by Eric Margolis
September 04, 2007
The scowling generals commanding Turkey’s 515,000-man armed forces – NATO’s second largest – staged a shocking act of insubordination and anti-democratic behavior last week. They refused to attend the inauguration of their nation’s just elected president, and new commander-in-chief, Abdullah Gul.
President Gul was the widely-admired former foreign minister of Turkey’s Justice and Welfare Party, better known by its Turkish initials, AK, which recently won yet another decisive victory in national elections.
Just before Gul was sworn in, Turkey’s powerful Chief of Staff, Gen. Yasar Buyukanit, thundered that `centers of evil’ threatened secularism in Turkey – a brazen warning the generals might overthrow the government for the fifth time since 1960.
If there was ever a moment for the US and NATO to show support for Turkey’s new democratic government and tell the generals to go back to their barracks and polish their medals, it was this week.
But aside from a few peeps of tepid support from mid-level western officials for Turkey’s new president, the US and NATO remained silent. This was a major mistake.
The generals had good reason to be upset. An oligarchy made up of the military, its ‘secularist’ allies, and a shadowy ‘deep government’ of spooks has ruled Turkey for the last 84 years behind a façade of parliamentary government. This westernized elite includes officers, industrialists, judges, academics, media owners, bureaucrats, and the urban upper class which looks down on all expressions of Islam as anti-modern. Secularists have held power since modern Turkey was created in the 1920’s as a corporate state by army commander Mustafa Kemal, known as Ataturk, who detested religion and saw Islam as the principal reason for the backwardness of the former Ottoman Empire.
Last month’s electoral landslide by the Welfare and Justice Party, which has mildly Islamic roots, proved a watershed for Turkey. Secularists, who had been blocking Gul’s from the presidency, got only 20% of the vote. Turkey’s elite has long tried to impose western culture and values on Turkey’s conservative, deeply religious farmers and recent urban newcomers who make up 70% of the population.
Claims by the secularists AK would impose Iranian -style Islamic government on Turkey were rejected by a majority of voters. What leading secularists really feared was that AK might launch investigations of their sweetheart arms and business deals, and links to the `deep government.’
AK’s victory likely means the beginning of the end of the cult of ‘Kemalism’ and Turkey’s role, to paraphrase Voltaire’s description of Prussia, as ‘an army disguised as a nation.’ Worshiping a strongman who died in 1938, and making a religion of his polices, is outdated behavior for an important nation entering the 21st Century.
In recent years, AK, led by PM Recep Erdogan, proved itself Turkey’s most progressive, popular party since World War II. Under Erdogan, AK made important advances in human rights and justice, improved relations with the restive Kurdish minority, fought corruption, and stabilized Turkey’s chronically chaotic finances.
In the west, Islamic parties conjure up lurid images of terrorism, beheadings and veiled women. But in the Muslim World, where most governments are incompetent, uncaring, and corrupt, Islamic parties are associated with providing basic social services, honest courts, and fighting corruption.
Turkey’s AK has combined these core Islamic values of good government, and the best western practices, while avoiding imposing any religious dogmas. AK has also harmonized Turkey’s legal system with that of the world’s leader of human rights, the European Union.
The Islamist ‘lite’ AK has championed Turkey’s restructuring into a modern nation and promoted joining the EU while, ironically, the reactionary westernized secularist elite and military have mostly opposed it, fearing EU entry would threaten their long-protected political and economic privileges. Chief among them was control of the presidency, which names army and security commanders, judges, senior civil servants and even religious leaders.
Washington keeps claiming it seeks to nurture genuine democracy in the Muslim World. Turkey’s AK Party is precisely the kind of moderate, sensible, capable government the US should be strongly supporting. Unfortunately, the terms ‘Islamic’ and ‘Islamist’ have been so demonized by Washington it cannot deal with even moderate Muslims, like AK, who in many ways resemble Europe’s Christian Democrats.
The US and other NATO nations should have sent their chiefs of staff to Turkey to offer a salute and congratulations to President Gul, and to put Turkey’s blustering dinosaur generals in their place.
Copyright Eric S. Margolis 2007
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