Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Is Turkey Too Chicken for Religious Freedom?

It seems as though all the politics Americans care about that goes on in the Middle East is about oil or war.  Tension between American and Iranian leaders has pushed another important issue out of international news, going on in a different Persian nation.  

For those of who don't know, Turkish politics is a unique blend of European and Middle Eastern.  Though the ruling party (the AK Party) is in control of the parliament and has the PM seat, which it won in a landslide victory in the last election, the courts and army are largely secular.

The issue now is one of the display of religion in public places.  The fiercely secular wing of the government has been adamant in its support of the headscarf ban.  Seeking to distance itself from the religion-controlled governments of the surrounding region, Turkey is probably hoping to impress the EU, which it is currently seeking to join.  

However, the AK Party is notorious for its desire to ease the ban of tradition head scarves, which Muslim women wear.  Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, of the AK Party, in a recent decision by the Constitutional court of Turkey that he must dissolve his party, because acting against the ban is unconstitutional.

The problem is one of battling ideology.  The secular roots of the government wanted to ensure that Islamic fundamentalists could never take over the government, which has lead to global conflict and controversy in almost every other nation in which this has happened.  However, if Turkey wishes to present itself as a democracy, to the eyes of the world, it has to risk this in order to allow its people to have religious freedoms.

In America's own constitution, the freedom to practice religion and the separation of government from religion is a fundamental right.  Every American should feel free to display their religion without fear, in any place public or private.  

However, this fundamental right is missing in the otherwise free nation of Turkey.  To force a political party to self-destruct based on its core beliefs is a violation of everything a democracy should stand for.  

If the Turkish government goes fundamental because they granted religious freedom, which is unlikely anyway, then at least the world will know it was the people's choice.  This is a fundamental and essential part of any democracy.  
- Zachary Kurtz

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