Pious legends

Who will counter the pious legends that follow our heroes around? Not our religious leaders and scholars who help promulgate them, nor their followers who hang on their every word.

How often have we heard over the past few days that Turkey has so many enemies because it is free of the burden of debt?

It is claimed that the current Turkish government finally paid off the Ottoman Empire’s debt during its tenure. However this is not true, for this debt was repaid in 1954 after a century of interest repayments.

It is of course true that they paid off their $4 billion IMF debt in 2013. But this does not mean that Turkey is by any means debt free. In the year it paid off that debt, its overall external debt stood at $340 billion. It now stands at over $410 billion, or 35.4% of GDP.

This is still favourable compared to the UK, which currently has a debt standing at over $2 trillion or 85% of GDP. But as can be seen, the pious claims of the devotees simply do not withstand scrutiny.

Anyone who has visited Turkey over the past few years cannot help but have noticed the massive investment in the country’s infrastructure: in road networks, bridges, public transport, housing and healthcare. It is a rapidly developing country — currently the 17th biggest economy in the world — bringing about massive change within.

Some of us worry, however, that their economic trajectory is not sustainable. Its GDP growth is currently half its 2013 rate. With trouble within and on its borders, it is not exactly the attractive investment market it once was.

Pious myth-making is not helpful at a time like this. The AK Party is fundamentally a pragmatic, conservative neo-liberal political party, which has always rejected being labelled as an Islamic, Muslim-Democrat or Islamist party.

When religious imagery is conflated with politics, people are easily manipulated. Unfortunately Muslims outside Turkey do just that, as the litany of posts praising the president as a near-messiah since this weekend’s attempted coup illustrate.

In their posts, it is the usual metaphysical battle between good an evil, grounded in quasi-theology, involving the usual suspects: Freemasons, the Rothschilds, Crusaders, Israelis and the CIA. The mainstream press is no better: it is a battle between rabid Islamists and the supposedly democratic gatekeepers of secularism.

We should challenge both narratives. The AK Party has been a phenomenally successful political party, bringing about significant change in modern Turkey. But it is not immune to the impulses that afflict every political party on earth; why would it be? As it responds to this weekend’s attempted coup, Turkey will benefit most from the rational advice of its friends and allies, to help it navigate its forward democratic course through the minefield of regional conflict, outside interference and internal strife.

In short, the party must remember its roots: in pursuing justice and development for all. Well-meaning religious leaders and scholars around the world could help by staying out of it. And the Muslim masses by not hanging on their scholars’ every word without question; some of them are tragically ill-informed.

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