Tag Archives: Islamicists

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.

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The grim Arab summer


Among nations, as in private lives, there are self-evident long-term trends, often cataclysmic, but with unforeseen tripwires for timing the unpredictable denouement. At the moment notable among these is continued failure of modernization among the 1.3 billion Arab/Moslem world.

What a few months ago seemed an irresistible wave of rising expectations forcing a renaissance in Tunisia, Egypt, and other “moderate” Muslim societies, has stymied

But it has had economic and political consequences. Others, unforeseen, are bound to come along, but for the moment:

  • The bloodiest of all retrograde Arab dictatorships in Syria is doomed, its mostly reluctant advocates notwithstanding. Saudi Arabia, chief expositor of a see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil foreign policy, appease [and fund] it. Washington and Paris cower, fearing Basher al-Assad’s demise might lead to something even worse than his purported secular tyranny. Damascus’ strategic partners — Iranian, Lebanese and Palestinian Islamicists – using it as a trampoline to Mediterranean power, can only wring their hands. Turkey dreaming of an alliance ushering in Neo-Ottoman glory is befuddled with an onslaught of refugees.
  • Egypt, long Islam’s cultural center, flops back into a new lap of corrupt if camouflaged military government. Collapse of tourism and crippled local industry threaten minimal growth achieved during the Mubarak era with a yawning, unemployed youthful demographic bulge. Army leadership, shrewd enough to continue a half-peace with a formidable enemy, Israel, nevertheless, flirts with populist anti-Semitism while enriching itself through protectionist, crony state capitalism rather than opening up to investment, technology transfer and rapid growth.
  • Pakistan, largest self-proclaimed Muslim state of 200 millions ironically conceived as an Islamic modernizing force in dying British Imperial India despite its confessional moniker, implodes. Its military, only Pakistani “national” entity, has suffered a lethal blow from the unilateral surgical American strike killing Osama Ben Ladin. The related perception of impotence and/or incompetence complements rising opposition to the generals’ corrupt incestuous relationship with greedy Punjabi feudal elite. Washington influence seeking to foster make-believe democratic parallel civilian government feeds anti-Americanism. Beijing siphons off massive U.S. aid to one of the world’ poorest populations through an anti-India alliance even as Chinese “aid” projects come under terrorist attack.
  • The Obama Administration, buying into Muslim victimization mythology reinforced by the President’s own pesudo-Marxian historical view, has no strategy for dealing with the energy fulcrum Persian Gulf powers wield however haphazardly on world economy. The Administration’s muddled “alternative energy” policies – not excluding the crassly politically motivated band-aid release of strategic reserve oil – is ever more irrelevant in the face of vast new fossil fuel discoveries [shale gas and deepwater drilling] and potential [e.g., Arctic oil].
  • Libya encapsulates Mr. Obama’s failing attempt to wind down Pres. George W. Bush’s “war on terrorism”. Refusing the full weight of American arms to NATO’s effort, initiated by the Europeans, risks temporary resumption of Muammar Qadaffi’s long history of terrorism against Americans. In the bargain, “Libya” dramatizes long ignored NATO inadequacies with its increasing dependence on American muscle.
  • Pres. Obama’s Afghanistan withdrawal announcement touched all domestic 2012 electoral bases, but it offered no solution to the fundamental question: having taken on Islamic radicals, Washington has not struck the lethal blow. There is no Hitler bunker suicide, no Japanese militarists’ surrender on the deck of the USS Missouri, the Osama drama notwithstanding. Probably unconsciously, Pres. Obama has taken a leaf from old Sen. George Aiken’s rejected Vietnam playbook http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Aiken: “declare victory and come home”. Later modified by Pres. Richard M. Nixon and Dr. Henry A. Kissinger to “a decent interval”, it failed, demoralizing the U.S. military and undermining domestic self-esteem for a generation while sacrificing hundreds of thousands of American and Vietnamese lives without accomplishing its geopolitical goals of mollifying the Soviets or welding an effective Chinese alliance.

Leaked efforts to contain spreading Islamicist virus in Yemen with Special Forces drops armed with unmanned aerial vehicles, ipso facto, insures the fight will continue long after the highly publicized if incoherent Inside-the-Beltway “debate” over counterinsurgency vs. counterterrorism is, again, out of fashion. Gen. David H. Petraeus, USA [Rtd.], a principal if scientistic participant, after all, soon will be charged with clandestine warfare. Whatever Mr. Petraeus’ success at Langley, Mr. Obama or his successor at 1600 Pennsylvania, can not long avoid the basic problem, election or no election: protecting the U.S. from continuing Islamic terrorism.

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