Abdullah Gul is almost certain to be the next President of Turkey. Gul’s Islamist past however is causing great consternation among Turkish secularists. They had rallied impressive public dissent that ultimately failed in the face of democracy. The defeat has further caused the secularists distress. I however believe Turkish secularists are worrying too much and harping on ridiculous issues. They are several reasons why that is so.
First and foremost is Turkey’s eagerness to join the European Union. While there are opposition to Turkey’s accession into the regional grouping, there are those that would look forward to sit together with Turkey as equal in the EU. The fact that Turkey is a secular country is one of few factors that enable such support to exist. As long as Turkey aspires to become part of EU, there is a strong reason to believe that Gul, a firm EU supporter, will work to keep Turkey secular.
Gul himself has been instrumental in booting fundamentalists and attracting moderates, as mentioned by an article at The Economist:
Mr Gul says that, as president, he will reach out to all Turks and that he will remain loyal to the secular tenets of the constitution. His four years as foreign minister leave little room for doubt. He was the driving force behind the many reforms that persuaded European Union leaders to open long delayed membership talks with Turkey in 2005. And it was Mr Gul who engineered the defection of fellow moderates from the overtly Islamist Welfare Party which was bullied out of office by the generals in 1997. [Ready to take office. The Economist. August 21 2007]
This shows that Gul is flexible and accommodating. Furthermore, Gul has promised his critics that he will adhere to the tenets of Turkish secularism:
Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul has pledged to protect and strengthen the country’s secular principles if he succeeds in a fresh presidential bid. [Turkey's Gul vows secular agenda. BBC News. August 14 2007]
While I do not subscribe to Turkish secularism due to its statism as well as illiberalness, that should be of some value and comfort to local secularists.
And then, there is issue surrounding the attire of Abdullah Gul’s wife. Turkish secularists are harping at the fact the she wears Islamic headscarf but surely, such issue is too silly to be a major reason why Gul should not be the President of Turkey. While Turkey does have a law against the wearing of such headscarf at civic spaces, it is not Gul himself that is wearing that headscarf. What the secularists are doing is really a logical fallacy: guilt by association. Most of all, I fail to see how his wife’s attire could affect his ability to function as the President of Turkey.
What the secularists should do now is to fully support Turkey’s accession into the EU. Through this, the secularists could hold AKP, the party which Gul is a member, at ransom.
And for many liberals like me, Turkish accession into EU is the ticket to liberalize Turkey away from its narrow nationalistic sentiment. AKP, despite being cited as an Islamist party, is already embarking into that direction. On top of that, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has tried hard to throw away its Islamist image, favoring a more centrist one instead. Under him, AKP has been concentrating on democratic and economic reform rather than on suffocating Islamist agenda.
In any case, AKP has marched forward farther towards liberalism than any secularist party in Turkey had. Therefore, if I were a Turk, I would be happy with AKP; that is especially so with a healthly economy.