A question for naive politicians and religious leaders
In an important article in the German newspaper, Die Welt am Sonntag, Boris Kalnoky described Turkey as a “uniquely terrible disappointment“ („Die Türkei ist eine einzige große Enttäuschung“, 28.9.2014, p. 11).
Kalnoky wrote very retrospectively,
“Erdogan enjoyed immense popularity as a democratic reformer from 2004 to 2007. He was the one who could successfully lead Turkey toward the West. But he did not want to do so. Today Turkey has become an extremely anti-western country. The slow-working but undistracted program of Islamization lead by the AKP, the new openness for Koran schools, and the Islamic militancy of organizations closely connected to the government, together created a fruitful soil for Islamic extremism within Turkey itself.”
The AKP, in Turkish Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi, is usually called the “Justice and Development Party” in English.
Continuing in his retrospective, Kalnoky described the reaction of the West:
“Only seldom has a country and its government—such as that of Recep Tayyip Erdogan—been so highly praised in the media: a modern political party, with a true supporter of democracy at the helm (Erdogan), a real reformer. According to the NGOs, the Green Party, the SPD [a German political party on the left], and in many parts of the CDU [Merkel’s party on the right], as well as in the western world from America to Holland, her one saw a power at work that was open to the world which had the steam to transform the entire Muslim world. This power could make the Muslim world more western, democratic, free, and liberal, with religion as a harmless decoration. Obama spoke about a ‘Model for the USA.’ The EU gave Turkey candidate for admission status.”
And how does it look now? Kalnoky writes:
“Today everything looks different. When Erdogan gave his recent speech at the UN in New York, a largely empty hall yawned before him. No one was interested in what he had to say, except, perhaps, to notice danger signals. Would Erdogan once again describe Turkish democratic opposition as ‘atheists and terrorists’ and the west as ‘lacking in honor’ and ‘racist?’ Would he once again claim that there is no such thing as radical Islam, only ‘The Islam?’ The deadly threat against which Turkey was supposed to be an antidote is now greater than ever, precisely because Turkey has strengthened the threat instead of fighting against it, verbally, spiritually, and in action. Outside the IS mass murderers there is no one today who is so effective at portraying the west as an enemy as Erdogan.”
“Since the departure of the Iranian Ahmadinejad, he is the only Muslim ruler who goes to battle against the ‘unjust world order’ of the west and who castigates Israel as ‘mass murderers worse than Hitler.’ His words whip up the passions of exactly those Muslims of whom one once hoped he would be a politician of moderation. Naturally, his words had and continue to have a radicalizing influence on Turks and Muslims in Europe.”
It has not been long since Americans and Europeans wished and dreamed that Turkey would become like them and would lead the entire Islamic world along. This illusion has now been shattered even in the eyes of the most naïve. Today one hopes and wishes that Turkey will not change into a direct enemy of the West. Discussions continue with Turkey, NATO sends soldiers to the Syrian border, while Turkey denies use of its airports to NATO airplanes. Yet, of course, a few Brussels bureaucrats will continue negotiations and want to open further channels for capital investments related to EU membership, as if this will charm a reforming genie from the bottle.
The majority of the population of Europe has long written off their trust for Turkey, and privately the majority of politicians have as well, because Erdogan has been making his position ever more explicit. This is the case, whether it was ending the prohibition of Muslim headscarves in schools in Turkey (with which he symbolically took complete departure from the ideal of a secular state á la Atatürk) or the increasing prohibition of alcohol, with his loud demands for the reintroduction of the death penalty or his refusal to implement the most recent ruling of the European Court of Human Rights (that parents may have their school age children excused from compulsory religious instruction in Sunni Islam), or by means of his ever more explicit dreams to reestablish a great Turkish kingdom as the leading Islamic world power. Turkey can no longer make any claim to follow the rule of law, at least since Erdogan took the real power into his own hands, although, according to the constitution of Turkey, he should not have much more authority than the symbolic powers of the German federal president.
Did Erdogan merely use the EU in order to break the power of the military and reach his other goals within Turkey? Or was he once seriously thinking about becoming a part of the largest western community of nations? We will never know.
Once again Kalnoky:
“There were, really, here and there, matters to remember: Didn’t the AKP leaders, especially Erdogan, begin their political careers as verbally gifted radical Muslims who hated Europe and America?”
There are good reasons to think that, in his heart, Erdogan has remained what he was as the mayor of Istanbul, and that he is implementing the Ist agenda with a much more long term strategy than the very clumsy strategy used by the short term Egyptian President Mursi. Mursi wanted to implement Islamism in five minutes and thereby failed because of the opposition of the Army, which Erdogan first checkmated before implementing his larger agenda.
In any case, Erdogan’s system is equally as corrupt as all the Islamist systems. He makes absurd demands, such as teaching the Ottoman language in schools, although he cannot speak it. He has absurd goals, such as the reconstitution of the Ottoman Empire—dangerous for all neighboring states! Religious rules are imposed on all citizens of Turkey. The rule of law has been replaced by corruption, while the judiciary and police have become the front line for the rule of power.
In his youth Erdogan was a member of the militant Turkish-Islamist underground organization, Akincilar Dernegi. Since 1970 he had leading positions in the various Islamist parties that took over from one another after they were outlawed, until the founding of the AKP in 2001. As the mayor of Istanbul (1994-1998) he promoted Islamist policies, for example, school busses divided by gender and a prohibition of alcohol at city facilities. In 1994 he described the EU as an association of Christians from which Turkey had nothing to gain. It was, in his assessment, impossible to be Muslim and to tolerate a secular government. In 1998 he was sentenced to prison because he positively quoted the following poem in a speech:
“Democracy is only a train which we are boarding until we arrive at our destination. Mosques are our military bases, minarets our bayonets, domes our helmets, and believers our soldiers.”
Should we not have known? Although we must be ready to recognize that people can change, should we not have kept in the back of our minds something about the way in which Erdogan started his career as an Islamist? Should we not have understood the ongoing indications of Islamist leanings by turns of phrases from his mouth against this background? And shouldn’t these questions have been more frequently and extensively discussed among non-Muslim politicians?
There have been many other similar examples where people do not want to perceive Islamism, even when it is standing in plain sight. For example, the King Fahd Academy in Bonn-Bad Godesberg (Germany) has been celebrated by politicians and church leaders as a place of mutual understanding for peoples and religions, as if that had ever or anywhere been the goal of Saudi Arabia. Today central Bad Godesberg has as many business signs and advertisements in Arabic as in German, and Bonn has become a virtual Mecca for Islamists. In comparison by population size, there is no other German city with so many Islamists.
To be sure, this does not have to do with Schadenfreude, nor with claiming, “we always knew.” Turkey, under the rule of law, protecting human rights, would not only have been extremely desirable, but would also have had enormous effects across the Muslim world.
In any case, whether or not the dream of a democratic Turkey ever had a chance of becoming reality, or if Erdogan is only a polished tactician who is able to hold his breath for a long time: the dream has come to an end, and under President Erdogan, Turkey is seeking to position itself as the leading voice of all Muslims, including violent Muslims, in direct competition with Iran and Saudi Arabia. Turkey is no longer a part of the solution for violence in the Middle East; it is now a part of the problem. Realpolitik must very soberly take that fact into foreign policy calculations.