Tag Archives: Alevi

The end of a geopolitical model

Whether Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan survives the current crisis, the legend of “The Turkish model” is dead. The implications of the loss of Turkey’s image abroad, particularly in the Islamic world, may be far more important than the explosion of corruption scandals which always cynical Turkish voters may take in their stride.

But the possibility that Turkey could be the template for a predominantly Muslim, democratic, prosperous, stable society has failed after more than a half century when it was a highly vaunted prototype. The longer-term implications of that failure reach far beyond what happens to 70 million Turks and the 10 Turkish million immigrants to Europe. It goes to the heart of what Samuel P. Huntington called the clash of civilizations, and the long sought modernization of Afro-Asian societies where 1.3 billion Muslims live.

Erdogan, without daring to acknowledge it publicly, turned his back on the top-down secularization of Mustafa Kemal, the general-politician-philosopher who founded the modern Turkish state after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in World War I. Over the past decade, Erdogan nibbled at Atatűrkism’s basic building blocs – political authoritarianism, state capitalism and anticlerical tenets. He even edged into recognizing the multiculturalism of the Anatolian peninsular instead of Atatűrk’s Ne mutlu Turküm diyene! [How happy is he/she who calls himself/herself a Turk!]. That included not only the ancient, cosmopolitan megametropolis Istanbul [Constantinople] [14 million] at the crossroads of Europe and Asia where Erdogan’ S political career began as mayor. He also hesitantly recognized the identity of Turkey’s 15 million Kurds who have waged guerrilla war and terrorism for autonomy or independence for more than three decades. But simultaneously he moved toward more and more conservative Muslim concepts, appealing to rural Anatolia which had given him his big parliamentary majorities. That process is seen as a threat by the Alevi sect, another disproportionately wealthier 20 percent of the population, whose Sufism is considered apostate by many in the orthodox Sunni majority.

Erdogan’ policies – particularly his continued economic liberalization –ushered in a period of growing prosperity and optimism about the country’s future with continued if diminishing hope of entering the European Union. Most critically, he adroitly broke the hold of Atatűrk’s secularist heirs in the military. He probably ended the possibility of another of the half dozen coups by the military whose intervention had prevented political chaos and kept more outspoken Islamic forces at bay.

But in the process – and not least because of his egotism – his tactical skills were less than a strategy, bereft as it has been of consistency and integration. His foreign policy aiming at neo-Ottoman regional leadership has collapsed. Overall progress has been at the expense of growing destabilization Perhaps much of that was inevitable in a rapidly growing and changing society. But now the exploding corruption scandals and more importantly, the in-fighting inside his Justice and Development Party [AKP], a coalition of Muslim-oriented political groups, could bring down the regime as well as his administration.

But the culmination of these Turkish events has much larger implications:

  • ·        The increasing instability and possible collapse/transformation of Erdogan’s administration again puts the question of whether there can be a modern state in Muslim-majority lands without a formal break with traditional Islam.
  • ·        Pres. Barack Hussein Obama’s reliance on Erdogan – in 2011 more telephone conversations with him than any other foreign leader except British Prime Minister David Cameron – is another sign of the failure of the American administration’s Mideast policies.
  • ·        The growing economic crisis in Turkey, a result of reaching a development plateau and the growing political instability, puts into question for other Muslim states economic liberalization which permitted growth but [as in Iran] fed a new reactionary Muslim-oriented middle class..
  • ·        Turkey’s growing instability is writing finis to its effective participation in NATO, and may, indeed, point to the growing inability to turn the spectacularly successful anti-Soviet alliance into a broader security and peacekeeping coalition.
  • ·        Turkish instability is going to further imperil assimilation of the 10 million Turkish émigrés in Western Europe, recruited, especially in Germany as gastarbeiter, but who now constitute a growing European social and political problem in a period of extended high unemployment and growing Muslim fanaticism.

