One of the joys of listening to Air America or the BBC is getting the news that the cooperate hack-pack fails to report. Turkey is in the news these days and yes the big demonstrations are getting the 30 to 45 second treatment on network news. Big visuals of protesters in the street are offered up before CNN or Fox spends the next five minutes on the next pretty blond woman in peril in some sunny clime. Context, we don’t need no stinking context!
Scratch the surface and the story becomes much more interesting. Turkey exists because of a movement lead by one man Mustapha Kamel Ataturk. After WWI, with the final defeat and dissolution of the Ottoman Empire, the victorious Allies were bent on carving up the carcass of that vast patch of land. Not even the core lands of the Anatolian Plateau were sacrosanct. The Treaty of Sèvres would have carved up modern Turkey into Greek, Armenian and Kurdish states with a small rump of land tossed to the Turks when the Imperialists were done with the main meal.
Like him or loath him Mustapha Kamel and his movement prevented that from happening. Kamelism created Turkey out of almost nothing. His movement created a new nationalism based on “Turkishness” that one was a Turk before you were anything else. This was Ok for the Turks not so good for the Armenians and Kurds. The Armenians didn’t recover as a nation until the end of the Soviet Union.
Besides nationalism Kamel also willed the Turkish government Laïcité. Laïcité is an import from France. It’s not surprising that the elites in Turkey and France have latched onto this form of secularism. Mustapha Kamel was reacting to the Caliphate and the corrupt farce it had become in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. The French Republicans came up with the idea in their struggles with the Roman Catholicism. Being unable to succeed in the final solution of their anti-clerical dreams Laïcité was the next best thing for the French Republicans. Laïcité shoves religion into a very tiny box, making it an entirely “private” affair. Laïcité “protects” the citizens of France from religious exposure in the public sphere. It’s a hard idea to grasp for a person who is grounded in the Anglo-Saxon ideas best illuminated in the first amendment of the US Constitution. Laïcité proposes that national polity will spontaneously combust when exposed to ladies be-bopping around in Burkas.
Laïcité is even a more odd graft for Turkey. Turkey is a Muslim polity, which is not to say it is Islamic. In the cities the Turks have much more in common with the Greeks than their countrymen in the rural areas. Urban Turkey is informed more by Islamic culture than the Islamic religion. The “Islamic” movement in Turkey is more a reaction of the Citizenry against the corruption of the Kamelist party and army than a wish to return to the “pure” government of the Caliph.
The Authoritarian top down nature of Kamelism had led to incompetence and corruption on a mass scale. In the good old days of the Cold War the Generals could depend on the monomania of Washington to support the most craven and corrupt of leadership in Turkey. Now that the Commies are gone, Washington is no longer going to support the kleptocracy of Generals at every turn. The EU is even less willing to give the Kamelist a break, some are of the view that the Europeans are looking for any excuse to blackball the Turks from full membership in the EU.
It’s an odd world were the “Islamists” are Jeffersonian democrats and the “Secularists” are the authoritarians. The Islamist party is the one with the grass roots support, the Islamist party is the one that provides good governance, and the Islamist party is the one that is free from the taint of corruption. When the opposition can only come up with the objection of a hijab-wearing first lady as their main point you know they are grasping at straws. When the not-so-veiled threat of Military coup is your one trump card you are looking at a bankrupt ideology.
The bankruptcy of Kamelism though does not mean that Turks are going to rush into the arms of Salafi Islam. It does not means that the Turks are going to abandon secularism or that secularism has “lost” in Turkey. Laïcité is a form of secularism it is not secularism itself. Islam is being used an umbrella, as culturally and political idea to bind many diverse groups. It is a philosophy being used to usher in classically liberal ideas, the ideas of Locke, Jefferson, Mills and others. Odd that the mad redhead, Thomas Jefferson, is being introduced to the Turks wearing a Thobe but he does wear those robes smashingly doesn’t he?
That is the beauty of Jefferson’s ideas; they fit a Thobe as well as they fit a three piece suit or a Sari. Again it’s weird that Ataturk’s original wish of making Turkey a “European” nation is being accomplished by the “Islamists”. It is they that are tying to come up with new identity for the Turkish nation. The new formula is more inclusive and more democratic. It’s a grass roots affair that no longer listens to their “betters” to the “White Turks” who have ruled the roost since Ataturk’s ascension to power. Hard to say where this will end up.
Much has been made of the Astroturf nature of the Kamelist protests, that these were gold-card carrying upper middle class women screeching against modest Muslim womanhood. The protesters were bussed in, but they also managed to accumulate over a million marchers. If MoveOn were able to gather one million people on Wall Street for anti-war march, politicians in Washington would take note-even if they were bused in by the efforts of Mr. George Soros. That is how it works in mature democracies. Pressure groups organize to push agendas which may or may not become policy. Free speech is respected in democracy and minorities are protected.
In the Jeffersonian scheme power is divided and basic rights are protected by a compact agreed to by “the people.” Part of the compact is an agreement between church and state where they agree to stay out of each others business. The state has no official religion, it had no religious test for entrance and it leaves the Imams, Rabbis, Preachers and Priests to their good work. The state protects religious buildings like any other form of private property and offers tax free status all comers in the religious field. All the state asks is that the preachers not support specific political candidates for office and not violate the tax laws. It worked pretty well until the Dominionists like Pat Robinson started fouling the nest, but that is another post for another day.
One hopes that the Turks can find a true middle ground. It is an odd thing that the Turks would again pick up leadership of the Ummah, that the Turks would again become the middle men and women between Christendom and Islam. It is bitterly ironic for the NeoCons who thought that Iraq would be the light of democracy to the benighted Muslim masses. Even more ironic is that this democratic light is labeled “Islamic.” Listen closely, that quiet sobbing you hear is Irving Kristal weeping into his Rice Krispies®.