8 Temmuz 2009
No one in Washington doubts that Turkey should consolidate as a liberal democracy. But what does this process entail? Which tangibles of liberal democracy should President Obama promote? Turkey is already a democratic polity Ğ the country became a multi-party democracy in 1946 Ğ with all the trappings of a functioning democracy, from a parliament to a democratically elected government, to a constitutional judiciary. The three pillars of democracy are in place in Turkey, and in this regard, there is not much Mr. Obama can do to promote Turkish democracy. Mr. Obama can, however, help consolidate liberal democracy in Turkey by bolstering the fourth pillar: media and the accompanying freedoms.
Whenever Turkey goes through a political spasm, with tensions mounting over Islamism or nationalism, analysts start warning about the collapse of Turkish democracy. One need not be alarmed about Turkish democracy so long as Turkey has a vigorous media and its accompanying freedoms, such as the freedoms of assembly, association and expression. Turkey has democratically pulled through numerous crises in the past thanks to the balancing power of its fourth pillar and the checks and balances exerted by its growing civil society. Turkey will weather future storms and the current tensions between the government and its opponents if Mr. Obama helps maintain Turkey’s fourth pillar.
In the absence of a free media, Turkish democracy would likely turn into a sham. A case in point in this regard is Turkey’s northern neighbor, Russia. Like Turkey, Russia has the three pillars of democracy in place, from a democratically elected parliament to courts. However, unlike Turkey, Russia lacks the fourth estate, a free media, which makes all the difference between the two countries.
Since the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, came to power in Turkey in 2002, Turkey’s media has been transformed for the worse. The government has used legal loopholes to confiscate ownership of independent media and sell it to its supporters. In 2002, pro-AKP businesses owned less than 20 percent of the Turkish media; today pro-government people own around 50 percent.
Not only has Turkey’s media ownership been transformed with a pro-government bent, but media freedoms have been eroded as well: according to Freedom House's freedom of press index reports, Turkish media is less free today than it was in 2002, slipping from 100 in 2002 to 103 in 2008. As Turkey ought to be moving toward the EU, its record on media freedoms should have improved significantly since 2002, not stagnated. Something is not right in Turkey today. Mr. Obama ought to put his money into Turkey’s free media since, without a free and independent media, as well as the accompanying freedoms, Turkey risks looking more like Russia, and nobody, neither the EU nor Mr. Obama, wants two Russias on Europe’s eastern frontier. This is why Mr. Obama should invest his second buck in Turkey’s EU membership Ğ it would serve the Europeans well to back him in this endeavor. For decades, the Turkish military, courts and secular businesses have acted as the arbiters of democracy, providing a moderating force, if occasionally an unappealing one. Today, these actors have only some of their power, and EU membership has become the strongest safety valve of liberal democracy in Turkey.
However, Turkey’s EU accession has hit a stalemate since membership negotiations started in 2005. Talks have slowed to such a grinding halt that the proverbial train of Turkish accession into the EU reminds one of a joke about the trains in Brezhnev’s Soviet Union: With the Soviet Union stagnating under Brezhnev, the trains did not move, the scenery did not change, but the people said "chu chu" to make believe. This is how Turkey’s EU accession looks, with everyone acting as if there is momentum where there is none or little.
It is not too late before the Turks realize that their train is not moving toward the EU, and subsequently decide to de-board.
That would be a disaster for the United States. If Turkey’s accession to the EU had been stalled in the pre-Sept. 11 world, I would have said "that is a real shame"; back then, there was room for Turkey to be outside of the EU but part of Europe and the West. Now, with the EU pushing its boundaries into the Balkans up to Turkey and with al-Qaeda clamoring that there is a war between the "Muslim world" and the West, there is no longer a grey area in which Turkey can position itself. Turkey will either become an EU member and part of the West, or fold into the "Muslim world," as per al-Qaeda’s vision. This is already a risk, with the number of Turks who identify as Western decreasing, especially among the youth. Mr. Obama ought to invest in Turkey’s EU accession in order to keep Turkey Western and to consolidate its liberal democracy. All it takes is two bucks from Obama’s wallet. Hard as times might be, this is not the time for Washington to lose Turkey, or let go an important ally.