Islam has never had its Reformation or its Counter-Reformation paralleling Christianity in the West. Its religious thinkers for at least a half millennium have largely been ignored Greek logic and philosophy and its Roman progeny, the foundations of Western – and increasing universal – law. Orthodox Islam calls for no separation of church and state. In fact, orthodox Muslims demand the reestablishment of a worldwide ruling religious leader such as the Ottoman Empire’s sultan who also as caliph was the commanding religious figure. In majority Muslim countries, both Sunni and Shia ecclesiastics refuse the hard fought fundamental of Western democracies, equality of all religions before the law – including minority Islamic sects. Turkey’s role as the most successful example of a predominantly Muslim country advocating that concept – and rejecting much of sharia, traditional Islamic law — is now crumbling. Advocacy by Asian and African leaders of emulating Ankara’s road to modernization is not likely to be heard in the future.

That has implications for American policy. Obama had accepted that old hypothesis and said that Erdogan was one of his closest friends. It was to him in part that the Arabists surrounding the U.S. president sought counsel. But Erdogan’s neo-Ottoman dreams of becoming the go-to for the area’s regimes, has gone a glimmering. Instead, Turkey is at odds with virtually all its neighbors, especially Egypt and Israel, and, of course, Syria. There the al Assad regime now under siege after Erdogan effusively courted it only a few years earlier is driving tens of thousands of refugees into Turkey as well as the surrounding countries. Furthermore, the corruption accusations link some perpetrators to the mullahs of Iran – the Turks’ historic competitor for influence through the Mideast and Central Asia. As the internal conflict among Turkish Islamicist groups likely intensifies, Now Washington will find itself hard put – if it already has not done so – to pick sides.

Abetting the crisis is the rather sudden turn in Turkey’s economic outlook, after its gross domestic product more than tripled during Erdogan’s office. Now the trade deficit is widening dramatically, the lira is devaluating at a rapid pace, unemployment is increasing, and the political turmoil has taken a toll of the stock market, discouraging foreign investment as well as fueling a capital flight.

What may be even more significant longer term is that the liberalization of the economy which began in the 80s before Erdogan’s arrival at the helm has produced a new and growing class of entrepreneurs. They, like their Persian counterparts as a result of reforms by Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, seeking a new orientation from their peasant backgrounds, tend toward religious obscurantism.

The growing Islamicist sentiment of the Erdogan administration itself – including accusations that growing opposition to his government among Turkish groups is plotted by kafir [unbelieving foreigners] including the Americans – is distancing Turkey from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. It will add to NATO’s renewed conundrum of its future role with the messy U.S.-led alliance’s withdrawal from Afghanistan. Erdogan’s threat to go to the Chinese for new weapons, which would create security lapses in integration with NATO, has further put into question the allegiance of one of the alliance’s most loyal members in time past. With Western Europe’s dramatically falling birthrates, Turkey’s army was seen in Washington and European capitals as an important element in any NATO peacekeeping effort. Given the growing decline in most of the European military budgets, Brussels had looked to Turkey’s young population [more than a quarter under 14] as a stalwart partner. That hope vanishes as the political crisis matures.

Although a first generation of immigrants to Western Europe seemed to be assimilating, their offspring have in more than anticipated numbers turned to radical Islam. There is a growing number of second and third generation Turks [and European-resident and native Arabs] who have joined the jihadist-led opposition to the ostensible secular regime in Syria’s civil war. Mosques in Europe, many supported by the militant Wahabbi sect of Saudi Arabia, have become hot houses for the spread of radical Islamicism and recruitment for jihadist terrorism. If the once secular regime of Turkey continues to move away from its Atatűrk traditions, as seems likely whatever the result of the current political crisis, it will have an adverse influence on assimilation of these immigrants.

Overall, this Turkish crisis inevitably becomes an integral part of the instability sweeping the Muslim umma [world] from Casablanca to Zamboanga, an accelerator in the age-old struggle for modernization in that impoverished and retrograde cultural environment. At the moment, the forces of reaction [and terrorism] are winning in the face of the incapacity of Muslim modernists [or “moderates”] and the Obama Administration to offer an effective counter to a romantic call for a return to simplistic, medieval orthodoxy [Islam=”submission”]. That, unfortunately, as 9/11 tragically proved, produces a growing threat not only to the future of Muslims themselves but to peace and stability throughout the world.


Syria’s “black hole” threatens the universe

Syria, like one of those mysterious black holes in space, is irrevocably sucking its neighbors and the major powers into an unknown vortex that could lead to regional war – or more. Historical analogies are rarely valid but one has to recall a royal assassination at Sarajevo, the Nazi Luftwaffe bombardment of Guernica during Spain’s Civil War, the question of the Sudentenland’s German minority, the U.S. oil embargo on Japan. All were relatively minor tripwires which led to much larger unpleasant events.

