The Turkish Summer?

turkey-protestsI’ve referred to Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan as the “king of the Islamists” because of his ability to swoon the West, make Israel bend and maintain popularity while implementing Sharia using the doctrine of “gradualism.” He now faces his biggest internal challenge as protests against him enter their fifth day in what one expert compares to the “eruption of a volcano.”

The unexpected spark was Erdogan’s plan to redevelop Gezi Park in Taksim Square. Reuters explains that Taksim honors the secular legacy of Ataturk, while the other squares in the capital reflect upon the days of the Ottoman Empire. When Erdogan planned to transform the park into an Ottoman-theme shopping center with a mosque, apartment complex and model of Ottoman-era barracks, it was seen by secularists as a washing away of Ataturk.

Opponents of Erdogan had been looking for an opportunity, angered over the government’s new restrictions on alcohol sales and advertising, the morning-after pill, the rejection of a gay rights law, and other moves towards Sharia governance. About 100 Turks publicly kissed in a subway station after officials said passengers must “act in accordance with moral rules” regarding public displays of affection.

A recent poll found that 35% of Turks consume alcohol, an act that is forbidden in Islam. It did not flatly ask respondents whether they oppose the new restrictions, but 61% felt it was an intervention in personal lives. Interestingly, a 2009 poll that found high levels of hostility towards Christians, Jews and atheists also found that 54% of Turks don’t want “Sharia supporters” for neighbors.

The protest at Gezi Park began as a small sit-in at the park, with participants planting trees and reading books. It quickly grew as the demonstration took on broader meaning. Tens of thousands joined and protests spread to 67 of Turkey’s 81 provinces.

“We are Mustafa Kemal’s soldiers,” chanted some protesters, referring to Ataturk.

The police’s reaction, by Erdogan’s own admission, was excessive. At least two have died, one at the hands of an unidentified gunman, perhaps a police officer. About 1,700 have been arrested and thousands more injured, including a young boy who lost an eye because of a plastic bullet. The Turkish opposition claims that detainees have been forced into signing testimonies and are being refused access to lawyers.

The protests are bound to get larger in the coming days as they garner international attention. One of the country’s four major unions, the 240,000-strong Public Workers Unions Confederation, is launching a two-day “warning” strike on Tuesday.

Erdogan reacted as Islamists usually do. He claimed that the protestors are extremists allied with terrorists and are part of a foreign conspiracy. He said, “The thing that is called social media is the biggest trouble for society now,” setting the stage for restrictions on the Internet.

Contrary to Erdogan’s insistence that the protesters are part of a fringe group, The Atlantic observes that “all of Turkey was represented: the young and the old, the secular and the religious, the soccer hooligans and the blind, anarchists, communists, nationalists, Kurds, gays, feminists and students.”

Erdogan’s Islamist agenda has become more aggressive as he’s tallied up political victories since coming to power in 2002.

Recently, the Turkish government sentenced writer Sevan Nisanyan to one year in prison for allegedly “denigrating the religious values.” This comes shortly after the conviction of pianist Faisal Say for his exercising of free speech. In July, the government suggested limits on free speech for the sake of “public morality,” “public order” and to “prevent pro-war propaganda, discrimination and hate.”

Under Erdogan, anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism has skyrocketed. The government is said to have bought 40% of the media and has more imprisoned journalists than any other country. It also has the highest rate of honor killings and 17,000 new mosques have been built. Erdogan has overseen the largest crackdown on the military in the country’s history, protecting himself from being the next example of a Turkish leader overthrown in a coup.

Turkey’s move into the Islamist camp does not only have strategic implications for the West. It has direct affects for America. The Turkish Fehtullah Gulen network is under FBI investigation. The Turkish government is building ties with Native American tribes. And, most recently, Erdogan spoke at an event celebrating his government’s construction of a $100 million Ottoman-themed mega-mosque in Maryland.

Yet, President Obama calls Erdogan a “friend.” If you go to the websites of the major Muslim-American organizations, not a word is said; a sharp contrast to their rapid responses to the “offenses” of “Islamophobes” and Western governments, especially Israel.

Just as they were when Muslims challenged the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, these groups are absent. Turkish activists even had to fundraise online to take out a full-page advertisement for their cause in the New York Times. A group like the Council on American-Islamic Relations or the Islamic Society of North America could cut a check for it without skipping a breath.

