[MONDAY TALK]Felicity Party’s new leader Kurtulmuş says materialism cannot last

Numan Kurtulmuş

November 03, 2008, Monday/ 18:17:00
Numan Kurtulmuş, the new leader of the Felicity Party (SP), has said Turkey should adopt brand-new policies to get rid of the influences of materialistic values in society.
He said family values, individual morality and societal solidarity have eroded in Turkey and that spiritual values need to be stressed.

The SP, previously chaired by Recai Kutan and former Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan, recently selected Kurtulmuş as leader, a person Erbakan's Milli Görüş (National View) base has long wanted to see in the position. There has been some behind-the-scenes talk that a number of Justice and Development Party (AK Party) deputies may join the SP (Saadet Partisi) under Kurtulmuş. The political origins of many AK Party deputies as well as Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan began in Milli Görüş.

For Monday Talk, Kurtulmuş answered our questions about his views on the ruling AK Party's failures and how he is going to turn the SP -- a small party which garnered only 2.5 percent of the vote during the last election -- into a winning party.

Why would Turkish voters elect the SP?

After events like the Sept. 12, 1980 coup and the Feb. 28, 1997 process, the sociological structures of some political parties have disintegrated. Some parties were born out of the conjectural developments. For example, the late Turgut Özal's Motherland Party [ANAP, now ANAVATAN] came to power as a result of the Sept. 12 military coup, and the AK Party gained power as a result of the Feb. 28 process [unarmed military intervention of 1997]. The Nov. 3, 2002 elections, which brought the AK Party to power, showed that voters had reservations during past periods. However, politics was not conducted through projects and ideas in the Nov. 3 elections, nor during the July 22, 2007 elections. As a result, the only definition the AK Party can identify itself with is as a conservative democratic party. And this doesn't mean much to Turkish society. People voted for the AK Party for three reasons: to have a bigger share of the cake, to change the status quo and to increase freedoms. The party received 47 percent of the vote but could not meet the expectations of its voters. So the AK Party receives votes out of tension with the opposition [Republican People's Party] CHP and the notion that there is no other alternative.

Are you targeting AK Party voters?

We are open to anyone who would like to embrace our ideas. These ideas are about making Turkey a strong country again, acknowledging the values and culture of our past and believing that there is a need for a new and just world. There are people who believe these ideas in every party in Turkey.

The fact is that the SP garnered only a fraction of the vote in the last election. How are you going to change the situation?

Yes, we received a low percentage of the vote, but we should consider the fact that no party in the world has been able to keep its organizational structures at the grassroots level that intact after a turnout as low as 2.5 percent. Our Oct. 26 meeting showed that we are passionate, enthusiastic and well organized. Even though most people do not vote for the SP, they embrace our ideas.

Like what?

For example, the attendance at a demonstration organized by the SP protesting the slander of Danish caricatures of our Prophet was around 300,000-400,000. Again, the attendance at our demonstrations in protest of the massacres in Iraq's Fallujah was in the hundreds of thousands. Our demonstrations against the occupation of Palestine also saw hundreds of thousands of participants. Maybe half of them were not SP voters. People show that they support our main ideas, but they are waiting for our political leadership. If we can show that there is an alternate party which can promote its ideals, then many people are likely to vote for us.

What are those ideals, more specifically?

Materialistic paradigms can no longer last in Turkey, and family values, individual morality and societal solidarity have eroded quite a bit. In an environment like this, we stress spiritual values. Secondly, because Turkey is under so much influence from external forces -- through the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the Greater Middle East Project of the United States -- we stress domestically produced solutions. And a majority of Turks support anti-imperialism, so we also focus on this issue. Finally, because there is so much poverty in this country, we support a system for the equitable distribution of income.

Do you see a coalition formula to achieve that?

The important thing is to have power, not just to rule. There were periods in Turkey when parties had strong voices in Parliament even though they did not have a large percentage of votes. Two good examples are the [National Salvation Party] MSP and the Turkey Workers' Party [TİP]. One of the most important problems in Turkey is a lack of potent political parties. Our goal is to be a powerful party.

Let's talk about some concrete policy issues. Which of your economic policies would you enact to steer Turkey through the global economic crisis with the least damage?

This is not only a political or economic crisis; this is a crisis of civilization. This system [modern Western civilization] has been based on maximizing profits, individual gains and opportunism. The system has ignored ethics while conducting business. The system supports neo-liberal polices in which the small fish is swallowed by the bigger fish. Now the whole world has been affected. The mentality has focused on obtaining the world's resources and exploiting them. This is where we stand now. A completely new paradigm is needed.

Do you suggest radical approaches?

I suggest them for the whole world. Indeed, the whole world is talking about them. This is the start of the post-modernism debate. Solving the crisis seems impossible if we continue to follow neo-liberal policies.

How about Turkey? What is your view about what needs to be done?

Turkey's problem is that since the policies of the 1980s and with the adoption of the 17th IMF protocol at the beginning of 2000, the Turkish economy has been integrated into the world economy. So the Turkish economy is open to crises. We have low rates of production, and the private sector is under the heavy burden of foreign debt. Our economy is not based on nationally made decisions. This is true for the United States as well. Following the subprime mortgage crisis in the United States, [US Federal Reserve Chairman] Ben Bernanke said their problem was that they no longer have a national economy. Indeed, a few hundred big companies rule the global economy without considering anything other than the benefits to their firms. This is not a sustainable system.

'I would focus on increasing our production, employment and exports'

What would you do if you were prime minister?

