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It looks as if the introduction of legislation against the support of radical Islam will be among the priorities of the Turkish government.

Last month, leading journalist Ahmet Taner Kislali was blown to pieces by a car bomb outside his family home in downtown Ankara. Members of the secular press were quick to point the finger at militant Islamist group the Greater Islamic Raiders Front (IBDAC). However, despite a massive operation by the Turkish security forces, the perpetrators have yet to be identified.

Kislali was harshly critical of Islamist movements in Turkey. The 60-year-old journalist firmly believed that the leaders of political Islam, among them ex-Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan, are working together with outside powers to overthrow the secular republic.

Although there is no concrete evidence to implicate Islamist groups in the attack, staunch secularists, led by the Turkish armed forces, are using the Kislali murder as an excuse for a renewed crackdown on what they term `Islamic Reactionarism'. In the monthly meeting of the National Security Council (NSC), the generals urged Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit and his government to be more vigilant in dealing with the Islamic threat.

The Turkish military led a `post-modernist coup' against the moderate Islamist-led government of Necmettin Erbakan in early 1997. Erbakan resigned to be replaced by a hotch-potch coalition of left and right headed by Motherland Party leader, Mesut Yilmaz. While parliament has since passed laws allowing closer state supervision of religious foundations and placed Turkey's thriving mosques under the strict control of the Religious Affairs Administration, it has failed to satisfy the generals.

Answering reporters' questions after the National Security Council meeting, Prime Minister Ecevit said draft legislation concerning anti-reactionary measures would in all probability be tackled this legislative year. "It looks as if laws against radical Islam will be among the priorities of the government," a wary Ecevit said after the meeting.

The danger of reactionary and political Islam has officially moved from a lower spot all the way up to number one on the military's list of threats to the Turkish Republic. This conviction is shared by many powerful people in Turkey, among them Vural Savas, the chief prosecutor of the Turkish Court of Appeals.

In a controversial speech last month, Savas said politicians must do battle against religious activism and terrorism but declared none of the deputies in the current parliament were capable of doing so.

The prosecutor called for the imposition of a series of draconian measures he deemed essential to preserving the secular order. These measures include increased powers of detention and arrest, stricter rules of censorship and wider authority for state officials to bug, tap, monitor and record private conversations. "They already have such laws in Germany, Britain and Greece," Savas stated, "so why shouldn't Turkey have them?"

Supporters of democratic reform who oppose the military-led crack-down on political Islam say tougher measures will lead to the establishment of an even more authoritarian regime in Turkey. The main opposition Virtue Party, in Savas's sights for closure in a case currently before the Constitutional Court, demanded the prosecutor's resignation. "He says we should introduce the negative constitutional laws they have in Europe. If so then we also have to introduce the clauses safeguarding democratic rights in these countries," said Turhan Alcelik, the party's general secretary. "We cannot brand every one of our Kurdish citizens a separatist; likewise, we cannot consider each and every devout Muslim as a potential terrorist. Both politicians and members of the judiciary should be aware of this difference."

Just a few weeks prior to the Kislali murder, Chief Justice Sami Selcuk made a keynote speech in which he called on the nation's legislators to draw up a new constitution that would enshrine the principles of contemporary democratic values and allow Turkish society to adapt and move with an ever-changing world. Selcuk claimed it was time for the state to step back and allow democracy to flourish. Anti-democratic measures to deal with perceived threats were not the answer; only after the establishment of a truly pluralistic society could Turkey begin to deal with its problems, Selcuk asserted.

Powerful business association TUSIAD also took the side of the reformists. "Restricting democratic rights is not a solution ... It could be that certain persons want to prevent Turkey from developing into a legal state that respects the concepts of human rights and freedom of the individual," the association stated.

Many intellectuals and political observers lay the blame for a stunted democracy firmly at the door of the military. "Why does the army, which is a prominent part of the bureaucracy, so lustfully hold on to state power and not allow the system to popularise and democratise?" questioned respected intellectual Dogu Ergil. "In this top-heavy state structure, the military is there to dictate what the citizen should do," stated one long-serving Ankara diplomat.

There are two opposing groups in Turkey. The first believes that by reducing the power of the state over its citizens, the guiding principles of the Republic, already under threat, will be compromised and eventually destroyed. Then the dark forces of reactionarism and separatism will be given a free rein to wreak havoc on the nation and lead the country to chaos and disunity. The second group believes the nature of the state itself represents the greatest threat to Turkey's future. By oppressing and ostracising all opposition to its rule, the state will not have acted as protector of the nation, but as a catalyst for rebellion.

In December there will be a summit of the EU in Helsinki and Turkey may be announced as an official candidate for membership for the first time. This could mark the beginning of a new era in Turkey. The current government claims it is ready to make huge leaps in the areas of human rights and democratisation. "We have put together a programme and the government appears decisive. However, the killing of Ahmet Taner Kislali could eclipse these positive developments and ruin all our good work," stated Motherland Party leader and government coalition partner Mesut Yilmaz.
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Author:Bentley, Mark
Publication:The Middle East
Geographic Code:7TURK
Date:Dec 1, 1999
Previous Article:SYRIA'S STRONGMAN.

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