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In response to Tufail Ahmad: Can military coups work beyond Turkey?

Erdogan's state is not a perfect democracy and no country can be.

 |  5-minute read |   22-07-2016
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Tufail Ahmad has published an obsessively civilisationist commentary on Turkey's current crisis. His arguments however are framed in a general theory of democracy which has its relevance beyond the Turkish crisis.

He has made two points; one, democracy is not only about elections; second, not all coups are unethical. The outcome he drives from these two points is that Turkish democracy has failed to stop "hidden terrorist AKP" and Recep Tayyip Erdogan and hence a coup against such a regime will not be unethical, rather it was a hope to save democracy.

Do we remember what Winston Churchill had once said about Indians and their ability to take responsibility of an upcoming independent Indian state?

"Power will go to the hands of rascals, rogues, freebooters; all Indian leaders will be of low calibre and men of straw. They will have sweet tongues and silly hearts. They will fight amongst themselves for power and India will be lost in political squabbles," he based his opposition to India's freedom.

Paul Aussaresses' memoir in Algeria as the head of French Military Intelligence is not different from what Churchill's reservations about the inherent inability of these people to be civilised. And more recently Barack Obama had called his Gulf oil suppliers "free riders".

Tufail's article has raised more questions than it answers the Turkish crisis. In the wake of back-to-back economic crises, which have exposed an inherent vulnerability of democracy, its compatibility has become a question even for non-Muslim societies.

A rollback of democracy in the most advanced societies tells you that the failure of democracy is no longer a Muslim specific phenomenon. Tufail and his likes find it convenient to focus on just one geographical location and keep their eyes shut from other countries where democratic values are on a steady decline.

His understanding of democracy is itself restricted by a civilisationist supremacism he had borrowed from the colonial West. When he counts the essential features of democracy, which "include free press, individual liberty, multiparty elections, women's equality, independent judiciary, and rule of law based on man-made laws", he chooses only legal and ritual side of democracy.

Jurgen Habermas, one of the finest thinkers of democracy, severely criticises this approach for it's over reliance "on the legal institutionalisation of an economic society that is supposed to guarantee an essentially nonpolitical common good by the satisfaction of private preferences". Opposed to this ritualistic democracy, he argues that the primary function of democracy is "to institutionalise a public use of reason jointly exercised by autonomous citizens".

A democracy whose function is nothing but to remain as "an apparatus of public administration, and society as a market-structured network of interactions among private persons" makes democracy a private affair.

Tufail Ahmad has been delivering his sermons for reforms without recognising the basic principle of respect for communicative action, a precondition for discursive interaction among all communities and individuals of a society.

With the advancing role of the market and the declining role of states, there are some who cheer for globalisation but they rarely acknowledge that in the time of market dominating the public sphere, deliberative democracy becomes its first victim.

It is why we hear about the necessity of Third Wave where Anthony Giddens calls for democratisation of democracy. Western democracies are challenged by a series of crises, ranging from the refugee crisis, terrorism, and economic slowdown. In fact, in the last few decades, Muslim societies all over the world have become more democratic, more deliberative and interactive.

A rationale and reasoned discourse within non-Western society, such as the "Muslim" society in Turkey or a "Hindu" society in India, find the Western support to Israeli brutalities against Palestinians, justification of war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan and, moreover, extra-judicial detention and torture in Guantanamo, directly linked with the project of democracy, Western policy makers often campaign for.

Tufail's criticism of Turkish democracy and its Islamist political leadership should be seen closely originating from the same source. Erdogan bashers should not be happy because the criticism against Erdogan is not for the sake of democracy; it is based on extremely Western understanding of Muslim societies.

Let us ask why Tufail Ahmad does not criticise Turkey's mending its ties with the state of Israel, a country which is accused of the largest number of human rights abuses and war crimes?

If scarves make Turkey a "Sharia-compliant state", what do the IMF and WTO make Turkey? Erdogan and his country as a shield between Russia and NATO makes Turkey a strategic asset, but when Turkey demands NATO to support her in the time of crisis, when a Russian jet was downed, Turkey becomes a huge liability.

Turkey is not a perfect democracy and no country can be.

But a sensationalisation of Jihadism, essentially requires an immediate dismantling of the discursive and deliberative exercises within Muslim societies or elsewhere. It requires stringent legal institutions to restrict the deliberative processes just because they are not in the direction the ritualistic democrats would like to have.

Imposing exclusionary mechanism against Muslim intelligentsia, religious or non-religious, can serve the purpose of market-centric liberal democracy but it does not help to promote a community of free and equal citizens towards coordinating their common reason.

The sensationalist discourse of Jihadism banks on popular hatred and exclusionary policies, rather than defeating violent Jihadism through a consistent and universally applicable democratic discourse.

It will be interesting to ask Tufail Ahamd if he would advise a military coup in case Donald Trump wins the White House race. Or should he advise a military coup as the only option to prevent Israeli politicians accused of serious war crimes from assuming public offices?

Let him explain how he can propose the coup as a helpful means for democracy universally, not only for the Arab and Islamic societies, as in the case of Turkey.

Writer

Omair Anas Omair Anas @omairanas

PhD in West Asian Studies from JNU is a Research Fellow at the Indian Council of World Affairs, New Delhi.

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