Any more bets on teaching a cat not to scratch?

In November 2002 when the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, came to power the grandiose political bet opened: Could Turkey’s Islamist elite metamorphose into liberals/democrats and push Turkey into the European Union?

Most of Turkey’s western friends bet on a "yes." I bet on a "no," sincerely wishing I would lose. Sadly, I see an increasing number of from the "yes" bet admitting defeat. Back in 2003, in an article in the Greek daily Kathimerini, I used the analogy of a cat for the AKP: Soldiers of political Islam are like cats. You can never teach a cat not to scratch simply because scratching is in the genes, just like "Islamizing" wherever possible is in the genes of political Islamists. Where does Turkey stand six and a half years after the bet opened?

Funnily, a headline on Voice of America just the other day read: "Turkish police detain secularists in coup investigation." These days Turkey is the most dangerous place for seculars, secularists and anti-Islamists: in the latest wave of Ergenekon detentions, prominent academics, all known to be defenders of a secular Turkey, were put behind bars, probably to remain in their cells for several months before they could officially learn the charges against them. Turkey never ceases to be weird in the extreme. On the one hand the government is considering a pardon for Kurdish terrorists who have killed, and on the other prosecutors keep on detaining anti-government figures aging 70-90, on charges of terror, including a raid on the home of a prominent female academic undergoing chemotherapy. Terrorists disguised as old, sick peopleÉ How very wonderful! But we have our smart prosecutors who catch them.

Talking about sicknessesÉ It is amazing how our Islamists can champion deception, lies and every other evil the Holy Koran tells them never to resort to. Former Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan, the grand master of political Islam in Turkey, who once was the honourable leader of most AKP bigwigs, was found guilty of embezzling his party’s money and sentenced to prison. Do good Muslims steal public money? They don’t. But "image" Muslims do.

Mr Erbakan’s prison sentence was initially turned into house arrest. Then another "good Muslim," President Abdullah Gul, pardoned Mr Erbakan due to his "chronic illness." A few days ago the man with the chronic illness made a ceremonial return to active politics and announced that his first foreign visit would be to Tehran, not a random choice for a first trip abroad. Surprising? No. Political Islamists firmly believe it does not amount to sinning if they cheat in the name of Islam. Cheating is OK, a wife without the turban, a drop of alcohol are not. Talking about cheatingÉ On the one hand our prosecutors are on a witch hunt to put secular dissidents in jail on the charge of attempting to topple the government by means of subversion that would lead to a coup but has not, since the government is still in place and there has not been a coup. On the other hand, Mr Gul just last week had a red carpet welcome at the presidential palace for Kenan Evren, the leader of the 1980 coup. Weird? No, just Turkish. Mr Evren is no longer a threat to the Islamists. But seculars who organize anti-government rallies can be. So, red-carpet treatment for the official coup leader, and gaol for would be coup plotters.

Where do we stand as far as the grandiose bet of 2002 is concerned? In terms of civil liberties and better democracy? The World Economic Forum’s most recent press freedoms index ranked Turkey 106th among 134 countries worldwide. What else? Ariel Cohen and Owen Graham wrote in the Heritage Foundation: "Prominent supporters of democracy are concerned that the right of dissent and the principle of governmental accountability are being eroded: The AKP is viewed as increasingly intolerant of opposing views (Obama in Ankara: Turkey’s dangerous drift, Apr. 6, 2009)."

What else? Can it be a coincidence that a supporter of Turkey’s EU bid, Bernard Kouchner, the French foreign minister, recently remarked that Turkey, which would be the EU’s first Muslim member, was actually heading towards "a reinforcement of religion and a lessened affirmation of secularity?"

Bad news is that I was right about the cat. Good news is that more and more western friends of Turkey can now see that painting stripes on an elephant does not make it a zebra.
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