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Sun May 1, 2016, 01:23 AM May 2016

Europe's First Islamic Constitution? What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

Calls by a top member of the ruling party of Turkey for an Islamic constitution to replace the secular basic law currently in place in the country, a NATO member and crucial U.S. ally, have been rejected by politicians from all stripes, including President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, himself a pious Muslim. But as Erdogan is trying to avoid a debate that could harm him politically, the question remains: How should the relationship between state and religion be defined in a country with a 99 per cent Muslim population?

Turkey’s current constitution, which enshrines the principle of secularism in Article 2, was drawn up under military rule in 1982. All parties in Ankara agree that a completely new text should be written to give Turkey a more modern and more democratic outlook.

Erdogan is trying to convince Turks to also change the form of government from the current parliamentary to a U.S. style presidential one, with himself at the helm. The opposition says his real aim is absolute power without the sort of checks and balances that limit executive excesses elsewhere, amid speculation in the media that a referendum on a new constitution could be called this year. Erdogan cannot be sure that a majority of Turks would accept a presidential system in such a vote, with some polls saying support for his plan is as low as 35 per cent.

That is why remarks by Parliamentary Speaker Ismail Kahraman about the need for an Islamic constitution came at a bad time for Erdogan. Kahraman, a member of Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), told a conference in Istanbul on April 25 that secularism should not even be mentioned in the planned new constitution. “We are an Islamic country,” Kahraman said. “There has to be a devout constitution.”

Alarming but it seems like many Turks disagree and are uneasy by such laws.

But many Turks are less enthusiastic. Rejection of calls to bring Turkey’s constitution into line with Islamic rules is not limited to die-hard secularists. “Even many devout Turks (are) likely to be queasy about this,” Howard Eissenstat, a specialist on Turkey at St. Lawrence University in Canton, NY, tweeted about Kahraman’s statement. Eissenstat pointed to polls showing that only a minority of 12 per cent of Turks want their country to be ruled by Islamic law and that 90 per cent think women’s decision to cover their hair should be voluntary.

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