1 Temmuz 2009
Then, I utter the magic word: Incirlik. This base in southern Turkey, one of the U.S. military’s most important airbases, often appears to be more important than Turkey.
People who do not know Turkey’s location know where Incirlik is and it is hard to find anyone in the U.S. military who has not stopped at Incirlik en route to a post.
Incirlik is a blessing, endowing Turkey with importance in policymakers’ eyes. But it is also a curse, reducing Turkey’s strategic importance to the number of flights that can be flown through the base.
This phenomenon, Incirlikization, is a pitfall for U.S. President Barack Obama. If President Obama reduces his Turkey policy to Incirlik, he would be repeating the mistakes of the past administration, setting up a short-term transactional relationship with Turkey at the expense of long-term, multi-faceted, and strategic cooperation with Ankara.
To be fair, Incirlik is important to the United States and Turkey. Aviation experts say that, as far as airbases go, Incirlik is as good as it gets.
Thanks to a confluence of topography, runway architecture, and weather conditions, Incirlik is a rare base that can accommodate any plane at any time and also nearly as many planes as one can imagine.
Seventy percent of all cargo going to Iraq and Afghanistan passes through Incirlik, and the base sits only minutes-flight away from Iran, Iraq, Syria, Russia and Israel.
Incirlik is an asset for Turkey as well, providing Ankara with a tangible possession to flaunt in Washington when needed.
Not a year goes by that yet another "Armenian Genocide" bill in the U.S. Congress is thwarted thanks to the "Incirlik factor," Washington’s fear that U.S. military access to Incirlik would be hampered if the United States offended Turkey.
All that is well and good, but Incirlikization Ğ focusing solely on the number of planes the United States can fly through Turkey to Iraq and Afghanistan Ğ miscalculates Turkey’s strategic value to Washington. Turkey is militarily important for Washington, but that is a short-term and narrow vision. The country’s strategic value far exceeds what Incirlik provides.
Since the Iraq War, despite the efforts of Turkey specialists in the U.S. government, Incirlikization has been the leitmotiv of bilateral ties. U.S.-Turkish relations have focused on Iraq and Afghanistan, with the chief concern being Washington’s capacity to use Incirlik to fly planes to and from these countries. This development came at the expense of previous and vital U.S.-Turkish cooperation in the Caucasus, Black Sea, Central Asia, and within Europe and NATO.
President Obama has a grasp of this issue. In this regard, the new administration’s early policy review on Turkey is a useful effort to expand the foundation of the countries’ relationship beyond Incirlik and take full advantage of Turkey’s strategic value to the United States. But with Iraq and Afghanistan remaining major concerns for the Obama administration, Washington always faces an Incirlikization trap.
Incirlikization reduces the U.S.-Turkish relationship to a transaction, preventing the alliance from gaining its full potential as a values and interests-based relationship. Incirlikization also presents long-term challenges. For the moment, Washington can fly planes as it wishes through Incirlik, but if President Obama does not convert the U.S.-Turkish relationship from a transactional one into a strategic one, Incirlik might not be securely available for United States disposal in the long-term.
In this regard, Washington’s experience with Kyrgyzstan and the Manas base in that country ought to be telling.
After Sept. 11, U.S.-Kyrgyz ties were bolstered through U.S access to Kyrgyzstan’s Manas base for flights into Afghanistan.
In due course, Manas dominated the U.S.-Kyrgyz relationship.
Kyrgyzstan’s recent threat to expel the U.S. from Manas, subsequent to Russian lobbying, serves as a warning that, when reduced to a transactional nature, ties between the United States and other countries will face serious pressures from third countries.
What is good for the U.S.-Turkish relationship is also good for Incirlik. Only a strategic, multi-faceted relationship, supported by the Turkish public, will provide the United States with unhindered and long-term access to Incirlik.
Accordingly, the U.S. administration should be interested in Turkey not just through the lens of its capacity to use Incirlik, but also with an eye to a broader and sustainable strategic relationship.
Ensuring that Turkey’s European Union accession moves forward and that Turkey consolidates its liberal democratic political system, for instance, should be as important of goals as maintaining a steady flow of planes taking off and landing at Incirlik.
A non-European Turkey will be a half-hearted and irregular U.S. ally. President Obama would be better served in making sure that Turkey is not Incirlikized, yet again.