Dr. Daniel Pipes reacted to the landslide victory of Erdogan’s Islamist party in 2011 with a dire warning: “Elections taking place today are likely to be the last fair and free ones in Turkey. With Turkey’s leading Islamist party controlling all three branches of the government and the military sidelined, little will stop it from changing the rules to keep power into the indefinite future.”

We shouldn’t be surprised when an Islamist acts like an Islamist.

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  • AdinaK

    Paradoxically, Islamist Erdogan is facing a burgeoning secular revolt, but others will wrongfully compare it to the "Arab Spring". The only resemblance involves rioting, but otherwise there is no comparison. The fact of the matter was that the so called "Arab Spring" had the support of a minority of secular-leaning citizens, but an overwhelming amount of splintered Islamist groups were in the forefront.

    Erdogan is bent on returning Turkey to rule via the Ottoman Empire, and this is why he (and his supporters in Washington and Europe, chiefly in Germany) will pull out all stops to thwart them. This is the real face of Erdogan's Turkey –

    His support of Islamic terrorists tells the tale….and his Brotherhood Mafia alliance is key.

    Adina kutnicki, Israel

    • Drakken

      Well one small point Adina, the Germans are telling the pols under no circumstance do they want Turkey in the EU, the turks are a major problem in Germany and Austria and are making the natives seethe with contempt. Sooner or later with things going the way they are there will be revolt.

  • Chezwick

    During the Iranian student demonstrations back in '09, there was a strain within the anti-Jihad that believed we didn't have a dog in the fight and that Iran's opposition couldn't be trusted. I disagreed strenuously. This is not to imply that the opposition there, or the Turkish opposition today, is pristine, only that both are preferable to the governments they are fighting….and deserve at the very least our moral support.

    Muslims are constricted in scope and vision by their own theological mandates….and while it is imperative for us infidels to understand Islamic doctrine in all its infamy, let's not ourselves become constricted by it. We must not become rigid in our perception of the Islamic realm, and should avoid adopting its nomenclature and ethos (e.g., terrorism isn’t terrorism when Muslims are the perps). Whether or not Muslims view their Jihad as terrorism, we in the West should not re-define the word in order to accommodate them.

    One would hope we could deal with the Muslim realm adroitly and flexibly, making appropriate distinctions among them regarding their respective ideological proclivities, not necessarily in terms of immigration at home (which is an entirely separate issue), but in terms of our disposition towards them abroad. Let’s reject the unimaginative rigidity which some here propound….that all Muslims are identical and equally malevolent. Quite evidently as events in Turkey and Iran and elsewhere have shown us, they are not.

    In Syria, for example, both sides are anathema and it is not in our interest to help either. In Iran and Turkey, the circumstance is different, given the relative secular inclinations of the opposition. And let’s keep in mind, schismatic upheaval in the Muslim world works towards our advantage, particularly when the space for secular entities is widened.

    Erdogan’s slow-motion Sharia experiment might – and I emphasize MIGHT – be unraveling. But even if he superimposes it via the police truncheon, it will lose its legitimacy and reinforce the perception to the world (and the Turkish people) that Islam and democracy are entirely incompatible.

    • Chezwick

      Sorry folks that the above post was so long-winded. To sum up, if we treat all Muslims as if they are the same, we forfeit the ability to exploit divisions among them.

      • Stephen_Brady

        A philosopher is used to reading long treatises. I enjoyed your post, and got your point!

    • ziontruth

      "Let's reject the unimaginative rigidity which some here propound….that all Muslims are identical and equally malevolent. Quite evidently as events in Turkey and Iran and elsewhere have shown us, they are not."

      In the sense that many Muslims in Turkey are secularized and only call themselves Muslims as an identifier, you're right. But that observation makes the point stronger, not weaker, that the non-Muslim world can come into terms only with those Muslims whose religiosity is weak. Not a good basis, because that kind of thing is subject to change, sometimes very sudden change.

      I've long maintained that, with all the revolutions in the Muslim world talked about, there has never actually been a true revolution. They blame the leaders and a botched implementation of Islamic principles; they never blame the Islamic principles themselves. There's never been a revolution against Islam; the thought that Islam itself might be the cause of their woes crosses the minds of very few, and they too must keep it quiet for fear of their lives.

