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Madinat al-Muslimeen Islamic Message Board
|a little abt Turkey's new leader|
|11/09/02 at 15:00:24|
|Q&A: Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan |
A Devout Muslim, a Secular State
Sunday, November 10, 2002; Page B01
Elections in rigorously secular Turkey last weekend gave an overwhelming victory to the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, which has Islamist roots. But the party chairman, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, 48 -- a former member of the radical Islamist party Welfare -- has been banned from holding political office since being jailed four years ago for reciting a poem that was viewed as inciting religious hatred. Today, he faces a difficult choice: He could seek to amend Turkey's constitution and become prime minister; or he could support another candidate for the office -- creating a government in which power is split and a potential rival elevated. Erdogan and his party claim to have moved to the center, but some wonder whether they have a hidden and more radical agenda. On Friday, Newsweek-Washington Post's Lally Weymouth sat down with Erdogan in Ankara for an interview. Excerpts:
WEYMOUTH: Do you have a vision of a different Turkey?
ERDOGAN: Yes, Turkey needs a new vision. I am going to try to change Turkey as I changed Istanbul when I was running that city -- I will modernize Turkey. Ending corruption is one of our duties.
In the West, some fear that your party is a threat to the secular state. Is this so?
Our party sees secularism as an important segment of democracy. Secularism establishes the administrative structure of this country.
People in the West admire Turkey as a secular, democratic, Muslim country. They are worried that your party is really an Islamic party that will change the nation's character.
Our political party is not Islamic. It is not based on religion. However, the Turkish media tried to place us in that category. A political party cannot be Islamist. It cannot be for Islam. These are inaccurate terminologies. Islam is a religion, and a party is just a political institution.
Will you try to amend the constitution and become prime minister, or what is your plan?
Tomorrow, I have invited the party's central board for a meeting, and we will talk about this topic. After that, we will request another appointment from the president. I will never act without consulting with the board of directors of my party.
Would you like to be prime minister or prefer to choose someone else?
In the election rallies, I always said, "They banned me from politics, but this is no longer [my] problem. It is the nation's problem." Public opinion solved this on Nov. 3 [Election Day]. The public has announced who should be the next prime minister, and the rest is the responsibility of the political world. I believe it will do its part.
You are saying that the people voted for you.
The leaders and the political parties are inseparable. When you go to the ballot box, the sign of the party has the name of the leader right underneath it.
So you should be prime minister?
In normal circumstances, yes.
If everyone agreed on this, how long would it take to change the constitution or do whatever is necessary to allow you to become prime minister?
It's very difficult for one to request things for oneself. The president has important authority when it comes to amending the constitution. The parliament has enough power to amend the constitution.
But the president must consent?
He has to either consent or take the issue to a referendum. This would lose time for the country. I will not be an actor in a scenario that forces Turkey to lose time.
So the prime minister will be either yourself or a candidate chosen by you?
This will be decided by the board of decision makers of the party. I am not a king or a sultan.
If you do not become the prime minister is appointed and a senior U.S. official visits Turkey, with whom would the American diplomat meet -- the prime minister or you?
He would meet with the prime minister, and if he would like to visit the chairman of the largest political party, he could.
You have said that you will review the agreement under which the International Monetary Fund has promised Turkey $1.6 billion in loans. What changes will you ask for?
The social aspect of the agreement -- especially that which creates unemployment, particularly in the agricultural sectors. We will have a hard time putting into effect a plan that will cause the poverty of our nation.
Does that mean you will renegotiate the agreement with the IMF?
Not the whole program. But every three months it is reviewed, and the parts that we feel could be amended we can work out through negotiations.
What is your opinion of the Bush administration's desire to change the regime in Iraq? Do you think your government would cooperate with an American-led invasion, letting the United States use Turkish air bases and station troops in this country?
U.N. decisions will have a binding effect on us. It would not be appropriate for us to act without a U.N. decision. If the goal is to remove weapons of mass destruction from Iraq, then Iraq appears to be willing to accept the U.N. specialists on this matter. According to U.S. statements, if the reports of these auditors are positive, the problem might be solved peacefully.
You and most of your party leaders graduated from religious schools. These schools, however, have been limited in size. Would you like to increase their number?
I graduated from both a religious and a normal high school and then I studied economics at the university.
We don't intend to enlarge the religious schools, but it's not right to close them, either. It's not right to ban people from learning their religion. We are for lifting all bans on the freedom of education.
You have been quoted as saying that you intend to solve the problem of women in Turkey being forbidden to wear a head scarf in a university or office. What do you plan to do?
To solve this problem is a requirement of freedom of religion.We must respect this right as it is respected in the U.S. For example, my daughters [who wear head coverings] cannot go to school in this country but must go to school in the U.S. If they had an opportunity to study here, they would do so.
You said that your top priority for Turkey will be to join the European Union. Does that mean that you will continue human rights and democratic reforms?
We have to reach the level of the Copenhagen criteria [the goals set for EU applicants]. That means enjoying freedom of expression, of ideology, and of religion, lifting the bans on freedom of education and on teaching in one's mother tongue. It also means ending the restrictions on broadcasting in one's mother tongue -- not just for [Turkey's minority population of] Kurds but for everyone -- and putting an end to torture.
Will you create tensions with the army if you try to implement these reforms?
These are topics that the army looks positively upon.
Turkey has built a strong relationship with Israel. Will your party continue to do so?
The relationship with Israel will continue. The statements [I have] made concerning Palestine are because of the situation there. We do not want to see any more blood, tears or war. We want a permanent peaceful solution to the problem, with the two states respecting each other's rights. We're against all types of terrorism -- from individual to state terrorism.We are by no means anti-Semitic. It hurts us as much when Palestinians are bombed and killed as when a suicide bomber goes and kills Jews. Indeed, we condemn all incidents of terrorism in the world, including September 11th.
You have said, "You cannot be secular and a Muslim at the same time. The world's 1.5 billion Muslims are waiting for the Turkish people to rise up and we will rise up." Do you still believe this or have you moderated your views?
A. Islam is a religion. Secularism is just a style of management. When a person chooses Islam, he becomes Muslim, but he can choose secularism as a style of administration.
But you said the two are incompatible.
I am Muslim and prefer secular administration.
You said, "Democracy is a means to an end." Do you still think so, or do you regret saying this?
I think the same way, because the end goal is to make humans happy. All systems are vehicles.
But haven't you changed your views over the years?
We all go through constant change.
You were put in jail for reading a poem that sounded like the start of revolution: You said, "The minarets are our bayonets; the mosques are our barracks; our believers are our soldiers."
The poem I read I've been reciting for the last 20 years. It was written by [secularist former president Kemal] Ataturk's ideologist. In literature, you can have all kinds of symbols. Don't you, in your literature?
People are worried that you have a hidden agenda, that you are really here to impose Islamic law and undermine the secular state. Are you?
If my nation had such doubts about me, they would not have elected me. . . . The public did not meet Tayyip Erdogan today. They have known him during his whole life. Knowing that, they brought him to power. We have no hidden agenda .
© 2002 The Washington Post Company
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