Panelists discuss democracy in Turkey

Christine Park, Staff Writer

In light of recent protests in Turkey and the election of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, experts discussed democracy in the Islamic country at a panel titled Turkey Under Erdoğan: Is it Still a Model of “Islamic Democracy?”

Mustapha Tlili, director of the NYU Center for Dialogues, moderated the event, which was held Nov. 12 in NYU’s Casa Italiana. The discussion featured President of the Alliance for Shared Values Y. Alp Aslandogan, SUNY Maritime College professor Mark Meirowitz and Georgetown professor Fathali Moghaddam.

The speakers shared their views and knowledge on the ambiguity of Turkey’s current political stance on its regards to Islamic democracy.

Tlili said he would like this panel to be a space to share valuable and uncensored opinions.

“Sometimes newspapers and general media present things in black and white without really asking deeper questions,” Tlili said. “This is an opportunity for scholars to debate issues from a very liberal perspective and see where the debate leads in hope that each time we tackle this issue, we learn something new.”

Though Turkey is a democratic republic, it is criticized for its authoritarian tendencies. Yet Moghaddam countered these claims.

“All societies begin as dictatorships,” Moghadam said. “This includes western societies, this includes Islamic societies. Some societies may have moved towards democracy. My claim would be that we don’t have full democracy. For the moment the United States certainly is not a full democracy.”

Aslandogan discussed the public’s opinion on whether Islamic law should be the basis of policy decisions in the Turkish government.

“The default understanding when we talk about politics in Istanbul is an understanding, is a vision, where government adheres to respect or implements some form of so-called Islamic law,” Aslandogan said. “Of course there are scholars that contradict Islamic law but that is the default understanding.”

He said the majority of the Turkish public does not approve of Islamic law as the basis of governance.

“There is very little support for it in Turkey, and in majority of the Islamic countries,” Aslandogan said. “Only 9 percent of Turkish respondents said it should be the only source.”

Panelists also discussed the tension between the Turkish government and the Kurds and the crisis in Iraq and Syria.

SPS graduate student Safiye Embel said events like this panel should take place more often because they allow students and others interested in similar issues to exchange valuable information.

“I think it’s really important that we bring these kinds of speakers on campus, and it was a very diverse,” Embel said.

A version of this article appeared in the Thursday, Nov. 13 print edition. Email Christine Park at [email protected].