In Syria all the regional powers already have a critical stake in the outcome of what started out as a peaceful protest against a long-time demagogic, tribal and corrupt dictatorship but turned into a civil war. That, in turn, is leading to the entanglement of all the major powers. Some – certainly the Obama Administration – are trying desperately, but increasingly unsuccessfully, to resist the pull of a political morass they cannot decipher or resolve.

My metaphor can be extended: the astrophysicists tell us that black holes form when stars collapse at the end of their life cycle. Nothing could be closer to this historical parallel: the 1920s creation by the Allied powers of a group of artificial Arab states with lines drawn in the sands of the old Ottoman Empire is now imploding for a variety of reasons. Around a spatial black hole, there is a surface called an event horizon that marks the point of no return for those nearby and so the black hole grows. That also correlates with the Syrian conflict’s increasing seduction of co-religionists and co-ethnicities with its neighbors across its borders, not the least the regime of the mullahs in Tehran which is its principal financial and military support.

It’s no wonder that high Iranian officials are adamant that Tehran will never abandon its “51st province”, the Basher al Assad Syrian regime. The mullahs supply not only oil, finance and weaponry but increasingly they organize local militia directed by its notoriously brutal and effective Iranian Revolutionary Guard. For that price Iran reaches into the Arab world and to the Mediterranean. As important, Syria provides the trampoline for aiding Lebanon’s Hezbollah in its growing role as a worldwide surrogate for Tehran. That includes alliances and infiltration in Latin American with the Lebanes’ ongtime background of drug-running out of the Bekka Valley now allied with the Mexican cartels extending their tentacles into the U.S.

This spillover into Lebanon which has always faced a Syrian claim against its very existence, has initiated a mew bitter sectarian struggle there, a reflection of the struggle inside Syria. And it suggests the frightening possibility of another internecine struggle like the bloody Lebanese civil war [1975-90] which took more than 120,000 casualties and destroyed Beirut’s roaring prosperity as the Mideast’s outstanding commercial capital.

It’s these Lebanese connections that bring continued Israeli air and  naval strikes to destroy Soviet, Chinese and Iranian weaponry arriving in Syria destined for Hezbollah. Although unacknowledged by either side, they dramatize the growing “non-Syrian” aspects of the conflict. It was Hezbollah’s antecedents who inaugurated the current era of international Islamic terrorism when a Persian suicide bomber killed 300 U.S. Marines, soldiers, civilians and French military in Beirut in 1983. Now heavily armed, they constitute a state within a state in Lebanon, threatening its fragile multiethnic, multi-religious structure. Hezbollah’s growing missile arsenal if used again as in the past to bombard northern Israel becomes a weapon for Tehran in any regional conflict. Syrian interventions could be a prelude to an Israeli strike to slow Iran’s development of weapons of mass destruction. With memories of The Holocaust always present, Israeli leadership cannot ignore Tehran’s repeated official threats to destroy “the Zionist entity” as a minimal part of its effort to dominate the region and thereby world oil.

That growing Tehran presence and in Syria and other Arab Shia areas, of course, puts the wind up for the Saudis and their friends among the other Sunni-dominated regimes in the Persian Gulf.  Riyadh, unusual for a regime that plays its cards close to its chest, has publicly excoriated the Obama Administration for its failure of promised aid to the Syrian rebels. Washington, of course, whatever the current state of its wildly gyrating Syrian policy, fears those weapons could fall into the hands of the jihadists with al Qaeda connections among the rebels. And, in fact, that ties into the resurrected scandal of the American deaths at Bengazhi where the CIA was collecting the downed Libyan dictator Mohammad Qadaffi’s untended weapons for shipment through Turkey to the Syrian opposition. Meanwhile, ineffectual American and French efforts to bolster the opposition has helped put the Basher regime back on track to a continuing bloody war of attrition against the squabbling, divided anti-regime forces.