Soner Cagaptay is director of the Turkish Research Program at the Washington Institute and author of "Islam, Secularism and Nationalism in Modern Turkey: Who is a Turk?" (2006)
29 Haziran 2009
In Washington, two readings are emerging regarding Mr. Obama’s Iran policy. The first is that the President has prioritized talks on Iran’s nuclear weapons project. Accordingly, Obama does not want to antagonize the Iranian regime by voicing support for the demonstrators. Cold-hearted analysts would add that since the demonstrators will eventually lose out to the regime in Iran, Washington should not be betting on the wrong horse in Tehran by allying itself with the pro-democracy forces.
The second, more optimistic, reading is that Mr. Obama does not want to give the kiss of death to the demonstrations by supporting them from the get-go. Indeed, with a conspiratorial mindset prevalent in Iran, as in the rest of the Middle East, Mr. Obama’s strong support of the demonstrations from day one would have allowed conspiracy theoreticians in Iran to suggest that the protests are crafted by the United States. Such a perception would have been the mortal blow to the democracy movement in Iran. Whatever is the outcome of the demonstrations and whichever way Washington’s policy evolves, the Iranian demonstrations will have a seismic effect on Mr. Obama’s Middle East policy. Following the 1979 Islamist revolution in Iran, Washington’s assumption regarding the region has been that Islamists represent the 21st century in the Middle East. The political tsunami created by the Iranian revolution and the subsequent rise of the Muslim Brotherhood (Ihwan) and Salafists across the region, led analysts to conclude that the people of the region want Islamism. For realists, this conclusion meant that Washington was better served to work with the unstoppable and "natural" forces representing the ascendant polity of the Muslim Middle East. In due course, even liberals started to view the Islamists as the "natural" popular paradigm of the region to which one had to bow because it represented the people.
However, with their demonstrations the Iranians are illustrating that now the people do not want Islamism. The demonstrations are as much against the election results as they are a popular outburst against the Islamist regime. This is why demands by Supreme Leader Ali Khamanei, the guardian of the Islamist regime, to stop the demonstrations have gone unheeded. Not only has the aura surrounding the regime been shattered, but the assumption that Islamism is the unchallengeable and popular political paradigm has come under fire. The message of the Iranian people is clear: Islamism belongs to the past and it is time to move on.
Accordingly, the Middle East is witnessing the birth of a new paradigm. Religion and modern political systems are like oil and water, and liberal democracy, not Islamism, represents the 21st century in the region. With their demonstrations, the Iranians are ending a trend they starred exactly thirty years ago when they made Islamism into the dominant model of the region. Whether or nor the demonstrators succeed this time, this paradigmatic shift will have an effect on Mr. Obama’s Middle East policy.
Since the Islamists do not represent the future of the region, political movements rooted in Islamism can now be seen as things of the past. Washington will finally have a chance to look beyond these movements into liberal political forces. Furthermore, the events have repercussions for Turkey. For so long after the Iranian revolution and more importantly following the attacks of September 11, Turkey was seen as representing the future of the Middle East. With its democratic polity and the rise of Islamist parties and the AKP within this polity, Turkey was viewed as epitomizing the region’s evolution. The Turkish experience showed that when and if other countries in the Muslim Middle East became democracies like Turkey, such countries would witness the natural rise of Islamist parties to power. The AKP, therefore, represented the established paradigm. Washington dealt with and, when needed, respected this paradigm.
The Iranians are challenging this old paradigm with their call for liberal democracy. If Iran evolves towards a democratic polity, shedding Islamist ideology, it will become the new popular, regional paradigm. The new Iran will represent the ascendant political forces in the region. Washington will deal with and, when necessary, respect and support this new paradigm. It is often said that Iran and Turkey are the two great rival political models of the Middle East. That is indeed the case, when one goes up; the other goes down.
17 Haziran 2009
Turkey’s European Union accession has hit a snag. France vehemently objects to Turkey’s entry into the union. So far, 22 countries have negotiated for EU membership, and all were ultimately offered accession.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy wants to treat Turkey differently. Sarkozy is against Turkey’s membership regardless of the current accession talks with the EU.
