When compared to other Islamic countries, the Islamist actors and movements in Turkey have created a different picture. It is possible to say that the majority of Islamist actors and movements in Turkey have patterned themselves on the Anglo-Saxon democracies since the establishment of Republic.
For instance, Ali Şükrü Bey, who was a member of parliament at the first assembly, opposed Mustafa Kemal in the strongest way and was later assassinated by him. He was a typical Islamist intellectual and politician. As far as his speeches in parliament and his editorials in Tan daily were concerned, the main issue for Ali Şükrü Bey was to consolidate democracy in Turkey and to establish individual rights and freedoms.
He was so influenced by the Anglo-Saxon regimes that he intermixed his articles and speeches with examples from his experiences he gained in the U.K. or quotations from such books as "Democracy in America". It is possible to say that, under the leadership of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) has not adopted a different line than that of Ali Şükrü Bey. Even during the establishment process of the AK Party, Erdoğan stated that they wanted to take a different political path to that of Necmettin Erbakan. Erdoğan proved with his actions and words that he had a different Islamic approach.
If we further go back in time, Istanbul, where Erdoğan was elected mayor from the Welfare Party, started to become a party zone during his mayoralty. At this point, I must say that in his article titled "A grand bargain between Turkey and the Kurds," David L. Philips noted that, Erdoğan banned alcohol during his mayoralty by setting a clear example of deception and ignorance.
I think that as foreign journalists, who nourish themselves from these resources, constitute the majority, it is very difficult to access a detailed analysis that tells the truths. Particularly in recent times, although the number of public houses and alcohol consumption have risen during Erdoğan's tenure, a number of articles that frequently denominate Erdoğan as "Islamist" are being published in foreign newspapers.
During Erdoğan's incumbency, abortion has been taken into the scope of social insurance and has been turned into a procedure in which the state pays the price if the person wants it.
During Erdoğan's prime ministry, non-Muslim foundations, which were confiscated by the Republican People's Party (CHP), were returned to their owners. The number of Cemevis that have been opened across the county has seen a boom. Turkish LGBT groups founded their associations and demonstrated the biggest pride parade in the history of Turkey on the second day of Ramadan.
During his visit to Arab countries such as Egypt and Tunisia, Erdoğan highlighted that secularism was an important and essential principle of the state government.
At a conference which was attended by a huge audience a few days ago, Erdoğan announced his vision document about how he will administrate the country as a president. A number of celebrities including Hande Yener, who is known for her revealing dresses and called the "Lady Gaga of Turkey," and Bülent Ersoy, who is a prominent transsexual singer, also participated in the meeting. It was obvious that they felt no oppression against their lifestyles.
And here are a few lines quoted from Erdoğan's vision document: "Just as the government cannot predominate over religion, the religious communities cannot predominate over the states and other religious groups. The task of the government is to guarantee the freedoms of institutions and nongovernmental organizations that are established and maintained by religions and beliefs."
Calling Erdoğan Islamist and lingering on this may be a short cut that does not need much deliberation; but it is obvious that it will not let you see the overall picture.
About the author
Hilal Kaplan is a journalist and columnist. Kaplan is also board member of TRT, the national public broadcaster of Turkey.