News for Sociology of Religion--Tue Mar 25 07:00:14 EST 1997

    The New York Times said in an editorial on Tuesday, March 25: The Turkish general staff in recent weeks has all but put the (New York Times) (*)

    The religious guru, accused by the US of supporting Islamic terrorism, preferred to focus further upstream on the new bridge being built by the Chinese.  (*)


    c.1997 N.Y. Times News Service<

    The New York Times said in an editorial on Tuesday, March 25:

    The Turkish general staff in recent weeks has all but put thecountry's Islamic-led government on notice that the military willseize power if Turkey continues to drift away from its secularpolitical traditions. While the generals' defense of secularismappeals to many Americans, the United States should recognize thatanother period of military rule in Turkey would do more harm thangood. Washington needs to make clear that it favors civiliangovernance and would be obliged to distance itself from anymilitary-dominated regime.

    Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan's Welfare Party, representingone-fifth of the electorate, has rashly challenged the rigidlysecular ground rules decreed by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founderof modern Turkey seven decades ago. The party's initiatives, suchas relaxing restrictions on religious displays in public places,have made many secular Turks uneasy. These policies haveparticularly alarmed the military, which Turkey's Constitutionentrusts with defending the the secular system. In response,Turkey's generals have warned the government that it mustaggressively enforce secular laws, including some that have longbeen ignored.

    In a country where the generals have staged three coups since1960, the threat of military rule must be taken seriously. Thoseconcerned with defending secularism ought to consider thecontribution those coups have made to shaping the unappealingpolitical choices Turkey now confronts. The secular parties favoredby the military have failed to establish deep popular roots. Theyare increasingly perceived as aloof from the problems of ordinaryTurks and consumed by personal vendettas and corruption. Incontrast, Erbakan's Welfare Party has increased its base of supportby providing relatively clean and effective municipal government inmany of Turkey's largest cities.

    The Welfare Party now rules in coalition with the True PathParty, led by Tansu Ciller, a former prime minister who representssome of the least attractive features of the old secular politicalorder. After worrisome early overtures toward Iran and Libya, thecoalition has pursued pragmatic foreign policies, including closemilitary cooperation with Israel and the United States. Butinternally it has been a tense alliance, with each side looking forchances to shove the other aside.

    A military intervention would presumably evict Welfare frompower in favor of True Path or its secular rival, the MotherlandParty. While this might look superficially reassuring toWashington, it would in many ways make matters worse.

    Washington's goal is to keep Turkey oriented to the West,including NATO, to which it belongs, and the European Union, whichit has long hoped to join. But the powerful Turkish army,militantly nationalistic and prone to wholesale human rightsabuses, is itself a major obstacle to closer Turkish integrationwith Europe. Army leaders have resisted compromise with Greece overTurkey's 20-year occupation of northern Cyprus and have managedTurkey's brutal suppression of the Kurds.

    Pushing aside Islamic politicians like Erbakan who are willingto play by democratic rules would probably radicalize Turkish Islamic politics. It would also send the wrong message to thesecular parties, which need to overcome their petty rivalries andrebuild popular support.

    Turkey's location at the crossroads of Europe, the Mideast andCentral Asia—and its huge army, the largest among NATO's Europeanmembers—make it a pivotal factor in American foreign policy.Washington would understandably prefer a solidly secularistgovernment. But for practical as well as principled reasons theUnited States should support democratic solutions to Turkey'sproblems rather than those imposed by force.

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    c.1997 The Independent, London

    ``MAD, EVIL, GENIUS'' GLAD OF SUDAN'S ISOLATION: From MARY BRAIDKHARTOUM, SUDAN - Dr Hassan al-Turabi gazed out of hisparliamentary office window, above the point where the Blue andWhite Niles meet, and sniffed at the British colonial bridge whichstill traverses the river.

    The religious guru, accused by the US of supporting Islamicterrorism, preferred to focus further upstream on the new bridgebeing built by the Chinese.

    To say Dr Turabi, speaker of the Sudanese parliament and leaderof National Islamic Front, which seized power in Sudan seven yearsago, was anti-British would be a monumental understatement. Theonly good things Britain brought to Sudan, apparently, werefootball and, belatedly, independence. ``We did not ask them tocome here and massacre people,'' Dr Turabi said, referring toKitchener's defeat of the Mahdist tribesmen a century ago at theBattle of Omdurman, which led to British-Egyptian rule in Sudanuntil independence in 1956.

    In his opulent office - where engraved Islamic texts sitalongside mounted models of bullets - Turabi says Britain hardlyinvests in Sudan any more. He looks beyond the obvious - like theNIF's alleged links with terrorists - for reasons. He argues thatthe British, like the Egyptians, are jealous of the former colony'ssuccess.

    It is hard to see how. Despite Dr Turabi's upbeat - to the pointof fantastic - assertions, Sudan could hardly be in worse shape.The Islamic Arab north has been at war with the African Christianand animist south for 30 of the last 40 years. The war has claimedmillions of lives and is estimated to be costing $1 million a day.

    Sudan could do with friends but in the seven years since the NIFmanipulated itself into power - immediately banning all politicalparties - Sudan has become one of the loneliest countries on theplanet. It is shunned by Arab countries for its support of Iraqduring the Gulf War and for harbouring Islamist extremists.

    It has turned alienating-your-neighbours into an art form. EvenLibya has complained about its behaviour. Egypt believes Sudan wasinvolved in the 1995 assassination attempt on President HosniMubarak, and Sudan is virtually at war with Uganda, which itaccuses of backing southern SPLA rebels.

    Now its eastern neighbours Eritrea and Ethiopia, worried by itsexpansionist rhetoric, have given refuge to Turabi's brother-in-lawand former prime minister, Sadiq al Mahdi, who fled Khartoum atChristmas. Mr al Mahdi, great grandson of the original 19th centuryleader and head of the National Democratic Alliance, shook theTurabi regime to its roots in January by launching the first jointattack on Sudan's eastern border by his northern opposition groupand the SPLA.

    An undeclared international embargo, meanwhile, has driedforeign investment and aid to a trickle. Sudan is barely limpingalong.

    If Turabi is feeling the heat it does not show. The former lawprofessor, who believes Sudan's Islamic government is setting anexample for the entire Arab world, sits behind his magnificentdesk, immaculate in white shift and turban. His overseas reputationas ``mad, evil, genius'' seems undeserved at first.

    Who can blame a poor Arab country, at the bottom of thecapitalist heap, for trying to forge its own way? With hisconstantly flailing arms and eyes brimful with enthusiasticconviction he comes over like an Islamic Magnus Pyke. ``It is goodthey have isolated us,'' he says, grinning. ``It forces us to beindependent.'' Dr Turabi, who was educated at London University,the Sorbonn

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