyip in this Storm in the Tea Cup Turkey Turmoil. While Tayyip ‘s rhetorics haven’t helped the smouldering situation, he has turned the once crisis ridden economy into a growing one with trade and foreign investment increasing. He is also known as a conservative who has spoken for control on alcohol sale and ads, adult content on TV, and public display of affection by the young couples.

Orhan Pamuk the world renowned novelist and the first Turkish person to receive a Nobel prize, in his column for The New Yorker comments – Making such significant changes to a square and a park that cradle the memories of millions without consulting the people of Istanbul first was a grave mistake by the Erdogan administration. This insensitive attitude clearly reflects the government’s drift towards authoritarianism. He does not forget to add that Turkey’s human-rights record is now worse than it has been in a decade but happy that his people are fearless enough to put up a fight for the green cause.

Since the Syrian conflict, the nomenclature Arab Spring has turned a bit mordant. Turkey is a vibrant democracy, hence calling the protests a spring is preposterous. The AK Party of PM Erdogan Tayyip, so vehemently targeted today from some quarters, had won with one of the most enviable margins of 50 % and with 80% of population taking part in the elections. With fingers crossed, the world too is divided into two groups now – one who wants to see Tayyip fail in his political Islam and the other who is mumbling.

– asma anjum khan / tcn

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