Belief in Democracy 5/8

Views of people from Turkey and Holland on statements made by Newsweek journalist Fareed Zakaria, Turkish president Abdullah Gül and prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in the Dutch VPRO documentary ‘Turkije – Het Dilemma van de Democratie’: ‘Turkey – the dilemma of democracy’ that was broadcast on 8th of October. Daily at Sargasso from October 5th until October 12th, at 13.00h (Amsterdam time, 14.00h Istanbul time). This blogging project is part of the Dutch democracy week WijZijnDeBaas (WeAreTheBoss): the Dutch contribution to the International Week for Democracy. More information here.

The problem is not religion. It is the social-political context in which the religion exists. You can’t change the religion, but you cán change the social-political context. It becomes a very hostile relationship with the 1.2 billion Muslims to tell them: the problem is your religion….

Fareed Zakaria,
Newsweek journalist


Emre Kizilkaya | The Istanbulian
turkish journalist, Hürriyet newspaper, blogger.

“As long as the question is wrong, there is no way to answer it correctly. Islam is a religion and one of its main principles suggests that “the religion is between the God and His subject.” Another significant Islamic principle (from Quran) says that “your religion is for yourself and my religion is for myself.” So Islam is something personal, but Democracy is a form of government, which is public. They are not mutually exclusive, but they are irrelevant. In these circumstances, associating the democracy with Islam is harming both of them. This errant trend gives power to political Islamists, who don’t care about harming both of these concepts in advantage of their personal interests. Because it’s easier to manipulate the public opinion by the power of the faith”.


Erkan Saka | Erkan’s field diary
blogger, thesis on Turkish journalism and the European Union, Ph.D candidate Anthropology at Rice University and instructor at the Public Relations Department of Istanbul Bilgi University.

“In theory, the EU enlargement policies have already made this question unnecessary. Obey the rules, i.e. Copenhagen Criteria, and join the Union. Interestingly, contemporary problematization of religious difference emerges within the EU. Islamic opposition to EU membership led by Necmettin Erbakan’s parties is a well known phenomena but AKP, whose origins go back to his parties, from the outset started a new route towards the EU. 4-5 years ago Turkish public opinion was dominantly pro-EU and I have not heard any challenge related to the religious difference in the public debates. However, Giscard d’Estaing’s notorious anti-Turkish statements, September 11 and many other related obstacles triggered the problematization of religious difference.”.


Haluk Direskeneli | Energy Newsletter Turkey
blogger, energy expert.

“I am sure that islam and democracy are very compatible, even it is for sure that early stages of islam history was completely in democratic administration.
Anyhow democracy and religion are two completely different issues to be kept completely apart from each other”.


Beatrice Vanni | Arabisto and Turkey & My Foreign Perspectives
blogger, lives in Turkey, and helps people gain visibility for their work and attract more clients through high-quality writing, editing and project development.

“I agree that religion should not interfere with a democracy and certainly one should not be told that a religion is contrary to democracy. Turkey stands as a good example how both Islam and democracy can co-exist and has for many years.
Additionally, if there are problems which interfere with democratic laws, then leaders must ask if it is due to the social or political context of that law or is it of religion. An evolving country should strive for not only educating the masses about democracy and what it offers, but give solid examples of how democracy supports freedom of their religious practice.
Blending the two through participation of the people at large should have a good result if the country truly wants a strong democracy yet one compatible with their religion”.


Christine Quirk | Quirk Global Strategies
blogger, expert in political campaign and communications, worked, traveled or studied in more than 50 countries around the world.

“I think Turkey is an excellent test case, not just because it is a functioning democracy, but also because it is modernizing its economy and improving governance. The problem in the Muslim world is not only the lack of democracy; it’s the corruption, the interference by western powers, the backwards economies and poor governance that frustrate the people and make them feel like they have nowhere to turn except for the parties who haven’t been in power, mucking things up for the past generation.
AKP brought legitimate political and economic accomplishments to the table. Turks affirmed them with their votes. I got the sense Turks were voting in favour of something, not just casting their votes in protest of something else. In how many other Muslim countries is that the case? Turks gave AKP permission to continue along the same path, within certain boundaries”.


Michael van der Galiën | The Gazette
blogger, frequent visitor of Turkey with interest in the politics and culture of the country, published columns in the Turkish Daily News and is correspondent in the Netherlands for Pajamas Media.

“This statement is partially correct: partially because, yes, the social-political context is important, partially incorrect because you can change a religion: it has been done in every religion including Christianity, Judaism and Islam”.


