Leaving Islam




As one who has mastered the art of evasion, Prime Minister Erdogan retorted that Mr. Pollock himself had written an article in the Wall Street Journal that made him sad, because it was not based on facts!

Actually, the opposite was true. Mr. Pollock’s article dealt with a wave of “anti-American madness.” There were headlines in Turkish newspapers “calling U.S. soldiers ‘Murderer Johnny’ and newspaper articles describing imagined atrocities such as the use of chemical weapons--and, yes, organ theft--committed against civilians in Iraq. And rather than express his disapproval of such reports, the Prime Minister went on a tangent, by claiming that “These kinds of things happen in the world. If it’s not happening in Iraq, then it’s happening in other countries.” And when cornered to be more explicit, he weaseled out of his spot: “I'm not saying they are being killed. . . . There are people in poverty who use this as a means to get money.”

Reflecting on this interview, Mr. Pollock ended with these words:

“Ever since Mr. Erdogan's Islamic-oriented Justice and Development Party swept to power on 35% of the vote in 2002 elections (amazingly, only one other party passed the 10% threshold for parliamentary representation), people have questioned whether his smooth manner wasn’t cover for a more radical agenda to fundamentally change the secular character of the Turkish Republic established by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk

“No, if there is any cause for concern here, it would be the undeniable fact that Turkey's first successful overtly Islamic prime minister has cultural and foreign policy compasses different from those of earlier Turkish leaders, who have inclined steadily toward the West. I sense a deeper estrangement at work than mere disagreement over Iraq, and whether or not to use force to remove roadblocks to democracy in the Middle East. "When we took office there was a Turkey which was not having talks with its neighbors. Now Turkey is having a dialogue with all of them. That's why we don't want any bombs to fall anymore in our region," Mr. Erdogan says.

“But can he really believe this saccharine rhetoric, and that "all problems" can be solved at the negotiating table? (It's been less than a decade since Turkey nearly invaded Syria.) Or is it mere cover for the theories of advisers who believe that Turkey can be a bigger player on the world stage by distancing itself from the U.S.? And does he not recognize the import of the concession that his somewhat cavalier confidence on Iran is possible because NATO (i.e., the U.S.) ultimately stands behind Turkey? After all, such ‘strategic’ alliances are not written in stone. They are dependent over the long term on public attitudes in the countries involved. As I leave his office I wonder how carefully he has thought through what would seem to be a most pressing question: Of what value will Turkey's opinion really be in a world of increasing or unresolved tension with the U.S. and where, God forbid, the mad mullahs next door have nukes?

I more than share the concerns of Mr. Pollock regarding Turkey’s future relations with the West under the leadership of an Islamist Prime minister who has mastered the art of Kitman (Concealment). I have no doubt that Mr. Erdogan imagined that his duplicitous style would persuade a representative of the WSJ, that nothing was to be feared about the future course of Turkey’s domestic and foreign policies. However, I am sure that Mr. Pollock saw through the feigned magnanimity of Mr. Erdogan as his closing remarks showed a deep concern for Turkey’s future, especially as it has been knocking at the door of the European Union.  

When I look back at the tumultuous events that followed the end of the Great War (WWI) and taking into account the tenacity of Mustapha Kemal Ataturk as he sought to modernize his country, I can understand how his efforts were initially successful. As a brilliant military leader he did his utmost to modernise Turkey according to his deep-seated secular worldview. However, he underestimated the strong allegiance that most of the Turks of Anatolia held for Islam. Thus, gradually Ataturk’s legacy was being undermined by the resurgence of Islamic political parties after decades of economic and political upheavals. The Islamists took advantage of the outward and structural aspects of democracy, and “legally” gained power. But from that point on, the chipping away at Kemalism, as Ataturk’s legacy is known, continued. Nothing can stop it, as far as I can see. In the rural areas of Turkey, the population is increasing at a faster rate than in the metropolitan areas of Ankara, Istanbul, Izmir, and other cities near the Mediterranean. This indicates that the Islamists have a greater pool of votes coming from committed true believers who dream of reviving the glories of the Ottoman past.  

I would like to make one more point that supports my thesis. Even when the Kemalists ruled Turkey, their secular ideology was never similar to the Western European kind that tolerated pluralism and true democracy. Ataturk’s regime had no use for non-Turks living within the republic, and did his best to expel them as happened to the Greek population of Smyrna (Izmir.) Most Christians that had lived for centuries within the heartland of the Ottoman Empire eventually immigrated either to nearby countries in the Middle East, or to the Americas. In other words, the Turkish Republic, as created by Ataturk was never a genuine democracy. And yet its leaders keep knocking at the door of the European Union seeking full membership! One wonders what would become of the E.U. should seventy million Turks, under the leadership of Recep Tayyib Erdogan, become full citizens of this Union!








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