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Talking Turkey: Daniel Pipes, National Review, Dec. 26, 2012—During recent discussions in Istanbul, I learned that Turks of many viewpoints have reached a consensus about Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan: They worry less about his Islamic aspirations than about his nationalist and dictatorial tendencies.
Turkey: Is Atatürk Dead? Erdogan Islamism Replaces Kemalism: Asli Aydintasbas, The Daily Beast, Dec. 17, 2012—Under Mustafa Kemal’s [Ataturk] leadership, the young republic made a clean break from its Ottoman past nearly nine decades ago, ditching the caliphate for a secular regime and turning away from the empire’s former Arab territories in favor of an anti-clerical, pro-Western vision that became known as Kemalism.
Jew-Hatred Increasing Even in Liberal Parts of Turkey: Ege Berk Korkut, Elder of Ziyon, Die Welt, Dec. 20, 2012—Jew-hatred has become an everyday phenomenon in Turkey. Although I live in Izmir, the most democratic city in Turkey, [even here there is] growing anti-Semitism. Everywhere I meet Jew-haters and enemies of Israel, listen to their prejudices on the daily bus trip or during a visit to a popular fast-food restaurants.
Troubling News for Turkey’s Jews: Adam Chandler, Tablet, Dec. 19, 2012
Will There Be an Independent Kurdistan?: Jay Newton-Small, TIME, Dec. 21, 2012
Putin’s visit rekindles the Russia-Turkey affair: Dimitar Bechev, CNN, Dec. 4th, 2012
National Review, Dec. 26, 2012
The menu for meals on my Turkish Airlines flight earlier this month assured passengers that food selections “do not contain pork.” The menu also offered a serious selection of alcoholic drinks, including champagne, whisky, gin, vodka, raki, wine, beer, liqueur, and cognac. This oddity of simultaneously adhering to and ignoring Islamic law, the sharia, symbolizes the uniquely complex public role of Islam in today’s Turkey, as well as the challenge of understanding the Justice and Development Party (known by its Turkish abbreviation, AKP), which has dominated the country’s national government since 2002.
Political discussions about Turkey tend to dwell on whether the AKP is Islamist or not: In 2007, for example, I asked: “What are the AKP leadership’s intentions? Did it . . . retain a secret Islamist program and simply learn to disguise its Islamist goals? Or did it actually give up on those goals and accept secularism?”
During recent discussions in Istanbul, I learned that Turks of many viewpoints have reached a consensus about Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan: They worry less about his Islamic aspirations than about his nationalist and dictatorial tendencies.
Applying the sharia in full, they say, is not a feasible goal in Turkey because of the country’s secular and democratic nature, something distinguishing it from other Muslim-majority countries (except Albania, Kosovo, and Kyrgyzia). Accepting this reality, the AKP wins ever-greater electoral support by softly coercing the population to be more virtuous, traditional, pious, religious, conservative, and moral. Thus, it encourages fasting during Ramadan and female modesty and discourages alcohol consumption. It has attempted to criminalize adultery, indicted an anti-Islamist artist, increased the number of religious schools, added Islam to the public-school curriculum, and introduced questions about Islam to university entrance exams. Put in terms of Turkish Airlines, pork is already gone, and it’s a matter of time until the alcohol also disappears.
Islamic practice, not Islamic law, is the goal, my interlocutors told me. Hand chopping, burqas, slavery, and jihad are not in the picture, and all the less so after the past decade’s economic growth, which empowered an Islamically oriented middle class that rejects Saudi-style Islam. An opposition leader noted that five districts of Istanbul “look like Afghanistan,” but these are the exceptions. I heard that the AKP seeks to reverse the anti-religiousness of Atatürk’s state without undermining that state, aspiring to create a post-Atatürk order more than an anti-Atatürk order. It seeks, for example, to dominate the existing legal system rather than create an Islamic one. The columnist Mustafa Akyol even holds that the AKP is not trying to abolish secularism but that it “argues for a more liberal interpretation of secularism.” The AKP says it emulates the 623-year-old Ottoman state that Atatürk terminated in 1922, admiring both its Islamic orientation and its dominance of the Balkans and the Middle East. Mohamed Morsi could learn a thing or two from Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
This neo-Ottoman orientation can be seen in the prime minister’s aspiration to serve as informal caliph, in his change in emphasis from Europe to the Middle East (where he is an unlikely hero of the Arab street), and in his offering the AKP’s political and economic formula to other Muslim countries, notably Egypt. (Erdogan staunchly argued for secularism during a visit there, to the Muslim Brotherhood’s dismay, and looks askance at Mohamed Morsi’s ramming sharia down Egyptians’ throats.) In addition, Ankara helps the Iranian regime avoid sanctions, sponsors the Sunni opposition against Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, picked a noisy, gratuitous fight with Israel, threatened Cyprus over its underwater gas finds, and even intervened in the trial of a Bangladeshi Islamist leader. Like much else in Turkey, the headscarf can have subtle qualities.