Hans A.H.C. de Wit | Internations Musings: Istanbul, Florence, Athens, Yerevan and Dubai | blogger, international communication manager, lives in Turkey, cross cultural specialist.

“Turkey has a hybrid regime. And with its secular system, this kind of democracy can survive. But from within the Islam there are too many groups who push Islam in the way of Shari law, which is by no means compatible with democracy. Turkey can be the living proof that Islam can deal with democracy, as long as they use the EU and its constitution and institutions as their guidance. The problem is not religion, the problem is a lack of democratic institutions in the Muslim world.”.


Ebru Umar |
Writer, columnist.

“Their breasts clearly visible in their blouses, they wear high heels under their bikini’s, their make-up and hair is impeccable and they have a superior and bored look in their eyes: Turkish girls. They are too lazy to put up a sun screen, however they do have an opinion on politics [..] The Turks are in a conflict with themselves: they don’t accept the inference of the army in politics because it isn’t democratic, but they are proud of the army as the guardian of the Western values. Without the army, this country would have changed into a second Iran, is their strong opinion. [..] I was an intern in Istanbul when in 1994 the current Prime Minister Erdogan was elected as the first publicly religious mayor of the city. The chaos and threat that arose became the support of the political Islam made a big impression on me. Since then political Islam has penetrated slowly but purposeful to the public life and the question is when it will stop. The AK party of Erdogan will certainly win the elections and will put Gül forward as president. [..] The chance that the army will tolerate this is small or even non-existent”. (Volkskrant July 20th 2007)


IJbrand van Veelen | VPRO Tegenlicht
Producer VPRO Tegenlicht

IJSBRAND VAN VEELEN (Tegenlicht-regisseur ‘Turkije – het dilemma van de democratie’)

(No translation yet)

‘Hebben wij ooit de vraag gesteld: ‘Gaan christendom en democratie wel samen’? En over welk christendom zouden we het dan hebben? Over bible belt-achtige christen-fundamentalisten of over mensen die vergeten zijn dat ze nog bij een kerkgenootschap staan ingeschreven? Kortom: islam en democratie in Turkije zijn van een wezenlijk andere orde dan islam en democratie in Iran of Egypte. Ik denk dat Zakaria gelijk heeft als hij stelt dat uiteindelijk de socio-politieke situatie bepalend is. Alleen, en daar schuilen allerlei adders onder het gras: als we spreken over het moderniseren van de socio-politieke situatie, over welke moderniseringen hebben we het dan? Dat deze vraag tot heftige discussies leidt is evident, maar laten we goed in de gaten houden dat dit een andere discussie is dan een discussie over het wezen van de godsdienst’.


Yusuf Altuntas |
Director Milli Görüs

(No translation yet)

‘Islam en democratie gaan hand in hand met elkaar. We zien dat moslims juist in Europa beter en vrijer hun religie kunnen belijden. Maar in meeste landen van herkomst heb je die vrije ruimte niet. Mooi voorbeeld hiervan is de hoofddoek affaire in Turkije. Draag je een hoofddoek mag je niet naar de universiteit, wat dan weer gevolgen heeft voor de emancipatie van de moslima’s in Turkije. Dit zorgt dan weer voor dat moslims achtergesteld raken op de rest. De juiste vraag hierin is dan eigenlijk: “Gaan moslims en democratie samen?”‘

  1. 1

    I fail to understand how Turkey can use the EU as their ‘democratic’ guidance. If Turkey becomes a member of the EU it will be a clear proof of the lack of democracy in the EU. Most people in the EU don’t want Turkey to join.

  2. 3

    It is related to the statement of Hans A.H.C. de Wit:

    Turkey can be the living proof that Islam can deal with democracy, as long as they use the EU and its constitution and institutions as their guidance.

  3. 4

    Zakaria’s quote is good. Is exactly what happened to christianity (the social-political context changed and as a result the influence was reduced).

    And look what happens on Sargasso when you tell christians: your belief sucks and is shit. That may be true but it does not work.

  4. 6


    As long as Turkey are following the Copenhagen Criteria there might be a chance that Turkey can be a member of the EU, and if they, the Turks, are still in harmony than with its own consititution, they maybe will/can join. But do they want to join then is a total different question?

    About the popular vote: how many of you agreed on Bulgaria and Romania, to be a EU member state?
    The support for the EU in Turkey declined until 25%.
    Not many Turks are so eager anymore. In contrary what most of you here think. But in the meanwhile, EU countries are lining up to enter the Turkish market. Especially the Dutch.