I wouldn't allow the production capacity of the economy to decrease. I would focus on policies that would increase production, the employment rate and exports. Our production is low, unemployment is high and our exports are much less than our imports.

Do you think the "Milli Görüş" ["National View" identified with Erbakan's political movement representing people who have the same faith] of the 1960s and 1970s is applicable today?

Some of those views need modern, new approaches. For example, in the 1970s we put an emphasis on the development of heavy industries in Turkey and a factory for each city. Now the important thing is to be competitive on a global scale in the high-tech sector. When it comes to the foreign policy arena, in the past, Milli Görüş emphasized an honorable foreign policy reflecting our own character. Today this is not enough. Turkish foreign policy should be active and multifaceted.

Do you have any criticism of the AK Party's foreign policy approaches?

Prior to the AK Party, Turkish foreign policy could be described as active impartiality. Turkey was able to afford that policy when the conflicts were far away. But Turkey had to abandon that policy following such conflicts as the United States' first intervention in Iraq and the wars in the Balkans and the Caucasus. As a result, the government has commendably been following an active policy which emphasizes making numerous foreign visits. However, visits alone do not bring about results. The important thing is having the ability to use your own initiative. There have been many visits, but Turkey has not formed a single international organization. Turkey tried to take a leading role in the conference of Iraq's neighbors but faced the interference from the United States. I should also note that the government has wrongly assumed that the United States' Greater Middle East Project would bring stability to the region and has therefore taken part in it.

Do you think Turkey could play a role in influencing Iran to move away from developing nuclear weapons, assuming that Iran has the intention of developing nuclear weapons?

Nuclear weapons are the most inhumane means of war. We support the elimination of nuclear weapons in all countries. Iran should not have nuclear weapons, but neither should Israel. Pakistan should not have nuclear weapons, but neither should the United States. The people who say Iran should not develop nuclear weapons should first eliminate 100,000 nuclear weapons in the world. There are even claims that the United States uses small-scale nuclear weapons in Iraq.

Do you support Turkey's membership in the European Union?

The problem is Turkey's incorrect perception which sees the EU as a project of civilization. The EU has not been a civilization project for any European country. Secondly, Turkey wrongly assumes that the EU has completed its evolution. Thirdly, Turkey assumes that Turkey's democratization is possible only through the EU. On top of that EU officials have said Turkey's membership will not be considered until 2014, if not later. With all these wrongful assumptions the government has made, Turkey has been in a position of compromise, making the process unsustainable.

'Turkey should readopt Jerusalem criteria'

Where do you see the key for Turkey's democratization?

Turkey cannot advance its democracy with the standards imposed by others. Historically, Turkey has attempted to adopt the values that the EU has been trying to achieve. I call these the "Jerusalem criteria." The Ottomans ruled the area for four centuries, and in that period all religions, sects and ethnic groups lived together without conflict. They achieved that based on such principles as freedom of education in line with people's desires, freedom of thought, freedom of religion, and freedom of movement and trade. It is Turkey's responsibility to assure that these principles are realized again.

What are your views on secularism?

Nobody can force anybody to believe. The basic problem lies in the definition of secularism. There is an important debate about religion's place in society and the state's interference in religion.

Where do you think that place should be?

Strict French secularism cannot be accepted. Whether pious, less pious or not at all close to piousness, most of the inhabitants of this country are Muslim; they come from an Islamic tradition and culture and they should have space for their practices. As long as everybody is respectful of each other, any kind of religious belief, thought and practice should be free. The Anglo-American interpretation of secularism is more flexible in that regard. When American presidents take the oath of office on the Bible, secularism has not been hurt. Unfortunately, strict Turkish secularists oppose even thinking about this. However, Islam has no right to interfere in others' rights, and this nation has no problem with Islam. The problem is in interpreting secularism. Solving this issue is an important political problem for Turkey.

'I saw Erbakan when I was 10'

Looking back, how do you evaluate Erbakan's controversial visit with the Libyan leader Muammer Gaddafi?

I was not involved in politics at the time, but what I heard later was that the visit was not specifically planned for Libya, but for Africa to help collect debts owned to our companies. Unfortunately, the Turkish media have been critical of the prime minister's visit instead of Gaddafi's inhospitable behavior.

Your admiration for Erbakan is widely known. Which of his qualities influences you the most?

When I first saw and listened to him, I was 10 years old. At the time he was giving an address in İstanbul. I don't remember the topic of his speech, but what stuck in my mind from that speech were his words, "Victory is for believers, and victory is coming soon." These words always remind me of the extraordinary effort you need to make if you believe in something and want to achieve it. He was just one person when he started a movement, but he carried it into great achievements.

Is there anything about Erbakan that you do not like very much?

Not really.

Numan Kurtulmuş

Recently elected leader of the Felicity Party (SP), he is considered the "heir" of former Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan, whose Welfare Party (RP) and its successor Virtue Party (FP) were closed down in 1998 and 2001, respectively, by the Constitutional Court on grounds that they advocated an unlawful transformation of the principle of secularism. Kurtulmuş entered politics as the İstanbul provincial head of the SP in 1998. He served also as the deputy leader of the SP.

Kurtulmuş, who wrote his Ph.D. thesis at Cornell University, obtained his doctorate in economics in 1992 at İstanbul University. He is currently a professor at İstanbul Ticaret Üniversitesi (İstanbul Commerce University). He wrote a book titled "Sanayi Ötesi Dönüşüm" (Post-Industrial Transformation), published in 1996.


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