Conservative Democracy and the Globalization of Freedom
A Talk with Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan
About This Event

A cornerstone of Bush administration foreign policy has been a new commitment to democracy in the Islamic world. In theory, Turkey should be a shining example for that policy, yet since the invasion of Iraq, Washington-Ankara relations have been strained. In addition, skeptics of the virtues of democracy in the Middle East point to the rise of a conservative Islamic party in Turkey as typical of the risks in opening up political systems to all comers in the Islamic world.

His Excellency Recep Tayyip Erdogan was elected prime minister of Turkey in March 2003. Since that time, he has confounded an establishment nervous of his conservative credentials, he has been the first prime minister to call on the Turkish Chief Rabbi (in the wake of last month's synagogue bombings), and he has pursued an aggressive path toward entry into the European Union.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan will address these and other issues during this AEI luncheon talk.

11:45 a.m.
Richard Perle, AEI
Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Prime Minister of Turkey
2:00 p.m.
Event Summary

January 2004
Conservative Democracy and the Globalization of Freedom: A Talk with Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan

A cornerstone of Bush administration foreign policy has been a new commitment to democracy in the Islamic world. In theory, Turkey should be a shining example for that policy, yet Washington-Ankara relations have been strained since the invasion of Iraq. In addition, skeptics of the virtues of democracy in the Middle East point to the rise of a conservative Islamic party in Turkey as typical of the risks in opening up political systems in the Islamic world. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a member of Turkey's Justice and Development Party (AK Party), addressed the future of the region and Turkey's potential role in this at AEI on January 29, 2004.

Globalization imposes an international dynamic on the local level and gives global visibility to previously local issues.  It also encourages a greater understanding of other cultures and societies. The significance of this responsibility is immense, because the best way to make societies more prosperous, more open, and more democratic is to draw on the unique characteristics of those societies themselves.

Historically, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam have each played central roles in the formation of a collective wisdom that encompasses values such as human rights, the rule of law, and good governance.  However, instability and conflict have inhibited the realization of the vast potential of the Middle East, and this stalls our collective wisdom.

Turkey will continue to contribute to the development and dissemination of these universal values to the Islamic world, but to be successful in this endeavor, we must establish these values firmly at home first. Turkey refers to this system as "conservative democracy." Politics and governance can be strengthened and renewed through the understanding of conservative democracy.  As a mass political party based on conservatism, AK Party takes its strength from the center of the social spectrum and has consequently become the largest party in the center right.  With its strong position in the parliament, AK Party has launched a comprehensive and participatory reform program. 

Success in Turkey can be an example for many nations. Supporting a process of change that is evolutionary but gradual, that emphasizes the importance of preserving values over institutions and relationships, is the key to success in this region of the world. The Turkish democratic ideal is not to have a mechanical democracy reduced to elections and institutions, but rather an organic democracy that pervades the administrative, social, and political arenas.  We call this organic democracy "deep democracy."

Deep democracy endeavors to avoid creating the divisions of "us" versus "them" that arise from making one ideology, political identity, ethnic element, or religious thought the center of the polity.  Secularism is essential to democracy; fundamental rights and freedoms must be constitutionally guaranteed.  To make religion an instrument of politics  harms not only political pluralism but also the religion itself.

The secular and democratic structure of Turkey-a country that acts as a bridge between East and West, Islam and Christianity, Europe and Asia-lives in harmony with traditions rooted in Islamic culture.  The existence of such a model demonstrates that, when channels between different traditions and ideologies are kept open, cooperation can produce concrete results.  Social harmony will be guaranteed only by sustainable economic and social development, a reduction of poverty, and improved mutual understanding between cultures. Countries that cannot internalize these universal values and develop democracy, human rights, the rule of law, and gender equality will be driven into isolation.  Every nation can find the right path, and it is far easier as an integrated effort.

Turkey's democratization was a self-imposed process.  Turkey's experience is not a model that can be implemented identically in all other Muslim societies.  Each Muslim society will have to find its own solutions, and each country should determine for itself both the method and the pacing by which this will occur. But the time for these decisions to be made has come.

Muslim countries that cannot solve their problems lay responsibility for them on outside forces, and historically difficult relations with the West make it an easy target for the blame. Western countries must rid themselves of unfair generalizations and historic prejudice against nations of non-western traditions.  The United States should make use of the situation in Iraq to ensure that the developing world better understands the developed world.  Turkey is ready to assist the United States in this endeavor. 

To better understand Muslim societies, a more objective view of Islam must be employed.  It is imperative that the world realizes those who resort to violence in the name of Islam do not represent Islam, because Islam never supports terrorism. Islam considers the killing of a person destroying the house of God.  Put another way, killing one person is seen as though killing the whole of humanity. Religions exist to bring people together with love and peace, and this is also true of Islam.

As one of the historical cradles of cross-cultural interaction, Turkey remains ready to do its share to help establish a harmony of Islamic and Western civilizations.  Turkey's successful accession to the European Union will demonstrate that a Muslim society can find acceptance by predominantly Christian societies when they share common universal and democratic values. 

Our world today should not be a world where there is a "clash of civilizations."  We need instead a harmony of civilizations. This can only be achieved through an ongoing dialogue that promotes universal values over surface differences.

AEI intern Jason Fill prepared this summary.

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