Reliving the Ottoman Legacy by Dr Mohammad Manzoor Alam (May 27, 2016)

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Dr Mohammad Manzoor Alam
Chairman, Institute of Objective Studies, New Delhi (India)

After a couple of recent visits to Turkey, I have come to the firm conclusion that the country is reliving its grand Ottoman legacy under the leadership of Recep Tayyip Erdogan with its economic growth, conservative democracy, religious tolerance, national reconciliation and international peace, and solidarity with the oppressed. This, to me, is the gist of Erdogan vision. I would like to talk about it in simple terms, without recourse to too much statistics or extensive quotes.

President Erdogan’s Justice and Development party has fostered a vibrant culture of entrepreneurship, business innovation, industriousness and economic growth. The Anatolyan heartland today pulsates with thousands of new businesses that are evocatively called “Anatolyan tigers”.

The country could withstand the global economic devastation of 2008 without much damage. As the dominos of West Asia fell after the Arab Spring, and the heroes that emerged were soon demolished in turn, Turkey remained steady. The most visible achievement on the economic front is its control over rampant inflation.

Turkey has a per capita GDP of $ 10,482, which in PPP terms works out to $19,610. The growth rate is 4 percent per year, which between 2002 and 2012 was an average of 5.2 percent per year.

The government has been able to lower inflation from 30 percent in 2002 to 5 percent now. The rate of unemployment in 2013 was 9 percent, compared favourably to Spain (25.9 percent), France (10.8 percent) and Italy (12.7 percent). Among 50 well to do countries it stands 17th. That is no mean achievement.

Unlike different versions of democracy in other Muslim countries, the polity here does not call itself Islamic democracy or by other religious denominational nomenclature. The rule of Justice and Development Party defines itself as “conservative democracy” evoking some qualities of the British conservative system or its equivalent America’s Republican politics. Whether, beyond this image evoked by this term there is some substance similar to the UK and US conservatism is yet to be understood.

That this member of North Atlantic Treaty Organisation is not out of step with the United States and European Union is clear from policies on Iran, Saudi Arabia and Syria. Its request for EU membership is under consideration for the last five decades. However, its rating has gown and it is at a closer stage of European integration.

There is often an attempt by the Turkish leadership not to define itself too closely as an Islamic entity or as the successor state of Ottoman Turkey. However, it does not run away from its largely Islamic heritage either. President Erdogan’s association with men like Rashid Ghanoushi, Mohammad Morsi and Khalid Mashal worries some people endlessly.

However, the fact remains that the Turkish leadership has always advised caution and restraint to Muslim leaders. When President Morsi was in his last days of power, international media said the Turkish leadership did not agree with his unilateral alterations in Egyptian Constitution, without reference to parliament or the Egyptian people. President Erdogan had advised him caution. Ignoring that advice turned out to be costly.

The Turkish leadership, which sees itself as a force for moderation, peace and security in the region, also disturbs Islamophobes with its long association with Muslim Brotherhood. Despite their association, the Turkish leadership has matured in democratic ways and thus does not threaten others, while the less sophisticated style of the Brotherhood looks menacing to opponents.

Despite the democratic, Western-style refinement, it does not shy away from its Ottoman heritage, or the Islamic religio-cultural affinities of its majority. It has been the only close Muslim ally of Israel. However, it had the moral courage to tell Israel at Davos that it had to stop pulverising the Palestinians. Close to my home, India, the Turkish prime minister and his wife came with a plainload of relief material to the oppressed Rohingyas of Myanmar, consoled them and told the host government to stop persecution. No other leadership would have done it as saving persecuted Muslims would have branded them as pro-Muslim. All this needs courage of conviction.

Turkey remains a beacon of light for peace and security in West Asia.

That the contemporary Turkey is a force for moderation, religious toleration, national reconciliation and international peace is commonly known. With President Erdogan the attempts at internal reconciliation with Kurds has grown. Islam being common to both, the divergent ethnic dimension has been blunted even though some people who do not like attempts at rapproachment are stepping up terror attacks.

The same holds true for reconciliation attempts with the old rival Greece and accommodation in Cyprus. These are some clear achievements on the international front.

All said and done, Turkey remains as neutral in other people’s religious affairs as the Quran demands: “There is no compulsion in religion”. This stance is a continuity from earliest Ottoman days when they did not interfere with people’s faith in the vast empire, and are lauded for that till date.

That acceptance of religious pluralism continues even though President Erdogan sometimes sees Turkey as a model for the rest of the Muslim world. On June 12, 2011 he said in his victory speech: “Sarajevo won today as much as Istanbul. Beirut won as much as Izmir. Damascus won as much as Ankara. Ramallah, Nablus, Jenin, the West Bank, Jerusalem won as much as Diyarbakir”.

To him a Muslim identity is not inconsistent with world brotherhood.

Let me declare

President Erdogan is a man of vision and immense capability for statesmanship. Every visionary and statesman has to face huge challenges. The president has to strike a balance

a) between high economic growth rate and distributive justice
b) between ethics of disagreement and constructive engagement
c) between higher education (علم نافع), illiteracy and ignorance; and
d) the utilisation of optimum capacity of women on the basis of equality for making an ideal society in the world.

Let me make a statement

A task without a vision is drudgery,
A vision without a task is a dream,
A vision with a task is but the hope of the world

Let us hope President Erdogan succeeds in his vision and mission of making a role model for humane society in the world.

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