It's high time to retire our delusions about Turkey being a model for Muslim countries.
One of the major questions confronting Western strategists and politicians today has to do with the political direction in which Turkey, a presumed ally and Western lynchpin in the Middle East, seems to be heading. Is it the beacon nation it has long been assumed to be, a stalwart democracy firmly rooted in Islamic soil? Or is it, on the contrary, a fundamentally Islamic nation now shaking off its Western trappings and faux identity to re-enter the theological orbit of the past? Who are we treating with, the Young Turks or the old Ottomans?
As Dinesh D’Souza writes in The Enemy at Home, it is time “to retire the tiresome invocation of Turkey as a model for Islamic society. No Muslim country is going the way of Turkey, and even Turkey is no longer going the way of Turkey.” But is not Turkey an electoral democracy and does it not therefore merit our approval and support? We in the West appear to have forgotten that elections in themselves do not constitute democracy. In the Muslim world, elections are only mechanisms for regulating the balance between competing tribal, ethnic and religious blocs intent on political domination, social coercion and economic exploitation—to be suspended the moment it seems opportune to do so. They are pretexts for structures of autocratic or theocratic control. It should come as no surprise that under the auspices of an ostensible democratic apparatus, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) is steering Turkey towards ever closer ties with the totalitarian regimes of Iran, Syria and Sudan and re-introducing Islamic norms of behavior.
The unpleasant fact of the matter is that in an Islamic context, democracy as we understand it does not work very well, if, indeed, it works at all. It is not a reliable or enduring phenomenon. Secular institutions in such a cultural and historical framework can survive only if they are imposed and backed by a strong military determined to check the influence of the clerical establishment and suppress the circulation of Islamic doctrine and extremist sentiment among the laity. Thus the folly of The European Commission’s 2005 report which declares that the Turkish army should concern itself exclusively with “military, defense and security matters…under the authority of the government,” ignoring the fact that the secular aspects of the state were achieved and protected only by internal military interventions.
The unwillingness of the West to recognize the true state of affairs regarding Turkey is encapsulated in an AP report on the recent arrest by the government of fifty Turkish commanders alleged to have planned a coup d’état. The article states: “Erdogan also has dramatically curtailed the military's power, under EU pressure, and reinforced civilian rule while bolstering democratic institutions.” Apart from the reference to (typically misguided) EU pressure, the reality is very different.
By all reputable accounts, Turkey is inexorably being Islamized, which was already evident when it refused to permit American flyovers and the use of military bases and staging grounds during the second Iraq war. As noted above, political and economic relations with Iran are growing ever more intimate; a $3.5 billion natural gas deal has recently been confirmed. There has been a rapprochement with Syria and the principal bone of contention between the two countries, the status of the Turkish province of Hatay claimed by Syria as the historical Iskandaron, has been quietly buried. Turkey launched a venomous propaganda campaign against Israel over Operation Cast Lead in the terrorist statelet of Gaza and refused to cooperate with Israel in long-planned war games, leading to the U.S. dropping out as well. Erdogan boasts that Turkey has “opened a new approach to foreign relations…We have a philosophy of strength.”
Domestically, the Turkish parliament has cancelled the ban on the hijab, prompting even the Russian journal RiaNovosti to speculate on the danger of radical change in the country. As RiaNovosti wryly points out, “the [pro-hijab] bill will burnish Turkey's democratic credentials, hastening its accession to the European Union”—a clever move, no doubt, given Eurabian sympathies. Turkey has recently attempted to pass a law criminalizing adultery in order, according to Erdogan, to preserve the family. The law did not carry but the current atmosphere in the country suggests it will be proposed once again. The fact that Mein Kampf has become a bestseller in Turkey is equally worrying.
For a sense of what to expect in the future, Turkey’s premier novelist Orhan Pamuk furnishes a rather disturbing speculum in his novel, Snow, which anyone interested in taking the pulse of the country should consult. The snowstorm which cuts off the town, where the central action occurs, from the secular West is more than meteorology; it is an emblem and parable of the gradually closing mindset that prevails in the country.
We should no longer delude ourselves about Turkey. Barring a successful military insurrection and a Kemalist revival, it is arguably lost to the West, or soon will be. Turkey should be met with forceful economic and diplomatic measures if we wish to prevent or at least defer a deteriorating situation. It would have to be made to realize that joining the Islamist axis is not to its long-term advantage. Significant countervailing pressure needs to be brought to bear and the secular command of the country’s military should be effectively supported.
But the problem, of course, is not only Turkey—or Iran for that matter, or Russia or any other nation against which we refuse to exercise leverage. The problem is us. We are addicted to the drug of appeasement. It is high time we showed a little character and took steps to bring about our long-overdue political and moral detoxification. For the reflex posture the West adopts of conciliation and procrastination, which in the case we are examining entails indifference to or even complicity with Turkey’s current domestic and foreign policies, will only hasten its departure from the fraying nexus of the Western alliance.