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The Turkish Trojan Horse

In an interview with Manfred Gerstenfeld for the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, Ayaan Hirsi Ali warned that

almost nobody in the West wants to understand that Islam’s problems are structural. Contemporary Islam hardly exists. Islam stopped thinking in the year 900 and has stood still for more than a thousand years. Western Muslims, however, live in an environment where you can think independently without your head being chopped off by somebody.

Hirsi Ali knows better than anyone else, of course, how precarious that freedom of thought can be—even in her former Dutch homeland, whence she was eventually forced to flee to the United States. Things may be bad in the Netherlands, but the threat there comes from a militant Muslim minority. How much more precarious must free speech be in Turkey, where the secular consensus instituted nearly a century ago by Kemal Atatürk is now being eroded by an Islamist government that enjoys majority support?

In a recent article in Die Welt, Hirsi Ali analyzes the efforts of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Foreign Minister Abdullah Gül to Islamicize Turkey. Rather than mount a direct attack on Atatürk’s secular legacy, which the Turkish military has defended by repeated military coups, they and other leaders of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) work in subtler ways, presenting themselves as “moderate” Islamists while appealing to the need for direct democracy in Turkey. (Michel Gurfinkiel, writing in the March 2007 issue of COMMENTARY, looks at the AKP more optimistically.)

This dissonance notwithstanding, these means are working. The AKP is undeniably popular: some 70 percent of the electorate say they would vote for Gül if the constitution were amended to allow direct elections for the influential post of president, as Prime Minister Erdogan demands. This popularity may well be the result of Turkey’s economic stabilization under Erdogan, as well as creeping Islamicization in state education and in the media. Recent mass demonstrations by Turkish secularists aside, it was only the warning of the military that persuaded Turkey’s constitutional court to rule against Gül’s nomination for the presidency.

While such direct military interference in the political and constitutional process runs counter to the letter and the spirit of the European Union (membership in which Erdogan has made the central plank of his foreign policy), Hirsi Ali condemns as “naïve” the demands of EU leaders for civilian control over the Turkish military as a condition of entry. The Europeans are, in her opinion, thereby unwittingly advancing the cause of transforming Turkey into an Islamic republic. She calls on Western liberals to recognize the unique role of the army in protecting Turkish democracy from Islam.

There is no doubt that Hirsi Ali is correct to identify this Turkish paradox—that liberty and democracy are only guaranteed by the threat of martial law. But she is also right that the liberal mindset finds such a paradox not only uncongenial, but intolerable. Most Europeans do not want Turkey to join the EU, where it would soon constitute by far the largest and youngest population. Even those who do favor Turkish entry—including the United States and Britain—insist on stripping away the political role of the army.

Seen from this perspective, the medium-term outlook for Turkey is grim. For Europe, however, the long-term outlook is even worse. As demographic trends in Europe cause Muslims to make up an ever larger proportion of the continental population, it will become impossible to resist pressure to accept an Islamist Turkey on its own terms.

Ancient Troy was sited on what is today Turkish soil. It is hard not to see Erdogan’s “moderate” Islamism as a potential Trojan horse in the heart of Western civilization.


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