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The Express Tribune

Published Date: Jun 11, 2013

Turkish protests: ‘Islam versus secularism not the root cause of all problems’

The
ongoing protests in Turkey should not be termed as a confrontation between
Islam and secularism because the reasons for these protests are tied to a
complex set of national issues, speakers at a discussion said on Monday.

The
intellectual discussion, titled "Turkish Spring, Iranian Winter?" was organised
by the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) and focused largely on
the widespread protests which were sparked by the planned remodelling of
Istanbul’s Teksim Gezi park.The speakers also discussed the protest’s
implications on Pakistan-Turkey relations.

Raza
Naeem, a social scientist and literary critic who visited Turkey in 2012,
started his presentation with a brief biography of the famous Turkish poet
Nazim Hikmet. Naeem said it was a beautiful coincidence that the protests had
begun just days before the 50th anniversary of the revolutionary poet, which
fell on June 3.

Naeem
offered a left-wing analysis of the Turkish situation, referring to Prime
Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has been the target of protesting hordes and
whose government has used brute force to disperse them.

He
said Erdogan had built up support by developing a new bourgeois class and by
implementing populist social reforms in the health and education sectors.

Naeem
added that Erdogan had tried to depoliticise the country’s youth and enforce
neoliberal policies. His adventurous foreign policy in Syria and repression
against Kurdish political prisoners had increased his authoritarian traits over
time, he said.

Naeem
said the roots of social conservatism preached by the ruling Justice and
Development Party — known by its Turkish acronym, AKP — can be traced back to
the 1980 military coup which paved the way for right-wing parties to enter
mainstream politics. He warned against a shift in the civil-military balance if
the protests were interpreted in an oversimplified manner.

"I
hope better sense prevails," Naeem said. "I fear that if the Western press
keeps harping on about Islam versus secularism in Turkey, it might give the
military an excuse to step in and end democratic rule."

Former
diplomat Tariq Hyder read from a recently published article he had written on
the protests in a Pakistani context. Hyder said the Turkish dilemma centred on
the interplay between different concepts of modern Turkish identity, religion’s
place in society and the degree of tolerance for dissent. He praised Erdogan
for rejuvenating Turkey’s depressed economy but said the prime minister should
not underestimate the protesters and reach out to them.

He
said Erdogan’s vision of a strong Turkey-Pakistan partnership was also
relevant. The AKP government would like Pakistan to use its geostrategic location
to its advantage, balance its civil-military relationship and normalise
relationships with its neighbours, said Hyder.

But
Hyder insisted that the onus lay on Pakistan to change the relationship from
that of a "quasi donor-recipient” to one of “strategic partnership."

SDPI
Chairperson Shafqat Kakakhel was of the opinion that the Turkish protests bore
a closer resemblance to riots witnessed in London, Paris, Athens and Sweden
than the ones that occurred during the Arab spring.