As the Obama administration and many Western officials persist in suggesting the Turkish experience might be a model for the Arab Middle East, it is worth considering whether the model about which American diplomats speak is the same one that Turkey’s Islamist prime minister considers.
After the AKP’s 2002 election victory, the party rightly focused on economics, and after the party’s second victory, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan accelerated reforms to diminish the power of Turkey’s military. With the AKP victory in Turkey’s June 2011 general election, however, Erdoğan felt entrenched enough to implement his social agenda. Some of his agenda is bizarre: The prime minister, for example, now rants about the evil scourge of Caesarean sections. He has waged a war on beer. And now, the state-controlled media seeks to ensure that Lebanese pop singers dress more conservatively than they do back home. From Hürriyet Daily News:
Lebanese singer Jehan Barbur refused to attend a TRT show after she was asked to be careful about her clothes, daily Sabah reported. The singer complained of the incident on her Twitter account, saying: “I was asked to be a guest on one of TRT’s channels. But I was asked to be careful about my clothes. Who do you think you are dominating…?” The agent also told reporters that a similar warning was made for guitarist Kemal Evrim Aslan’s vocalist. “They put a table cloth over her because her shoulders were showing,” the agent said.
President Obama once said that he solicited parenting advice from his pal, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Turkey’s Islamist prime minister. Let’s hope, then, that President Obama’s daughters don’t want to go to a co-ed summer camp. According to the Turkish press, Erdoğan’s government has just segregated summer camps by fiat:
The General Directorate of Youth and Sports has just written a new regulation which will oversee gender organized camps, where boys and girls are hosted at different periods of time in an effort to keep them segregated. The camps host participants between the ages of 13 and 22 and for the last 6 years have operated in a coed manner, hosting girls and boys at the same time. The new regulation will be applied to camps on June 11.
While Western diplomats persist in calling Turkey a “model,” Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Islamist-leaning Justice and Development Party (AKP) continues to tweak relatively minor rules to change Turkish society fundamentally. He makes no secret of this. “Do you expect the conservative democrat AK Party to raise atheist generations? This may be your business and objective but not ours,” he declared last February.
Previously, the Turkish parliament tightened licensing on alcohol sales, and has increased taxes more than 700 percent on beer. The ban on alcohol advertisements forced Efes Pilsen, one of Turkey’s most popular basketball teams, to change its name.
Labels are always dangerous things. In the context of the U.S. policy debate, pundits attach labels to opponents in order to avoid debating issues or in order to construct straw man arguments. Seldom do people use labels with the precision they deserve. This is certainly the case when it comes to religion.
I use the term Islamism to depict the use of Islam as a political ideology and studiously avoid the term “Islamo-Fascism,” which is not accurate except, in very limited cases, to Hezbollah. (Several years ago, Turkish writer Mustafa Akyol falsely accused me of using the term; when I later saw him in Prague, he acknowledged his error, but neither he nor David Judson, his editor at the Turkish [now Hürriyet] Daily News, saw fit to correct their fabrication. To use labels precisely, it would be fair to call Akyol sloppy and, for failing to correct his error, lacking integrity).
Those determined to portray the life of American Muslims as a never-ending series of officially inspired torments have always confronted a basic problem: there is no tangible evidence that there is any wave of oppression that has reduced followers of Islam to second-class citizen status. Nor has there ever been. FBI crime statistics continue to show anti-Muslim hate cries dwarfed by those linked to Jew-hatred. Even when the mainstream media takes up the subject and treats the truth of this assertion as self-evident, such as last August’s TIME magazine cover story that asked “Does America Have a Muslim Problem?” the authors had to admit that all they can come up with to back their claim were anecdotes.
But that doesn’t stop those determined to force the country to repent of its supposed sins. The latest example is a blog post from New York Times editorial page editor Andrew Rosenthal that is breathtaking in its lack of intellectual integrity. While readers of his editorial page are accustomed to outrageous hyperbole delivered in the Times’ trademark tone of condescension, Rosenthal appears to have no limits in the depths of absurdity he is willing to plumb on behalf of his cause. Rosenthal not only hypes the post-9/11 myth, but goes so far as to assert that the United States has now established a “separate justice system” for Muslims. His proof: the fact that the New York City Police Department conducted a program of surveillance on mosques and community groups where Islamists were suspected to congregate. Oh and don’t forget Guantanamo Bay, which the Times editor describes as a “special detention center for Muslims.” So intent is Rosenthal on proving that America is hostile to Muslims that it seems to have slipped his mind the only reason the NYPD or the federal government is somewhat concerned about radical Muslims is because Islamist groups attacked the United States.
Max Boot believes that France is a success at counter-terrorism, despite “bungling” the case of Mohammad Merah. “Indeed France’s real mistake is not doing more to assimilate Muslims which ensures a constant supply of plotters,” Max writes; “the blame is more on society and government as a whole than on the security forces which are on the whole quite effective.”
Perhaps he is right. I am reminded, though, of something that Jean-François Revel wrote for COMMENTARY nearly three decades ago. The philosopher and former Résistance fighter who succeeded Raymond Aron as France’s most trenchant political commentator, Revel warned that Western democracies have a susceptibility to internal threats written into their genetic code. A democratic state can mobilize against external enemies, but:
can defend itself from within only very feebly; its internal enemy has an easy time of it because he exploits the right to disagree that is inherent in democracy. His aim of destroying democracy itself, of actively seeking an absolute monopoly of power, is shrewdly hidden behind the citizen’s legitimate right to oppose and criticize the system. Paradoxically, democracy offers those seeking to abolish it a unique opportunity to work against it legally.