The French public opposes Turkey’s EU entry and backs Sarkozy. The French veto is not a symbolic snag. Together with Germany, France is an "engine country" of the EU, pulling the union ahead, and Paris’ stance has frozen Turkey’s EU accession process. Turkey can break this impasse by implementing a multi-pronged strategy, reforming aggressively toward European norms and embarrassing Sarkozy to lift his objections to Turkey, and launching a public relations campaign to influence the French public. Here is what Ankara ought to do to make the French connection.
One part of the problem is in Ankara: In 2005 Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, lost interest in EU accession precisely as Turkey-EU accession talks began - the AKP declared that year to be the year of Africa, symbolically demonstrating its withering appetite for Europe. This was surprising as the AKP had pursued EU accession aggressively after coming to power in 2002 and had cast itself as a much loved pro-European party. However, just as accession talks started, the party’s populist instincts led it to conclude that the social and political reforms necessary to join would erode its popularity. In due course, the AKP dropped the reform process.
This only helped Sarkozy, France’s then new president, say no to Turkey. That, in return, led to an impasse in Turkey’s EU accession process. Turkey’s failure to reform assists Sarkozy in his stance against Turkey’s accession on grounds that Turkey is failing to become European.
And the more Sarkozy vetoes Turkey’s membership, the more Turks turn against the EU, thinking that the union will never grant it membership.
The AKP can break this impasse. The party should be interested in renewing its image of a pro-European party, and achieving a historic goal by making Turkey European. In this regard, the AKP has an ally in Washington: U.S. President Barack Obama unequivocally supports Turkey’s EU membership.
The AKP can help Mr. Obama by reforming aggressively and demonstrating that Turkey’s march toward liberal democratic European values is, once again, on. Sarkozy would indeed look bad to the point of being cast as racist if Ankara were to improve its record to qualify for the EU and he were to continue to say that Turkey does not belong in the EU.
Turkey cannot change France’s attitude, however, just by changing Sarkozy’s mind. Ankara faces objections to its European membership not only from Sarkozy, but also from French foreign policy bureaucrats and common citizens.
French foreign policy thinkers identify Turkey as a potential German ally and hence a counter-weight to France in the EU. Turkey has close ties with Germany, but not the kind the Quai d’Orsay imagines. French policymakers view Turkish-German ties to be similar to the relationship between France and the Arab Maghreb countries. No analogy could be farther from the truth.
France-Maghreb ties are shaped by the colonial legacy, while the Turkish-German relationship is one between historic equals. This fact is not apparent to French policymakers who fear that if Turkey were to enter the EU, it would join France and Germany as the union’s big three and that a Turco-German axis would alienate France. Ankara ought to change this image by demonstrating its independent stance on foreign policy issues, as well as closeness to France on crucial matters. This effort would require sustained exchanges and meetings between Turkish and French policymakers.
The halls of the Turkish Foreign Ministry in Ankara better ring with the sound of French over the coming years.
Turkey must also tackle the misperception among French citizens. Like their Quai d’Orsay counterparts, the French equate Turkey to the Maghreb, France’s reference point for all Muslim issues.
There is anxiety among the French that bringing Turkey into the EU would be akin to bringing the Maghreb, a poor area rife with violent Islamism, into communion with France. Turkey’s aggressive public relations campaign must get the across the following message: Turkey is not a Maghreb country but is rather politically akin to France. When the founders of modern Turkey established the country in the 1920s, they looked to Europe, and especially France, for inspiration, creating modern Turkey in the image of secular, centralized and nationalist France. This fact, unknown to the French, has to be driven home by a public relations campaign.
As part of its public relations campaign, Turkey should take its Cannes Film Festival and Nobel Prize winners to France, together with its cello players and intellectuals, bringing to the French a relatively lesser-known face of Turkish society Ğ Turkey’s traditional business card in Europe are the Gastarbeiter, poor mostly illiterate Anatolian Turks who migrated to Western Europe in the 1960s in search of economic opportunities.
Turkey has to show France that not only are the Gastarbeiter a phenomenon of the past, but also that they do not represent the richness of Turkish society.
If Turkey is to enter the EU, this will take a multi-year, multi-pronged campaign targeting France. The French connection will either prevent Turkey from joining Europe or make it an EU member.
