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Democracy unveiled Democracy unveiled
by Thanos Kalamidas
2007-08-30 07:20:42
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Who makes more sense: a president with a wife that covers her head with a veil due to her faith, or a president who often talks with god and this god told him to invade a country? I presume the answer is quite simple and to unveil the protagonists the new president of Turkey Abdullah Gul is the president with the faithful wife and President George W. Bush often speaks with God about his plans on the war against terror.

It is only days, since I made a comment on an article written by Mr. Emanuel Paparella for Ovi magazine and I was wondering about the meaning of democracy nowadays - I have to admit that lately with everything that's happening in the Middle East and Iraq I have often asked the same question. The presidential elections in Turkey, with a little help from the international media, gave me the chance I was looking for.

The most common headline for all the media around the world coming to the Turkish presidential election has been for a long time: democracy with a veil. I have to admit I don’t get it. Apart from what we often read about the western-style democracy, the Islamic style of democracy, the American democracy, the African democracy and here is me who literally understands the meaning of the word 'democracy' - being Greek helps – and wondering what they are talking about.

'Democracy' is a Greek word from 'demokratia' and it is the combination of two words, 'demos' (dimos) means 'the public' and the word 'kratia' means 'hold, rules'. So democracy is a political system where the public holds the power, rules. There are different types of democracy but all of them are representative democracies where the republic has the right and obligation every so many years to elect the people who will represent them.

They represent them and, to an extent, rule and control the country by governing, legislating, monitoring and checking the government. In a democracy nobody is there forever, even George W. Bush, despite his conversations with God and his belief for the inerrable knowledge that after a year he will be replaced most likely from the opposition. That’s democracy.

Who elected AKP as the first party with democratic elections in Turkey? The people, the republic and this republic’s representatives elected Mr. Gul as the country’s president; since when has this become a controversy or raised suspicion? George W. Bush is a good Christian, goes often to the church and prays before every invasion that costs thousands of innocent lives. Democracy from definition is secular. It is a major obligation for every democratic state to take care for the prosperity of its citizens without any dissociation between faiths, beliefs, color, hairstyle or whatever else and in every democratic country this is constituently guaranteed.

Mr. Erdogan, the Turkish prime minister, very correctly said a few weeks ago that in Europe there are Christian democratic parties so in the same sense there can exist a Muslim Democratic party. That’s tolerance! Isn’t it hypocrisy from one side to ask Turkey to act as a democracy and, at the same time, criticize them for something we find …suspicious?

But this is again another major theme. How do we understand this tolerance? After 9-11 the evil grew a long beard and found a religious faith, and very correctly most of the countries and their government emphasized that we should never confuse the acts of a minority with a religion and its beliefs. A lot of times the same governments emphasized that the holy book of the Islam, the Quran, preaches and demands peace and also friendship. So how can they contradict their own words by questioning Mr. Gul’s election to the highest post of the Turkish republic?

The EU, USA and the UN often ask for democracy from all the countries and in extension they ask them to respect human rights that exist in these democracies, still the very same institutions rejected the Palestinians elected government showing wrongly that we want you to have democracy but only with the people we like. That’s hypocrisy and highlights the fact that we have a lot of work to do with what we think democracy is. Does anybody think that the whole globe has enjoyed George W. Bush’s era? During his times I felt more worried than I did during Ronald Reagan’s era when the threat of a nuclear war was almost daily.

Turkey has a long and hard way to democracy and before we start talking about the headscarf of Ms. Gul we should talk about equality and women’s’ rights in Turkish society; we should talk about a society where in some parts women don’t have the right to have opinion and our obligation is to help a country that makes those insecure steps in the right direction to make them the right way.

We shouldn't be wasting our time on something that is guaranteed from democracy, which is the freedom to express yourself as you want so long as you don’t endanger or threaten anybody and, in Turkey’s case, the only ones who are scared of Ms Gul’s headscarf are the ones who represent the worst enemies of democracy: the generals and the nationalistic right.

    
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Emanuel Paparella2007-08-30 13:36:52
To pick up on the last thought of your interesting article, Mr. Kalamidas, the paradox is that it is exactly the generals and not the secular liberal politicians who have proclaimed themselves the guarantors of secularism in Turkey, a secularism which most Westerners believe is integral part of democracy. But then, as you imply above, a forced democracy on the people by generals is no democracy either. So we seem to have a Gordian knot of sort at hand. In Turkey most European politicians wish to see a genuine democracy worthy of joining the EU and therefore one that keeps a clear separation between Mosque and State, not unlike what obtains in the US and most of Europe between church and state. Some right-wing politicians are bent on keeping Turkey out of the EU because they consider Europe a Christian continent In effect Christianity has been reduced to a club or sort, and what is a club unless one can exclude the undesirables? In Europe people get upset when Muslims buy empty churches in order to transform them into mosques. That reaction has precious little to do with Robert Shuman’s statement that he never felt so European as when he entered a cathedral anywhere in Europe. Perhaps it has more to do with an intuition: that those who honor and believe in their tradition and heritage and live by it may ultimately win culturally what they could not win on the battlefield. (continued below)


Emanuel Paparella2007-08-30 13:37:53
Ultimately one could envisage a St. Peter’s basilica in Rome turned into a mosque, or perhaps a museum a la Hagia Sophia. On the other hand, while resenting the transformation of churches into mosques some eighty per cent of Europeans do not practice their faith and a good number of them have in fact no faith, they simply want to belong to the club. Some practice religion as a support system and a crutch of sort; another distortion of what religion is all about. Another paradox?
So how does one cut this Gordian knot? Certainly not with a general’s sword. The best way to cut it is with freedom of speech complemented by freedom of religion. As already mentioned, to impose religion is to make religion a cult or an ideology. On the other hand, to liquidate religion and impose atheism is also reprehensible exactly because it is not very tolerant or democratic. Unlike Plato who was skeptical of mob rule parading as democracy, Vico coined a phrase for the rule of the people: “the common sense of the people.” Most of the time, in a polity of the people, for the people, of the people, common sense belongs to the people, not the politicians. But that’s another issue that remains to be debated in this forum.


Asa2007-08-30 17:51:10
Insightful article, Mr T.

One of your best for a while.


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