Having outmaneuvered the “deep state,” especially the military officer corps, in mid-2011, the AKP adopted an increasingly authoritarian cast, to the point that many Turks fear dictatorship more than Islamization. They watch as an Erdogan “intoxicated with power” imprisons opponents on the basis of conspiracy theories and wiretaps, stages show trials, seeks to impose his personal tastes on the country, fosters anti-Semitism, suppresses political criticism, justifies forceful measures against students protesting him, manipulates media companies, leans on the judiciary, and blasts the concept of the separation of powers. Columnist Burak Bekdil ridicules him as “Turkey’s elected chief social engineer.” More darkly, others see him becoming Turkey’s answer to Vladimir Putin, an arrogant semi-democrat who remains in power for decades.
Freed of the military’s oversight only in mid-2011, Erdogan possibly will win enough dictatorial power for him (or a successor) to achieve his dream and fully implement sharia.
TURKEY: IS ATATÜRK DEAD?
ERDOGAN ISLAMISM REPLACES KEMALISM
The Daily Beast, Dec 17, 2012
The photograph shows a pair of men in dusty work clothes, saluting proudly as they stand at attention inside a gutted reinforced-concrete building. The caption, in Turkish, tells us that the picture was taken Nov. 10. Every year on that date, the entire country—schools, government offices, hospitals, even traffic—comes to a halt at 9:05 a.m., the exact minute of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk’s death in 1938. The photo went viral on the Internet this year, desperately offered via Twitter and Facebook as proof that even though an Islamist government has ruled the country for the past decade, modern Turkey’s fiercely rationalist founder remains a source of inspiration to the masses.
The question is how much longer Mustafa Kemal can remain on that pedestal. To the people of his country, Atatürk—the sobriquet means “father of the Turks”—has been both a national hero and an ideology, bolstered by decades of indoctrination in the schools and by his ubiquitous image in the form of busts, portraits, statues, figurines, T-shirts, currency, key chains, and even iPhone cases. A reformist Ottoman Army general, he led an independence struggle against the invading Greek, French, and Italian armies after the First World War, culminating in the establishment of a modern republic in 1923.
Under Mustafa Kemal’s leadership, the young republic made a clean break from its Ottoman past nearly nine decades ago, ditching the caliphate for a secular regime and turning away from the empire’s former Arab territories in favor of an anti-clerical, pro-Western vision that became known as Kemalism. He pushed for women’s suffrage, decreed the alphabet’s conversion from Arabic to Latin overnight, established parliamentary government, declared war on Islamic zealotry long before jihadism became a global concern, even banned the Ottoman fez in favor of European-style hats. Turkish schoolbooks today summarize the changes he imposed as “the Atatürk revolutions.”
Nevertheless, Mustafa Kemal’s staunchly secularist legacy is now being challenged by a new Turkish strongman, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Free at last to espouse and promote his conservative Muslim faith publicly, the prime minister embodies the political aspirations of millions of Turks who have been alienated from the military-backed secular establishment for generations: the rural folk, the urban poor, conservative Muslim clerics, and the rising religiously conservative business classes. While studiously avoiding direct confrontation with Atatürk’s Westernized ideals, Erdogan and other pro-Islamist leaders of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) have inaugurated an era of deep political transformation.
With the party’s encouragement, many Turks have come to regard Kemalism as an outmoded ideology unsuited to the needs of present-day Turkey’s dynamic society. “I don’t know if Atatürk himself is dead,” says liberal academic and commentator Mehmet Altan. “But Kemalism will eventually die, as Turkey democratizes.” Altan has argued for years against the Kemalist doctrine, calling instead for the creation of a “second republic” that would be less centralized, more inclusive of Kurds and Islamists, and less rigid in its secular and nationalist policies.
That’s what’s already happening as the Erdogan government dismantles the Kemalist establishment. The military, once the country’s most powerful political force and the self-proclaimed guardian of secularism, has been relegated to the barracks and publicly reprimanded for the series of coups that have stunted democracy’s growth since Atatürk’s death. Religious conservatism is on the rise, and Ankara has turned its attention away from the country’s longstanding bid for European Union membership, seeking instead a more prominent role in the Middle East and the former Ottoman lands. Vestiges of the old Kemalist order—the headscarf ban on university campuses, restrictions on use of the Kurdish language, Soviet-style commemorations held in stadiums on national days—have nearly disappeared.
