A week tomorrow I’m heading for Turkey for a long anticipated vacation. So, you can imagine I wasn’t happy to hear that nearly 90 people were killed when bombs went off at a peace rally in Ankara. The fact I’m not going anywhere near the capital is hardly a consolation.
Still, I know that if I die in Turkey it is more likely because my hot air balloon crashed or I had a heart attack from too much Turkish Delight and too many flights of stairs. Neither is likely but both are more likely than being killed by a terrorist (if terrorists it was) even in a country with growing unrest.
So – unless my wife gets too nervous – I plan to go ahead with my visit. It is a beautiful country with a fascinating culture and, by all accounts, a very friendly populace. I won’t wander into any political demonstrations – it is not my business to do so – but other than that I will go about my business. I’ll be wary but I always am when visiting a place I don’t know. The best way to get mugged is to look like you don’t belong so I’ll try to look confidant and like an old hand.
The upsetting thing – apart for the sorrow I feel for those who were killed today – is that Turkey has long been a stalwart of secular democratic institutions. It is a multi-party system that was a democracy when other countries in the region, when other countries in Europe, were not. Now, it seems to have changed, though my Turkish friends say it is not quite changed as much as the western press seems to believe.
I have my suspicions as to what happened. The current president and former Prime Minister is a charismatic leader who wishes to break down the secular nature of the state and bring a greater influence of religion into government. He was recently rebuffed in elections but instead of cooperating with other parties, chose to call another election to try and get his way. Let’s hope he is rebuffed once again. The fact he is playing the fear card is eerily familiar to the Canadian election but as we see the consequences are greater.
This is not an attack on Islam; it is an attack on any inclusion of religion in the operation of government. I’m as concerned about the Republican desire to make America into a so-called “Christian” nation as I am with Turkey – or for that matter, parts of India where religious based parties dominate state governments.
Religion is a private matter even when conducted in public. Although I am an atheist and view church as a tremendous waste of time, energy and resources, if it works for you, feel free to practice it in the way you see fit. But keep it out of government. It always leads to chaos, discrimination and, yes, violence.
The greatest thing that may have happened in the evolution of British democracy was making the church explicitly subservient to the state. Religion is all well and good but it is always about dividing the believers from the non-believers. Only the state has room for everyone. Only the state can promote freedom and equality. As Canadians say: only good government brings peace and order.
And that’s ten minutes.