Soner Cagaptay is director of the Turkish Research Program at the Washington Institute and author of "Islam, Secularism and Nationalism in Modern Turkey: Who is a Turk?" (2006)
10 Haziran 2009
The PKK was established as a Marxist-Leninist group set to attack Turkey during the Cold War. Given its Soviet proscription and ties, the group enjoyed a safehaven in Syria. Moscow utilized the PKK as a tool against Turkey, with the hopes that it would force Turkish decisions and political leanings in Russia’s favor. However, even following the end of communism the PKK continued to thrive.
Syria viewed the group as leverage against its neighbor, Turkey. Damascus hoped the PKK could force Ankara to accept its territorial demands regarding the Turkish province of Hatay as well as demands on increased water rights from the Euphrates River. Given this support, the PKK thrived in Syria throughout the 1990s.
Iran, for its part, saw the PKK as a tool with which it could undermine Turkey following its Islamic revolution. Although Turkey and Iran are neighboring Muslims countries, they have diametrically opposed political systems: Iran is a theocratic autocracy, Turkey is a secular democracy. After 1979, Tehran provided support to the PKK to deter its political antidote.
In the 1990s, the PKK also established itself inside Iraq. Following the Gulf War, the United States established a no-go zone for Saddam in northern Iraq. Washington had intended this area to be a safe haven for the Iraqi Kurds; the PKK abused this vision by establishing itself in this political vacuum.
3 Haziran 2009
President Obama is already moving along the right track. On April 6 in Ankara, he admirably addressed the Turkish people as proud democrats embedded in Europe.
He appealed to them as allies in the struggle against Islamist extremism while challenging them on sensitive issues including Armenia. At the tail end of the speech, however, he abandoned his conversation with Turks and addressed them as Muslims: "Let me repeat: the United States is not and will never be at war with the Islamic World." But what is the Islamic World. And who defines it? And how does the concept help or hurt in confronting Islamist ideology?
No one questions that a religion known as Islam exists or that many Muslims believe in their global community, the ummah. As a theological reference, however, the ummah is vaguely analogous to the belief that all Christians are part of the body of Christ in some mystical way. It is not felt as a visceral part of everyday identity. A Muslim in Turkey, for example, might define himself as an Istanbullu first, a Turk second, and a Muslim third, or the other way around, depending on his mood or even the time of day. (When Galatasaray plays soccer, however, he is only a fan!) No one would credibly argue that Guatemalans, Germans or Guineans are the same because they are Christians, and it's as nonsensical to lump Turks, Trinidadians, and Tunisians together simply because they also happen to be Muslim.
The term "Muslim world" unfairly and singularly assigns the world's Muslims into a hermeneutical ghetto. What is more, post-September 11, this term can charge Muslims politically, suggesting that they are members of a global community in deadly conflict with non-Muslims. This term is not only an analytical error, but also a critical public diplomacy mistake. Islamist ideologues are the only group that strongly advocates the belief that all Muslims belong to a politically united global community.
These same ideologues advocate for the replacement of the modern nation state with a new Caliphate ruled by Sharia law. Why do we legitimize that view by repeating it ourselves?
Thankfully, President Obama has a chance to get it right. On June 4, President Obama will give his promised speech in Egypt. He should choose to give it at the Alexandria Library or at a venue with similar humanitarian symbolism and standing.
Once there, Obama should accentuate the rich diversity of Muslim communities around the world, referencing the Sufis of Morocco, the Shiites of Iraq, and the Sunnis of Singapore. He should recognize their accomplishments within their communities while stressing other parts of their identities as well.
As he did with the Turks, Obama should not only praise but challenge.
There are deep problems within Muslim communities around the world, as long as Islamists continue their efforts to subvert British, Egyptian, Algerian, and Iraqi Muslims, among others, challenge the Islamists within their midst and take back their communities, the shadow of violent extremism will persist.
Thankfully, an increasing number of examples indicate where they are doing so. President Obama should praise the brave Muslims who faced down Al Qaeda in the name of Iraq or those Muslims who today are fighting their co-religionists in the Swat in the name of Pakistan.
A Muslim World is Al Qeada's conception. A pluralistic world of nations and communities at peace should be ours.
