A dangerous situation in Turkey
Turkey is half pregnant half pregnant with political Islam, if one believes Western foreign ministries and the mainstream press. Its Islamist government last week arrested 82 alleged coup plotters from Turkey’s military and intellectual elite, on the strength of a secret indictment of 2,445 pages. Turkish media have offered fanciful allegations linking the secular leaders of the alleged “Ergenekon” plot to al-Qaeda as well as the violent Kurdish Workers’ Party. Among those detailed are pillars of the secular establishment, including the head of the Ankara Chamber of Commerce and the Ankara editor of the country’s leading daily newspaper, Cumhuriyet.
Before shouting “Reichstag Fire!” in a crowded theater, one should read the indictment, when and if it is made public. A few Western analysts, such as Michael Rubin at the American Enterprise Institute, are warning  that an Islamic putsch is possible, after the fashion of ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran. The question of the moment, though, is not whether mass arrests of civic leaders on charges that challenge the imagination are compatible with Turkey’s image as a democratic nation, but rather why the world’s media have printed nary a harsh word about the administration of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
A perfect storm of enmity has come down on the beleaguered Turkish secularists, who find themselves without friends. That is a tragedy whose consequences will spill over Turkey’s borders, for the secular model established by Kemal Ataturk after World War I was the Muslim world’s best hope of adapting to modernity. Many years of misbehavior by Turkey’s army and security services, the core institutions of secular power, have eroded their capacity to resist an Islamist takeover.
The United States State Department, meanwhile, has found a dubious use for what it thinks is a moderate strain of political Islam. Washington apparently hopes to steer Turkey into a regional bloc with the short-term aim of calming Iraq, and a longer-term objective of fostering a Sunni alliance against Iran’s ambition to foment a Shi’ite revolution in the Middle East.
By rejecting Turkey’s efforts to join the European Union, France and Germany have destroyed the credibility of the secular parties who seek integration with the West. Perhaps the Europeans already have consigned Turkey to the ward for political incurables, and do not think it worthwhile to try to revive Western-oriented secularism. Turkey’s liberal intellectuals, who suffered intermittent but brutal repression at the hands of the secular military, think of the Islamist government as the enemy of their enemy, if not quite their friend.
Sadly, the notion that moderate Islam will flourish in the Turkish nation demands that we believe in two myths, namely, moderate Islam and the Turkish nation. Too much effort is wasted parsing the political views of Erdogan, who began his career in the 1990s as an avowed Islamist and anti-secularist, but later espoused a muted form of Islam as leader of the Justice and Development Party (AKP). Whether Erdogan is a born-again moderate or a disguised jihadi is known only to the man himself. Islam in Turkey flourishes in full public view. At the village level, the AKP draws on the same sort of Saudi Arabian patronage that filled Pakistan with madrassas (seminaries) during the past two decades, and incubated the Wahhabi forces that have now all but buried the remnants of Pakistani secularism.
If political Islam prevails in Turkey, what will emerge is not the same country in different coloration, but a changeling, an entirely different nation. In a 1997 speech that earned him a prison term, Erdogan warned of two fundamentally different camps, the secularists who followed Kemal, and Muslims who followed sharia. These are not simply different camps, however, but different configurations of Turkish society at the molecular level. Like a hologram, Turkey offers two radically different images when viewed from different angles. Turkish Islam, the ordering of the Anatolian villages and the Istanbul slums, represents a nation radically different than the secularism of the army, the civil service, the universities and the Western-leaning elite of Istanbul. If the Islamic side of Turkey rises, the result will be unrecognizable.
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