  5. 7


    I know that the Turks are not so eager anymore.

    It is a fact that the EU is more than a free trade organization. I support free trade with Turkey, but I don’t want Turkey to become an EU member.

    We trade with China and China isn’t an EU member either. Many Dutch companies (like Kruidvat) are owned by Chinese companies.

  6. 8


    I have never understood why Turkey wanted to join the EU.

    I can think of only two reasons.

    1. Money
    2. Turkey can bully the Kurds and the Kurds will migrate to Germany and other countries. If Turkey is an EU member it becomes harder for Germany to refuse migrating Kurds.

    I don’t believe that Turkey wants to join because Turks like European values and culture.

    But if anyone can proof me wrong, say it please!!!

  7. 9


    Turkey identify them selves with Europe and also, but less, with Central Asia. Arabs and Turks are not going hand-in-hand.
    Also, It’s a member of almost every European organization except the European Union. Firstly, historically, culturally speaking most Turks feel they are part of Europe and secondly, of course as said, there are practical reasons. Turkey thinks it can sort out its problems through the European Union with the Copenhagen criteria. Sometimes Turkey’s internal dynamics are not sufficient to sort out its problems, so sometimes external dynamics are needed. And the European Union could be a good element as an external dynamic to sort out its problems with the Kurds, its Islamic problems and those things. So, more culturally and historically speaking Turkey thinks it’s a part of Europe and secondly, because of practical reasons, Turkey wants to be a part of Europe Union.

  8. 10

    I am astonished that not one of my fellow Dutchmen are not commenting on Milis Gurus:
    1) They are not for integration of Turks in Europe
    2) They are established and still follow the path of the National View of Erbakan, an political Islamist pur sang
    3) In principle they want to establish an Islamist State in Turkey, not a democratic one.
    4) The support for this in Turkey is less than 4%

  9. 11

    @ Hans:

    True in general. But is it correct to see milligorus as one?
    From what i’ve seen the dutch wing is quite different from the german.

    The question he poses is interesting, regardless of which organisation he belongs to. The answer is Yes, moslems and democracy go together. The only IF is that the rights of a minority are respected.

    This also goes the other way. If Turkey would develop to a ‘real’ democracy where the army will no longer be a political player, how will the majority protect their minorities?? (kurds, christians, jews, other)

    I sincerely hope it will be like the Netherlands in our good days or perhaps better.
    Proof of this would be very comforting…

    MillGorus Nederland should definitely make some clear statements as te what their position is on the matters that Hans stated

  10. 12

    Islam is not compatible with liberal democracy. No universal non-private religion is. Only liberalism is compatible with liberal democracy, which is a good reason to abandon democracy, since not everyone is a liberal. Fortunately.

    Islam is also incompatible with the ‘freedoms’ of the type listed in the Freedom House surveys – but then liberal democracies also imprison people without trial, torture their opponents, and censor the press, so it is hard to take their pretensions seriously.

    A purely private religion, which does not interfere with liberal political process, or with the free market, would be compatible with liberal democracy. When someone like Ayaan Hirsi Ali speak of a ‘reformed Islam’ they mean that it becomes a private religion, a set of personal preferences relating only to the individual.

    If Catholicism means “Catholics eat fish instead of meat on Fridays”, then each Catholic can choose to eat fish on that day. It harms no third parties, and the free market can respond to the demand for fish. But if Catholicism means that Catholics and non-Catholics are forbidden to have abortions, and that profitable publications like Playboy are banned as pornography, then Catholics will come into conflict with other interests. Liberal democracy can not resolve such conflicts. On many ethical issues no consensus is possible anyway: there is no 50% abortion.

    So, in liberal democracies such things are pushed out of the political arena, and the political culture becomes evasive. The national identity is used to keep conflicts under the surface, perhaps for centuries. The arrival of Islam, as a new major religion in Europe, has broken open many of these historically developed evasions, and reminded us that liberal democracy doesn’t work.

    Islamists deserve much of the credit, for re-opening the debate in Europe on the pretensions of democracy. The uncritical conformism – typified by the Week of Democracy – is being eroded, although there is still a long way to go. That doesn’t mean that Islamism is the sole alternative to democracy, or that all non-democrats are Islamists. The Islamic rejection of democracy will continue to be the most important anti-democratic trend, for the next few years. And of course there will be Muslims who falsely claim that Islam is compatible with democracy – but that is just propaganda, with no substance.