      If Turkey has that kind of popular revolution then it'll be the first in history.

      • Chezwick

        Good observations….which is why admitting Muslims as immigrants based on their so-called moderation would be a mistake, given that such moderation – as you point out – could change on a dime. But abroad, encouraging pluralism means helping those in opposition who espouse secular views, regardless of how deep those views are. If nothing else, we weaken the unity of the ummah.

        Regarding your last point, I think Kemalism was a bona-fide revolution. It was quite comprehensive an unambiguously secular….(oddly, Attaturk's nationalism was in some respects more intolerant than the Islam of the Ottomans; witness the Greeks who were expelled by him in the 1920s from their ancestral homes, a fate they never suffered under the Caliphs). But certainly in the broader sense, his reforms Westernized Turkey.

        Yet, as comprehensively reformist as Kemalism was, it didn't prevent, decades after the death of its namesake, the re-assertion of Islamic identity. It just shows the extent to which islam's tentacles reach into the cultural and collective psychological fabric of the Muslim world.

        • ziontruth

          "But abroad, encouraging pluralism means helping those in opposition who espouse secular views, regardless of how deep those views are. If nothing else, we weaken the unity of the ummah."

          As long as it doesn't mean Iraq-like nation-building attempts, I agree. It's already an uphill battle with the shariah advocates seeing foreign conspiracies everywhere, but once there are boots on the ground, secularism becomes synonymous with treason even in the eyes of a moderate populace.

          "Regarding your last point, I think Kemalism was a bona-fide revolution. It was quite comprehensive an unambiguously secular"

          The question is how comprehensive it was. In the Christian world, secularism has been so entrenched in Europe that the religious fervor seen in the U.S.A. is rare to behold; America is a secular state by law, but the Christian populace has a large portion of orthodox believers. Kemalist Turkey like America enshrined secularism in law but there was no European-style cynification (my coining for the occasion) of the populace.

          All this would be a matter just for sociology class if it weren't for Islam's inherent imperialism.

          "It just shows the extent to which islam's tentacles reach into the cultural and collective psychological fabric of the Muslim world."

          David Ben Gurion, the Washington and Ataturk of Israel, thought Orthodox Judaism would die out within a generation. Israel is as secular by law as it was in his day, but he couldn't have been more wrong about the fate of the religion among the populace—Jewish religiosity has only gotten stronger.

          Leaving jaded, twice-war-scarred Europe aside, in most of the world the craving for religion will be manifested in the populace, even if the systems of law stay secular. I don't believe the Turkish populace will be free of Islam any time soon; a return to Kemalist secularization of the political system is the best that could be hoped for.

  • davarino

    Things always tend toward the mean, and the more things vear from the mean the more violently things eventually snap back toward the mean. This thing, happening in the ME is a vearing from the mean that will eventually snap back. People can live like animals only so long, then they have had enough.

  • Justin

    Great Post, enjoyed reading it!

  • antisharia

    I loathe Erdogan, I've said before that he's nothing but Bin Laden in a business suit. But he'll win. Rightly or wrongly he has the aura of legitimacy because he's supposedly won free and fair elections. That's debatable. But Islam is a much older, and more potent force, than Kemalism. Erdogan might back down from this specific project, but he'll cling to power, and he'll probably go on to win the next "election."

  • Drakken

    I say let Turkey burn, the more the muslims go ape on each other the better it is for us, it used to be that if the islamaniacs got out of line the Generals took care of the problem, now the muslims put the Generals in jail. Just keep those refugees out of the west.

  • jeepwonder

    The islamists must not be delivering on promises if the people are rising up.
    Sharia just doesn’t delivery the paradise they think it will.

  • Jakareh

    The mainstream media is too stupid to realize that democracy is not the same thing as elections. Erdoğan was elected by millions of Sharia enthusiasts, the descendants of the Turks who committed genocide against the country’s Christian population (Armenians, Greeks, and Assyrians) during and after WWI, and who were proud of the “victory” they achieved for Islam. Quite often, there is more freedom in a dictatorship than in a democracy informed by such values.