I returned to Brazil at the end of February, a semestre of teaching, aborted by a month-long strike. Political events in Turkey developed. The governing AK Justice and Development Party nominated its leader Recip Erdoğan as their candidate for the presidential elections. The was deemed unacceptable by Presıdent Ahmet Necdet Sezer due to the Erdoğan’s religious roots. The AK Party then nominated Foreıgn Minster Abdullah Gül, a less controversial figure, and a popular moderate diplomat, but his wife also wears a headscarf. Also unacceptable, especially to the military. But he did not get the necessary two-thirds majority necessary to be nominated. The AK Party then called an early general election for 22 July, and its proposal to hold open presidential elections by popular vote has just been accepted 6 to 5 by the Supreme Court.
The proposals were accompanied by mass demonstrations in a number of Turkish cities, with over a million turning out in Istanbul and Ankara in support of the secular state and against any kind of Islamisation of the Turkish state. This was the demonstration of the liberal middle-classes, mini-skirted girls draped in the Turkish flag and carrying posters of Atatürk. And who would be in favour of an army coup if a future government took on a too Islamic agenda, as happened in 1997 when the Welfare Party, the forerunner of the AK Party, and the senior member of a coalition government, organısed a Jerusalem Day in Sıncan, on the outskirts of Ankara, to call for the liberation of the cıty from Israel. The Iranian Ambassador made anti-secular statements, calling for the establishment of Islamic law in Turkey, and the crowd demonstrated in favour of Hamas and Hizbullah. But the generals were none too pleased, the tanks rolled into Sıncan, the National Security Council banned Premıer Necmettin Erbakan from politics for five years, the Welfare Party, knowing it would be banned, reformed as the Virtue Party, which then became the AK Party.
The AK Party has apparently renounced its Islamic agenda, but secularists suspect the AK Party of harbouring a secret Islamic agenda, citing its unsuccessful attempts to criminalise adultery, restrict alcohol sales and lift a ban on Islamic headscarves in government offices. They fear the government will have a free hand to implement Islamist policies if the party controls the presidency.
Thus the dilemna of my liberal Boğazici friends. To favour restrictions on democratic participation as a party may well be voted in with an Islamic agenda that will restrict civil liberties. Thought I as I listened to a concert of Shakespearian Songs in the Albert Long Hall at Boğazici, Bosphorous, University. Well, it was Robert College until the 1970s, and still seems a little Ivy Leaguer. And I remember my student’s wrath at the prospect of her son being brought up in a narrow Islamic society.
But on the streets of Beyoğlu such tensions can hardly be seen. Uncovered girls walk arm-in-arm with covered girls. A few covered girls even walk hand-in-hand with rocker type boyfriends. Cinemas, bars, clubs beckon. I also recently saw the film: Crossing the Bridge: the Sound of Istanbul, which reflects the vibrancy of the Istanbul music scene. And Istanbul seems much worried about the impending death of popular singer Barıs Akarsu after a car crash. I have already recorded the delight of my first arrival in Istanbul in February 2000. I was in Poland, and the flight to Istanbul was a little cheaper than that to Athens. Rain turned to snow as I arrived. I knew not what to expect. My experience of Muslim countries had been limited to Morocco, where I had felt a lıttle hostility. And then I arrived in Beyoğlu in the pedestrianised Istıklal Cadessi, the Grande Rue de Pera, full of snowballing executives and secretaries, coffee shops, bars and pubs. I was at home!
The snow lasted 48 hours. The next day the media went out looking for stories and found a woman in a full-face niqab and long black skirt out skiing. And she could ski pretty well. But she wouldn’t talk to the cameras.