Over on Twitter, The Atlantic’s Jeff Goldberg and COMMENTARY contributor Jamie Kirchick have been debating whether the threat to the Jews from neo-Nazis is worse than that of Muslim Jihadists. This argument was brought up by the allegation, which may now turn out to have been a false lead, that the Toulouse massacre was perpetrated by neo-Nazis rather than Islamists. Goldberg’s point is a good one. The Nazis stand alone in history and ought not to be compared to any other genus of Jew-hater or tyrant. Goldberg is also right that Nazi analogies are almost always wrong since there really is nothing in history that compares to the Holocaust. As bad as Iran or Hamas or Hezbollah might be, and they are deadly threats, they are not the same thing as Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany.
However, if we are discussing what Jews and other civilized persons should be worrying most about today, the idea that there is any comparison between the danger posed by the scattered bands of neo-Nazi extremists and that of Islamism is not a serious proposition. The neo-Nazis are a nasty bunch and capable of violence. But Islamist terror has at its command, terrorist armies, control of sovereign territories (Gaza, Lebanon and a major state such as Iran) as well as the resources to finance a nuclear weapons project. While the persistence of Nazism, even in its current truncated form is upsetting and makes us wonder whether Western civilization really is in trouble, Islamism is a real threat, not a symbolic one.
So aside from detainees getting tortured and killed, at least the rest of the situation in Libya is going well:
Fury over the accidental burning of Korans in Afghanistan seemed to spill into Libya last month when an angry mob descended upon Benghazi Military Cemetery and smashed dozens of Christian and Jewish graves… Libya’s National Transitional Council has condemned the actions of the mob and pledged to bring the perpetrators to justice.
President Obama has reportedly included $770 million for “a Middle East and North Africa Incentive Fund,” which “will provide incentives for long-term economic, political, and trade reforms to countries in transition — and to countries prepared to make reforms proactively.”
The Obama administration has consistently flubbed its Arab Spring policy. Prior to the uprisings, the Obama administration eviscerated outreach to Arab liberals and reformers.
A story in today’s International Herald Tribune (read here on the New York Times website) provides an interesting insight into exactly what happens when a secular state is taken over by Islamists. The piece concerned the Hagia Sophia of Iznik, an ancient church that brought 40,000 tourists to the town south of Istanbul much to the delight of the locals. Iznik was once known as Nicaea, and it was there the first Ecumenical Council of the Christian Church met at the Hagia Sophia in the year 325. But the Islamist government of Turkey has put a damper on the prosperity of those who profited from the museum by formally converting the building into a mosque.
Of course, after the Muslim conquest of the Byzantine Empire, all churches in the region were turned into mosques, with the most conspicuous example being the majestic Hagia Sophia of Constantinople (now Istanbul). But unlike that more famous site, which was registered as a museum when Turkey became a secular republic, the one in Iznik was never formally named as such, though it served in that function and had not been used as a mosque in well over a century. The ruling AKP party of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has taken the initiative to reinstitute Muslim-only worship at the place, much to the dismay of the Muslim residents of the town who point out there was no shortage of mosques there. But to the AKP, the ancient surge to plant the flag of Islam over the ruins of other cultures is more important than tourism.
If you believe the papers, today’s Muslim world is a funny place. The Islamists are reform-minded democrats and the soccer fans are murderous fundamentalists.
A flurry of reports describe a wave of tolerance sweeping up Islamists everywhere–from the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt to the Afghan Taliban to Tunisia’s Ennhada party to Libya’s “relative moderates,” as Reuters puts it, “who prefer a civil state simply inspired by sharia.” Hey, they said relative.
President Obama counts Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan as among his favorite leaders, and successive American ambassadors to Turkey—Eric Edelman being the exception—bought the notion that Erdoğan truly sought to liberalize, modernize, and democratize Turkey. Erdoğan has just put to rest the idea this was his goal. Speaking to an assembly from his ruling party, Erdoğan addressed criticism leveled by the main secular opposition party:
“Do you expect the conservative democrat AK Party to raise atheist generations? This may be your business and objective but not ours. We will raise a generation that is conservative and democratic and embraces the values and historical principles of its nation.”
Ten years ago this week, the Wall Street Journal’s Daniel Pearl was kidnapped by al-Qaeda operatives in Pakistan. Nine days later he was murdered–beheaded by Khalid Sheikh Mohammad. Before being killed, he was forced to make a statement on a video that the terrorists subsequently distributed to the press. Though he was forced to make criticisms of the United States, he died expressing pride in his identity. “My father is Jewish. My mother is Jewish. I am Jewish,” he said.
Pearl’s abduction and murder was a heinous crime that came to symbolize the barbarity at the heart of the Islamist movement. But Pearl’s final words, though spoken under duress and with the shadow of death hanging over him, are also a symbol of the spirit of a people that hate cannot extinguish.
In his victory speech on election night this past May, Nicolas Sarkozy declared that under his reign, “the pride and the duty of France” will be on the side of “all those who are persecuted by tyranny and dictatorship.” Sarkozy appealed to “all those in the world who believe in the values of tolerance and democracy” to join him. Specifically, Sarkozy pledged, “France will be on the side of the locked-up nurses in Libya.” Whereas his predecessor Jacques Chirac acted out of delusions of grandeur, Sarkozy’s goal is to restore identity to a nation imbued with failure and doubt.
This week Sarkozy produced a “success,” bringing home the nurses. But aiding the persecuted should not entail paying off their persecutors. Sarkozy’s pledge became farce when Madame Sarkozy, followed by le président de la République himself, sat in Colonel Qaddafi’s tent, after which the Madame said that she and the Libyan dictator had built “a real relationship of trust.”