And yet liberal democrats like Altan are not happy. Many feel that Erdogan’s government has lost its reformist drive, becoming authoritarian and single-mindedly Islamic instead. Intellectuals who once supported Erdogan against the military now complain about his efforts to control the media, his intolerance for dissent, and his half-hearted concessions to Kurdish demands. “Politics in Turkey has always been a struggle between the barracks and the mosque,” says Altan. “Because we never had a proper capitalist class, the Army represented the bourgeoisie, and the mosque represented the underprivileged. With AKP, we thought a democracy would emerge out of the mosque. But instead what we got was simply the revenge of the mosque.”
A year ago Altan finally became one of the many journalists who have lost their jobs for criticizing Erdogan. It’s the same penalty commentators used to incur for finding fault with Atatürk. Altan grieves for the fading of Turkey’s European dreams. Bringing European standards to Turkey’s democracy was the only possible solution for the conflict between the secularists and the Islamists, he says. “But the EU reforms have stopped, and the government’s Islamic reflexes are more obvious now, making the division even sharper.”
EVEN IN LIBERAL PARTS OF TURKEY
Ege Berk Korkut
Elder of Ziyon, Die Welt, Dec. 20, 2012
Jew-hatred has become an everyday phenomenon in Turkey. Although I live in Izmir, the most democratic city in Turkey, [even here there is] growing anti-Semitism. Everywhere I meet Jew-haters and enemies of Israel, listen to their prejudices on the daily bus trip or during a visit to a popular fast-food restaurants.
Many of them admired Hitler, wish he would have his "mission" brought to an end and not stop at six million murdered Jews. Though it disgusts me, I can do nothing. I belong to a minority in this country and I know that the government will not protect my rights, which is why it would not be a good idea to respond.
…I visit the twelfth grade of an [exclusive] high school. During a lesson the religious teachers talk about the operation "Pillar of Cloud" in Gaza.
Some students began to complain about Israel. They became more and more violent, and the teacher, an official of the Turkish state, said, "Do not worry, Israel will be destroyed one day, and the day is near that all Jews will pay for it." After the teacher had incited the students some students began to praise Hitler, while others expressed their readiness to drive the Israelis into the sea. [Emphasis original – Ed.]
I was surprised. I did not expect that a teacher, a Turkish government official, would incite students to kill people just because they are different, especially in Izmir, where the people are known for their tolerance.
Jew-hatred is spreading and the influence of Sharia law have changed the secular society, even in the most advanced parts of Turkey, such that it is no longer possible to ignore it, at least as a Jew.
I have no hope that the situation will improve in the future. On the contrary, it gets worse every day. This is not surprising. Biased media and politicians spread the manipulative rhetoric, and the textbooks that are issued by the Turkish state are dripping with hatred of Jews.
In a country where children are taught to hate, true respect for diversity cannot thrive, which is the foundation of any free society. While the secular society collapses, the growing power of the Islamists continue every day. Therefore I am not pessimistic, but realistic when I say that Turkey's future is not rosy.
Ege Berk Korkut is a Turkish high school student.
Troubling News for Turkey’s Jews: Adam Chandler, Tablet, Dec. 19, 2012—Life for Turkish Jews has been less than comfortable in recent years. Gone are the days when a young Ben-Gurion-type would even dream of going there to study law. Turkey’s Jewish community, which numbered as many 80,000 in the late 1920s has dwindled down to approximately 20,000 and, more than ever, suffers alienation at every bloody bend in the Arab-Israeli conflict.
An Interview with Nechirvan Barzani: Will There Be an Independent Kurdistan?: Jay Newton-Small, TIME, Dec. 21, 2012—If there is one man who deserves the credit for the growing Turkish-Kurd rapprochement, it’s Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani of Iraqi Kurdistan. Five years ago Kurds and foreigners alike laughed in his face when he told them that not only did he want Iraqi Kurdistan to export its own oil, but that he wanted to export it to Turkey, which has had an intractable problem with its own large Kurdish minority.
Putin’s visit rekindles the Russia-Turkey affair: Dimitar Bechev, CNN, Dec. 4th, 2012—Yet the truth is that Ankara and Moscow are going through an extremely rough patch in their relationship – over Syria. On October 10, Turkey intercepted and force landed a Syrian jet flying from Moscow with 35 passengers, including Russian nationals. Erdoğan asserted that Russian munitions had been discovered onboard the plane. Soon afterwards, Putin postponed his trip to Ankara, prompting speculation of a freeze in bilateral ties.
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