  11. 13


    You say that Turks identifies them selves with Europe. But most ‘Turks’ in the Netherlands don’t identify them selves with The Netherlands.

    I don’t believe the EU can do anything to help protect the minorities in Turkey once Turkey has become a member of the EU. Once Turkey is a member the EU has lost its power in Turkey and Ankara will do what Ankara wants to do.

  12. 14

    @Theedoek (sorry, but I must all the time laugh about this typical ‘Dutch name’..)

    The Turks who are in the Netherlands, and who you recognize as Turks, are from the Anatolian part, mainly the little villages.

    The last 5 years, I went back and forwards with Turkish business people to the Netherlands. When I made all the time the first call (with government bodies, NGO’s or private companies) they always asked: do they speak English? The perception about Turkey in general is that they don’t adapt to other cultures, but are the Dutch doing that?
    When I showed up, with different Turkish entrepreneurs, they were astonished…’are they really Turkish’ they asked me behind their back (especially in Germany..)) They don’t look ‘Turkish at all…
    To make my answer short: ‘what do you think when we take some Italians from Milano, to Staphorst to show the real Holland (yes, had to do this) and when the Italians got their lunch ‘erwtensoep’, and after finishing their soup waiting patiently for the next ‘part’ of their lunch, ‘how do you explain to them that Dutch are not into a lunch…’ That that cup of soup was the lunch…
    These Italians I am talking about, were there March 2007.
    The same with other Dutch hosts: I had all the time to tell the Dutch throwing some ‘broodjes kaas, ham’ en ‘karnemelk’ for lunch on the table during lunch time, is rude…
    There is a cultural difference, not only between Turks and Dutch but between most of the EU countries.
    And most of the Turks in the Netherlands behave like Dutch immigrants on the Turkish Riviera.
    Turkish business people adapt to other cultures, while Dutch business people try to tell everywhere how good they are.

    Regarding minorities issues, I made this clear: with the back up of the U they can solve this.

  13. 15

    I can not find any logically way of thinking in your statements, deliberations.
    Do you mean that the Caliphate has to be established?
    There are many liberal movements: social-, neo-, social democrat…but above all, its about freedom.

  14. 16

    In the Dark fundamentalist scheme the world constantly decays and has constantly to be re-created. The only function of the intellect is to assist that re-creation.

    It reinterprets the texts; it re-establishes the divine precedent.So history has to serve theology, law is separated from the idea of equity, and teaching is separated from learning.

    This doctrine has its attractions; To a student from the University of Karachi, from perhaps a provincial or peasant background, the old faith comes more easily and is more simple to swallow than any new-fangled academic discipline.

    Fundamentalism these days takes root in the universities; and ironically ‘deny education’ can become the approved educated act for men against women.

    How different this was in the days of Muslim glory; Islam opened itself to the learning of the world. Now fundamentalism provides an intellectual thermostat, set low. It equalizes, comforts, shelters, and preserves. Independent thinking can become a crime.

    In this way the faith pervades everything, and it is possible to understand what the fundamentalists mean when they say that Islam is a ‘complete way of life’; their Life!

    But what is said about Islam is true, and perhaps truer, of other religions–like Hinduism or Buddhism or lesser tribal faiths–that at an early stage in their history were also complete cultures, self-contained and more or less isolated, with institutions, manners, and beliefs making a whole.

    But the Islamic fundamentalist nowadays wish is to work back to such a whole, for them a God-given whole, but with the tool of faith alone–belief, religious practices and rituals!

    It is like a wish–with intellect suppressed or limited, the historical sense falsified–to work back from the abstract to the concrete, and to set up the tribal walls again!

    It is to seek to re-create something like a tribal ora city-state that–except in theological fantasy–never was.

    The Koran is not the statute book of a settled golden age; it is the mystical or oracular record of an extended upheaval, widening out from the Prophet to his tribe in Arabia!!

    Arabia was full of movement; Islam, with all its Jewish and Christian elements, was always mixed, eclectic, developing. …The West, or the universal civilization it leads, is emotionally rejected. It undermines; it threatens. But at the same time it is needed, for its machines, goods, medicines, warplanes, the remittances from the emigrants, the hospitals that might have a cure for calcium deficiency, the universities that will provide master’s degrees in mass media.

    All the rejection of the West is contained within the assumption that there will always exist out there a living, creative civilization, oddly neutral, open to all to appeal to.

