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Reconciling Islam With Democracy


Guest Abdulahmit Bilici
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Guest Abdulahmit Bilici

The 7th meeting of the Abant Platform, one of the leading civil society initiatives in Turkey, opened in Washington, D.C. Monday. This marks the first time the Platform has been held abroad.

 

The theme of this year's Abant Platform, is 'Islam, Democracy and Secularism: Turkey's Experience'. Its is felt that Turkey's experiences with these three topics gained considerable importance after the September 11th attacks. Johns Hopkins University's Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), one of the most prestigious schools for foreign policy, is hosting the meeting. The Journalists and Writers Association of Turkey also contributed to the meeting's organization.

 

World-renowned Francis Fukuyama of SAIS delivered some opening remarks. He said that a religious society did not have to conflict with the principals of democracy and secularism. "The U.S. is one of the most religious societies in the West. However this situation does not prevent the administration from being secular and democratic." Fukuyama acknowledged that Turkey will be a model for Islamic world, showing that one can be both Muslim and democratic by the Justice and Development Party (AKP) experience.

 

Bilgi University's Prof. Mete Tuncay also presented a few opening remarks, giving a brief overview of the Platform and its mission. He said they learned about the culture of compromise, which is degraded by progressive and conservative groups in Turkey, by experiencing it through the Platform.

 

State Minister Mehmet Aydin, a former chair of the Platform, delivered the keynote speech. Its emphasis was the reconciliation of Islam and democracy, using Turkey as an example. Aydin underlined that the Ottoman experience had been more efficient than people thought in Turkey's democratization process. He said that foreign factors had just as much of an effect as internal factors during the modernization process from the Tanzimat (Administrative Reforms) Period to the European Union (EU) process.

 

Due to his health problems, Journalists and Writers Association of Turkey Honorary President Fethullah Gülen could not attend the meeting. However, in a message he had sent, he wrote: "I sincerely believe that Turkish and American intellectuals will best analyze to what extent Turkey achieved the goal of 'being secular, democratic and social state of law' as a country populated mostly by Muslim people, and how deficiencies, if there are any, will be remedied."

 

Gulen also referred to Ataturk's principals of 'modern civilization' and 'peace at home, peace in the world'. Gulen mentioned that brainstorming would contribute not only to introducing Turkey's experience better, but shed a light on the other countries where Islam dominates.

 

The Platform's Board of Trustees President, Huseyin Gulerce, acknowledged that one of the goals of the Abant Platform in Washington is to deliver messages to U.S. about the region as it makes preparations for the Greater Middle East Project.

 

Distinguished University of Wisconsin Prof. Kemal Karpat, one of the resident attendees of the Platform's meetings, emphasized that organizing Abant abroad was important. He made the following evaluation: "Turkey is an example that shows Islam and democracy can reconcile. And it is very important that this meeting was organized in the U.S. while the issue is still popular."

 

 

During the first day of the meeting, experts presented papers in three different panels. Each panel dealt with Turkey's experience with one of the three major themes of the conference: Islam, democracy, and secularism.

 

Today will see a series of round table meetings take place. Most of those discussions will involve determining the applicability of Turkey's experience to other countries in the Middle East, Central Asia and Caucasus. State Minister Ali Babacan and Republican People's Party (CHP) Deputy Kemal Dervis will also deliver speeches today at the meeting.

 

The Abant Platform's Washington meeting, which is open to the public, can also be viewed through SAIS' Web site: www.sais-jhu.edu.

 

 

Scientists and intellectuals from diverse groups have met every year since 1998 as part of the Abant Platform. The Platform tries to generate solutions within the frame of universal values by discussing Turkey's social and cultural issues. The Platform's first meeting dealt with 'Islam and Secularism'. Later topics included 'Religion-State Relations', 'Democratic Law State', 'Society and Pluralism', 'Globalization' and 'War and Democracy'. The Platform hopes to build upon its historical first of gathering in Washington and gain more international recognition when it meets in Brussels this autumn to lend support to Turkey's E.U. aspirations.

 

Abdulahmit Bilici

 

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