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Ron never passes up the chance to travel. Here, he recounts a 2011 trip to Turkey where he attended several conferences and got a feel for what was happening to the people, straight from the source. 

Turkey’s economic growth rate surpasses that of China. What is its secret for success, I wonder?

1. Turkey encourages entrepreneurship and productivity (instead of taxing it to death).

2. Turkey had a severe financial crisis in 2001 and has not since permitted welfare entitlements and debt to develop, as they have in so many countries now experiencing difficulties. It has thus become the model economy for so many Arab countries as they now break away from autocratic dictatorships. These countries-in-transition see the communist model as defunct, the US model as broken and the European model as decaying.

If you need an example of Turkish entrepreneurship, then try chicken feet! Chicken feet are not eaten in Turkey but they are a delicacy in China. Casting your eyes skyward in Turkey you might see one of the many planeloads of chicken feet (in marinade) flying off to China! Turkey earns US$40m annually from exporting more than 3000 tonnes of their chicken feet to the restaurant tables of China.

The virtues of specialization and trade to one side, the real highlight of my sojourn in Turkey was the three back-to-back conferences, which became three intriguingly intense adventures.

The first, Religion, Society, and Freedom, better described as a colloquium, was an intimate three-day conversation among and between an exquisitely chosen 15 person group of Islamic scholars and Christian/Western Civilisation advocates. There are many differences between Islam and the West, some running very deep, and this brief investigation of their origins brought home to me the depth and breadth of the chasm that exists.

For example, we were urged to ponder on phrases such as: “If you confront evil with good, you will tire of the confrontation. But, if you confront it with evil, you will vanquish it.” Our pre-conference reading papers hoped that: “the darkness of this dilemma which the reader faced has by now been transformed into light, and fire has been transformed into coolness and peace of mind.”

However, on return to this remote outpost of Australia and being greeted with the continuing on-screen examples of divisiveness, mostly caused by our defective government policies (much in the way that ‘foreign aid’ often results in perverse consequences) shows me that much work needs to be done in Australia, where our society will fracture if we fail to find a satisfactory remedy. Nonetheless, it was refreshing to explore the many things that we do have in common, among them voluntarism which, regrettably is not universally practised.

Although the pre-conference reading papers suggested that voluntarism was only a secondary function (goal), it was respectably suggested by me that we elevate voluntarism to the status of a primary goal, as it is one of the most unifying forces throughout civil societies which can bridge Jewish/Christian and Muslim philosophies.

This colloquium experience, exploring the relationships between Western Civilization (which unfortunately is no longer taught in most ‘Western’ universities) and the Islamic faith/law/finance interconnect, is something I will continue through the significant personal contacts made on this occasion.

The second conference, Nation, State and Liberty, was a four-day presentation of academic papers, followed by comments from academic discussants and Q&A sessions attended by approximately 250 delegates.

The introductory comments from the co-chairman of the organizing committee, Professor Atilla Yayla, set the stage for some lively discussions:

“The time we live in is named a nation-state-age. We are born into nation states. We are socialized and educated in nation states. The nation state follows us from cradle to grave. There seems to exist no way to escape from it. In brief, the nation state has impacts in every moment and every aspect of human life. How are society and our individual freedom affected by this fact? This is the main theme of the meeting.

“However, by leaving this important topic to the sessions, I would like to briefly touch upon another subject which is as important as the relation between freedom and the nation state. I am encouraged to do so because this meeting is taking place in a country where the majority of the population is Muslim. The issue is Islam’s compatibility with individual freedom, liberal democracy and a free market economy. As we all know, the economic and political outlook in Muslim countries is extremely disappointing. Almost all Muslim countries are economically underdeveloped. There are some rich nations, but they cannot be counted among industrialized countries since their wealth results not from a stable and strong production base but from a single commodity – oil.

“Total GDP of Islamic countries all together is less than that of France. The number of books translated each year into the four main languages spoken in Muslim countries is less than that of the books translated into Spanish. In none of the Islamic countries, including Turkey, do we see a well-functioning, consolidated democratic system. The recent revolts in North Africa, the so-called Arab Spring, raised our hopes that in some Arabic countries liberal democratic systems could be founded. However, one needs to be cautious about what is to happen next in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia. As the great philosopher, Lord Acton, pointed out in the 19th century, “In the end of the day, what matters is not what you are against but what you are for.”

“Why is this so? Is there anything wrong with Islam, and Muslim people? There are two extremist positions taken by some commentators on this issue. The first one is the position of Islamists and the second one is the position of some Westerners. These two groups appear as if they are in a clash with each other, but in practice they unite in the aim to keep Muslim lands away from individual freedom, a free market economy, and liberal democracy. The Islamists say that Islam is not compatible with Western values of individual freedom, the rule of law, and with Western institutions like a free market economy and liberal democracy. The Westerners who are infected with Islamophobia rush to join them and claim that these values and institutions are uniquely Western. They are the product of Western culture and they cannot exist or survive in any other culture.

“I think both sides are mistaken…”

The third conference was Spreading the Word of Freedom and Liberal Democracy in the Region. The full significance and relevance of the first two conferences were exemplified in the content of this one-day conference which brought together ‘veterans’ and ‘reformers’ from the time of the fall of communism, some 20 years ago, with the current courageous youth leaders spearheading the many ongoing Arab Spring youth rebellions against autocratic dictatorships.

There were about 130 delegates from 45 different countries. Turkey, being an economic model for these nations to follow, was a logical choice as a venue for such a conference.

I view the future with apprehension, because although it is clear that these rebellious youth groups have a clear vision of the future they don’t want, there is no equally clear vision of what sort of society they do wish to construct as a viable replacement. (Here, I’m referring to the many youth groups not attending this conference.) Any study of civilizations show that nothing lasts forever and that it is difficult to construct a complex working model of your future when you are doing it on the run and under great stress.

I took the liberty of filming most of these presentations and many can be found on Mannkal’s YouTube channel. Many comments were ‘in-house’ and I was worried they would cause problems in the speakers’ home countries. When I discussed this with a Syrian speaker, his comments were: “Our people are dying right now, so you have a responsibility to tell the world what is going on in Syria.”

As these youth revolts continue, much thought will be given to the various options now open to these countries. The simple choices that existed 20 years ago between capitalism and communism are no longer available and the world is generally unforgiving to the USA for its mass export of deceptive financial instruments, made worse by the central bankers and populist governments who encouraged irresponsible debt with near-zero interest rates.

The poor state of political leadership amongst the major nations is a topic of wide discussion as many countries around the world move into re-election mode in 2012.

From these meetings the Istanbul Network for Liberty was created to explore the principles and values of a free society within the Muslim world. The criteria for involvement are to have a strong commitment to a free society, to be a Muslim or to come from a mainly Muslim country and a significant number of people have become a part of it. Hopefully it will help to increase understanding of the creative power of freedom in mainly Muslim countries.

Another optimistic ray of light is that it is becoming more obvious to many of us that nations are generally becoming ungovernable under the present political arrangements and that the old game of ‘pass the parcel’ to future generations is no longer acceptable.

The next generation of articulate online activists appear to be our best chance of reversing that political decay. This I see as our best chance of building barricades against Leviathan governments, and creating circumstances where individuals can be left free to thrive and prosper. watch below for Dr Tom G Palmer’s excellent explanation of Arab Spring.



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