    Rejection, therefore, is not absolute rejection. It is also, for the community as a whole, a way of ceasing to strive intellectually. It is to be parasitic; parasitism is one of the unacknowledged traits of Islamic fundamentalism.

  15. 17

    I re wrote a comment about V.S. Naipaul ‘Among the Believers’. More insight about Islamistic countries and countries which cultures are not stuck by Arab tribes systems but are still dominant Muslim countries e.g. Indonesia, Turkey.

  16. 19


    Why do you have to laugh about a Dutch name? Sargasso is a Dutch site so it shouldn’t be strange to meet a Dutch name. Are you one of those people who always desparately try to proof that they are so cosmopolitan?

    When Dutch people migrate at young age to a western country they adapt. If they don’t adapt when they move to Turkey it proofs that Turkey’s culture and Dutch culture are very different. Most Turks who migrated to the Netherlands moved at young age but didn’t adapt.

    You say that Islam opened itself up to the learning of the world. I have two questions.

    1. What have they learned and still know and use today?
    2. Fareed Zakaria says that you can’t change the religion. Do you agree? If it is true Muslims can’t have learned anything in its Golden Age.

    How business people think and act isn’t so important as they think it is. In the Netherlands business people are always the subject of contempt.

  17. 21


    I don’t know. I asked you, you did seem to know what would happen and now you are asking me?

    I don’t think that there will be a discussion out of control.

  18. 22

    Anyone of you ever visited Turkey, do business with Turkey, or have Turkish friends?
    Btw, I moved from Miami Beach to Istanbul.
    Before that, I moved from Prague 2, to USA.
    And before that I lived and worked in many Europeans and Latin countries.

  19. 23

    Being Muslim is different than being an Political Islamist….
    How many people from Iraq and Iraq enriched the Western society?
    I know many scientists working in the Netherlands from these terrible traumatized countries.
    Do you like them?
    Can you explain the difference between a Turk and an Arab.
    What’s the difference between a Greek Ortodox and a moderate Islamist?
    Do you know. Likes you know..
    I only have suggestions.

  20. 24

    For Dutch speakers, here’s a history of Turkey that I wrote. I tend to agree with much of what Fareed says. Since the military coup in 1980, when the CHP was banned and it’s leadership encarcerated along with a quarter of a million other people, it is clear to me that the army no longer truely represents the ideals of Atatürk, but can only implement a right-wing dictatorship. So a few more head scarfs in public buildings would be much better than that. The problem with Turkey joining the European Union lays at the moment not in Turkey (with a military junta it would), but in the EU, where some politcians play narrow-minded xenophobic sentiments, instead of explaining benefits of a larger EU to the people…

  21. 25


    My brother and my mother have visited Turkey. My brother has also done business in Turkey.

    My mother and my brother don’t want Turkey to join the EU.

    My Turkish colleagues are not fond of Dutch society.

  22. 26


    That’s a personal note. Accepted.
    But the topic is different.
    My cousin, a well known Prof and former board of TNO, was in Istanbul with Demirel (former president of TR) and Ali babacan (min of foreign affairs)…speking about innovation. While Holland is producing Turkey is innovating…

  23. 27


    I wish every person on this planet (and in space) happiness. It is really great that Turkey is innovating. I’m not jealous and I don’t believe that economy is a zero sum game so a wealthy Turkey doesn’t mean a poor Europe.

    If Turkey is innovating without being a EU member it shows that Turkey doesn’t need us! I hope they don’t want to join.

  24. 28

    Hans: quite right. Mili gorus is one big joke. They’ve got money, but that’s it. Little to no support, especially not in Turkey where people have actually moved on over time.

  25. 29

    Playing to ‘narrow-minded xenophobic sentiments’ – and all other kinds of objectionable sentiments – is what democracy is all about. Rejection of Turkish accession is entirely predictable, given the widespread hostility to Turks and Turkey. It is logical that political parties, which compete for votes in democratic elections, should adapt to voter preferences. Again the Turkish responses quoted hear miss the point, about the relationship between Islam and EU enlargement. The point is, that Turkey does not decide on EU accession. The existing member states decide. Their voters primarily object to a Muslim country in the EU, democratic or not.

    Islam itself is incompatible with democracy, but that is not a characteristic specific to Islam, or to Turkey. It is primarily an issue of democracy itself, since its inherent structure can not permit expression of any religious social blueprint. You can’t have an Islamic society in a democratic system, you can only have a democratic society. You can’t have any other kind of society in a democratic system, that’s the problem.