Soner Cagaptay is director of the Turkish Research Program at the Washington Institute and author of Islam Secularism and Nationalism in Modern Turkey: Who is a Turk? (2006). Scott Carpenter is director of Project Fikra at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Previously, he served as deputy assistant secretary of state in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs in the U.S. State Department
20 Mayıs 2009
In the past, Turkey’s foreign policy makers were educated in Western or secular Turkish schools, spoke European languages, and looked to Europe, especially France, for political inspiration and confirmation of Turkey’s Western and European identity. The infatuation of the secular and pro-Western Turks with Europe was powerful: they looked to Europe not only to build a society in the continent’s mold, but to receive affirmation from the Europeans by following a pro-European foreign policy.
The AKP suggests an end to this trend, with a new infatuation. The party’s political leadership is composed of people educated in Imam-Hatip schools in Turkey under non-secular curriculums. The Weltanschauung of the AKP elites is different than that of the secular Turkish elites. Some AKP leaders have degrees from universities in Arab and other Muslim countries. Most speak Arabic, and more importantly, the leadership looks towards the Arab countries for inspiration. Just as the secular Turkish elites sought European affirmation by following a pro-European foreign policy, the AKP elites seek Arab affirmation by following a pro-Arab foreign policy.
Due to the AKP’s Islamist pedigree, this pro-Arab slant comes with a powerful Islamist tinge. In other words, the AKP favors Arab Islamist causes over secular ones. For instance, publicly, and behind close doors, the AKP sides with Islamist Hamas against the secular Palestinian Authority and Fatah. This is since the party feels close to the Muslim Brotherhood (MB).
Since 2002, Turkey has hosted many Hamas conferences in Istanbul. In the most recent meeting held in Istanbul in April, Turkey welcomed Rashid Gannushi, a prominent Tunisian Islamist leader who heads the outlawed and MB-affiliated Nahda movement in that country.
Furthermore, since coming to power in 2002, the AKP has developed close economic and political ties with the Islamist regimes in Sudan, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia. The same cannot be said of Turkish ties with secular and moderate Jordan, Tunisia, and Egypt. The AKP does not like all Arab causes and entities; rather it empathizes only with those Arab causes and entities that are Islamist.
The AKP’s pro-Arab Islamist slant is an infatuation, in a way mirroring the secular Turks’ infatuation with Europe.
For decades, secular Turks put Turkey through painful tests to prove the country’s Europeanness.
For instance, Turkish soccer teams joined European competitions, losing miserably to powerful European teams. The Turks could have competed against the less professional Middle Eastern teams in Asian competitions, but this would have meant that Turkey was not European. Turkish soccer teams have improved recently, winning European cups.
The euphoria one witnesses every time Turkey wins a European championship is really joy over the validation of Turkey’s European identity.
In conversations about Turkey’s pro-Arab tilt in foreign policy, the AKP leadership suggests that these policies are "bearing fruit because Turkey is popular on the Arab street and since the Arabs now like Turkey." However, being popular on the Arab street is not necessarily an asset for Turkey, since in autocracies popularity on the street does not translate into soft power in the capitals.
Still, the AKP’s desire to be liked by the Arabs drives its pro-Arab Islamist foreign policy. Being popular on the Arab street is for the AKP what winning a European soccer cup is for the secular Turks.
In short, the AKP has a love affair with Arab Islamists and will take foreign policy steps to nurture this constituency’s sympathy, even if such steps do not necessarily serve Turkey’s interests.
For decades, pro-Western Turks thought that they were secular French Ğ they were not. Now the AKP elites think they are Islamist Arabs Ğ they are not.
Turkey’s vain love affairs with foreign role models continue.
13 Mayıs 2009
In the Ottoman period, the dynasty and bureaucracy pulled the empire westward, adopting a constitution and joining the Concert of Europe in due course. After 1923, the Kemalists put Turkey on the path of a secular European state, promoting gender equality, allying with the United States in the Cold War, and making a bid for European Union membership.
The AKP represents Turkey’s new mega elite; it is supported by a large business community, directs domestic intelligence, and controls the executive and legislative branches. Former AKP member Abdullah Gül is now the Turkish president with the power to appoint judges to the high courts. In addition, around half of the media is now owned by pro-AKP businesses.
As the new mega elite, the AKP is shaping Turkish society in its own image. Domestically, the party is promoting social conservatism through administrative measures.