Turkey, Syria’s northern neighbor and the channel for Saudi — and the trickle of U.S. — aid to the anti-regime rebels is increasingly entwined. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, with his more and more blatant Muslim-revivalist agenda, has pointed the aid at jihadist elements that are rapidly coming to dominate the Syrian opposition. At home Turkey’s politically vanquished but still powerful secular and Alevi minorities are under pressure to conform to Erdoğan’s authoritarian rule as the country, after a period of unrivaled prosperity, heads into an international payments and economic crisis. In this process, a promised accomodation has virtually collapsed with Turkey’s Kurdish minority, perhaps a quarter of its population, heavily concentrated near Syria with a long history of border disputes. At any moment, a three-decades long armed Kurd insurrection could reignite. The Syrian flood of refugees produces both a humanitarian crisis and sanctuary for the opposition darting back and forth across the border and occasioning clashes between Turkish and Damascus forces.

Damascus’ own Kurd minority, disaffected from the regime, lends weight to the independence ambitions of adjoining Iraqi Kurdistan, emboldened by its growing oil production – some of it with U.S. companies’ new finds. The federal Iraqi government in Baghdad, with a Shia-dominated government, virtually bereft of American influence by the precipitous flight of the Obama Administration, faces a growing Sunni/al Qaeda revolt, increasingly linked to the most radical elements of the Syrian opposition forces. Whether, indeed, because of its lack of fighter aircraft which is the proffered reason, Baghdad acquiesces in the continuing Iranian overflights of materiel and cadre from Tehran to Damascus on my enemy’s enemy is my friend basis.

Iraq’s neighbor, Jordan, an Arab state carved out of the old British League of Nations Palestine Mandate, is threatened by a flood of some 600,000 Syrian refugees. King Abdullah II, always carefully balancing his own volatile “Palestinian” majority with his largely Bedouin army which keeps the regime afloat, has threatened unspecified action if the refugee flood continues, crippling his economy. Always dependent on U.S. and other international aid, as well as tacit Israeli military protection, Abdullah has expressed ambivalence about his own role at the outset of this crisis. So he looks frantically to Washington for additional support.

But U.S. policy has foundered in the face of all these conflicts.

Pres. Obama fist threatened to play the world policeman when Damascus used chemical weapons against its own people – a catastrophe avoided in World War II and succeeding wars in Korea and Vietnam and the Balkans [although not in Sadam Hussein’s Iraq]. In fact, Basher’s use threatened the relatively successful worldwide dismantling — including the Russians and the Americans — of old stockpiles. But Obama welshed on that threat, and fell into a trap laid by Pres. Vladimir Putin and Damascus, when they swapped the issue of eliminating his chemical weapons for Washington’s earlier dictum Basher’s regime had to go. Now Secretary John Kerry – his State Department media claque calls it a great diplomatic coup – is scrounging up a United Nations conference which would “settle” the Syrian question. With both the opposition and Basher initially adamant they are not going to participate, Putin’s veto, and the long dreary history of such unrequited efforts on Laos, Vietnam, Korea, and the Balkan civil conflicts, it hardly seems a winner.

Furthermore, there’s China, ominous with its veto at the UN Security Council, continuing to maintain its hypocritical position of nonintervention in the internal affairs of other countries. Recent frictions with African raw materials sellers has given the lie to that claim, unnoticed by the world media in the welter of dramatic events elsewhere. Beijing hardly looks more a Putin ally in any attempt of the Obama Administration in its search for “comprehensive solutions”, notorious whether in U.S. domestic health care or in international relations.

Finally, our metaphor dims. Can we be approaching a point the scientists tell us radiation from a black hole reaches a level at which it disappears? Alas! unlike the theories about space’s black holes, our earthbound example is certain to leave – even if it disappears – ugly debris. That, for example, would be a new body of jihadist terrorists recruited and trained as opposition to Basher al Assad’s crumbling dictatorship. They destabilize their own and other countries — a repeat of what happened when the U.S. and its allies successfully mobilized Islamicists to topple the Soviets in Afghanistan leading to the collapse of Communism. But that enormous victory left behind embittered veterans who followed the likes of Osama Bin Laden — and in some instances still fight on — for other goals.

By their very nature, spatial black holes do not directly emit any signals, or at least enough to know what is really going on inside them, the scientists tell us. That’s true of the Damascus regime, probably in deep disarray internally, perhaps as some have speculated entirely in the hands of its Persian aid-givers. So this geopolitical black hole is one we can only watch, hoping – or praying if you are of a mind – for the best.