West’s silence speaksvolumes to Turkey

Tensions in Turkey are reaching explosive levels in the wake of rumors that a military coup is just around the corner. Citizens of that Middle East country are bracing for what could be the fourth such putsch in 37 years. Those fears are not unfounded; Turkish generals, after all, admit that a military takeover is underway. The generals object to the injection of religion — in this case, Islamic fundamentalism — into state politics.
The situation in Turkey is not unique. Since the end of the Cold War, similar scenarios have emerged around the globe. Five years ago in Algeria, for instance, the military intervened after fearing Islamic fundamentalists — who were on the verge of gaining power through democratic elections — would implement theocratic rule. Although parliamentary elections are to be held in a few weeks in that country, those fundamentalists are banned from participating.
Anyone committed to the sovereignty and self-determination of nations might say the events unfolding in Turkey and Algeria are unjust. Against the backdrop of free elections, the militaries in those countries appear to be engaging in crass power politics, using exaggerated fears of fundamentalism to justify their actions. And the military has indeed committed atrocities in Algeria since taking power. Nonetheless, the international community has not intervened. This is not Western arrogance, as critics will charge, or religious intolerance. Rather, the reluctance of world powers to intervene is rooted in a belief that religious extremism is anathema to the democratic principles taking root in every region of the world.
In our own backyard, efforts at mixing religion and politics have failed miserably. In many states and on the federal level, legislation based on religious doctrine has been roundly criticized. And rightly so. The American public recognizes the anti-democratic character of such legislation. Similarly, attempts by leaders in foreign countries to create rule-by-religion should be condemned by the United States and the rest of the democratic community.
Critics will argue that the fundamentalists in Turkey were democratically elected — and those in Algeria about to be — and should be allowed to decide the substance of their government. This argument fails to recognize the incompatibility of theocratic and democratic rule. In reality, the adoption of religious rule by these fundamentalists threatens to destroy the democratic structure that gave them power. On the verge of the 21st century, with so many countries adopting democratic systems, that would be tragic.
Rule by religious law assumes absolute truth. But no religious, ethnic or political group can claim infallibility. In democracies, individuals are free to follow the values of their conscience. They are free to share their views in the halls of government and in the court of public opinion. Fundamentalism, meanwhile, allows no such choice. In the modern world, ideas must be allowed to compete in a setting in which debate and compromise lead to human progress. This is impossible in countries that restrict dissent and create law by fiat. By their silence regarding Turkey and Algeria, the international community is saying as much.