News stories often define the AKP as a movement that represents pious Muslims against religion-suppressing Kemalists. Turkey is more nuanced than this black and white picture. In fall 2008, I met a young woman in Istanbul. This woman, who had a distinctly Muslim name Ğ let’s call her Ayşe Ğ had just graduated from college with a degree in computer science. Ayşe, who hailed from Istanbul and was born to a Greek-Orthodox father and a Muslim mother, considered herself both Christian and Muslim in Istanbul’s urban tradition. After getting an IT degree in 2008, Ayşe applied to an AKP-run borough of Istanbul city government for a job. Ayşe’s resume is impressive, and the municipality invited her for an interview. At the end of the interview, the AKP officials told Ayşe that they liked her and would offer her a job if she would wear an Islamic-style headscarf to work.
Ayşe responded, "I am Muslim and a Christian." The AKP officials told her emphatically, "We do not want to you convert, just cover your head."
The AKP’s social vision is not about faith or religiosity; rather it is about a veneer of one-size-fits-all social conservatism that should blanket Turkish society. Therefore, it is not religiosity that is on the rise in Turkey Ğ attending mosque prayers during 2008 in Turkey, I realized that the number of people praying had not increased since the 1990s when I lived in Istanbul Ğ but rather it is government-infused social conservatism that is growing. Indications of social conservatism, such as disdain for alcohol and women in the workforce, or women wearing headscarves, are used as benchmarks to obtain government appointments, promotions and contracts. Social conservatism, however, is not in itself the problem, and a conservative Turkey can certainly be European.
The problem is that a government-led project of this type is incompatible with the idea of a liberal democracy. And given Turkey's nature as an elite project, AKP-led social conservatism is reshaping Turkish society. The new mega elite is also reshaping Turkish foreign policy.
In the past, Turkey's foreign policy paradigm centered on the promotion of national interests vested in the West. The Turks are a fence-sitting people between the West and the "Muslim world." What the Turks hear about the West and the "Muslim world" can shape their foreign policy views. In the past, the Turks supported a pro-Western foreign policy precisely because the Turkish leaders and pundits explained to the public that the country belonged to the West and that its interests were in the West.
Today, this view is shifting. The new mega elites’ foreign policy paradigm is different than those in the past: The AKP promotes a civilizational view of the world that sees a dichotomy between Muslims who "never do anything wrong" vs. others who are "always wrong" should they confront the Muslims. This civilizational view surfaces lucidly when one compares the AKP’s attitude to Israel’s Gaza war to Sudan’s Darfur campaign. In 2008, at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan chided the Israeli president for killing Gazans. Erdoğan then returned to Ankara to host the Sudanese vice president. The AKP is upset not when Muslims kill Muslims, as in Darfur; or when Muslims kill non-Muslims Ğ Erdoğan denied that "Hamas' rockets are causing casualties in Israel during the Gaza War." The AKP cares only when non-Muslims kill Muslims.
This viewpoint is inherently anti-Western. Promoted by pundits and opinion-makers close to the AKP, this new anti-Western and anti-U.S. paradigm is molding Turkish hearts and minds, and is becoming pervasive across Turkish society.
The AKP shapes anti-Western opinion and in turn reacts to it, such as by hosting a pro-Hamas Muslim Brotherhood conference in Istanbul after the Gaza war. This vicious cycle will ultimately cost the United States because Turkey is a democracy in which public opinion matters. Sooner or later, the anti-Western views will cripple Turkey’s foreign policy partnership with the West, including the United States.
The Euro-Atlantic community’s only way to prevent Turkey’s slide away from the West and liberal democratic values is to treat Turkey as a Western country, emphasizing NATO’s role in Turkey’s ties with the West and advancing Ankara’s stalled EU accession talks. During the Cold War, NATO helped make Turkey Western. Today, Turkish foreign policy can remain Western only if it is tied to NATO. The EU is the second anchor tying Turkey to the West. Since Sept. 11, Turkey has been caught between Europe and the "Muslim world." If Turkey’s prospects to join the EU are exhausted, the country will inevitably fold into the "Muslim world."
Never before has Turkey been at such a crossroads, with its elites and the West pulling the country in different directions.
Soner Çağaptay, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, is the author of "Islam, Secularism and Nationalism in Modern Turkey: Who is a Turk?" 2006.