Tag Archives: umma

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.

sws-12-28-13

The War on Terrorism goes on


If the Boston Massacre and the growing Syrian Civil War jihadist outrages had not made it self-evident, the bloody attack on innocents at the Nairobi, Kenya, mall provide new evidence that the international terrorist conspiracy continues virtually unabated. The perpetrators were Islamic jihadists, apparently members of the al Shahid thugs in neighboring Somalia who call themselves adherents of al Qaeda. So, despite all the obfuscation of the Obama Administration and its adherents, The War On Terrorism goes on and Washington will be forced to fight it under whatever name and probably with growing resources.

Just as in the more than four decades of The Cold War, the outcome is not assured, no more than its length. The fanatics who wage a campaign to gain world dominance in the name of Islam are if anything even more single-minded of purpose and willing to sacrifice themselves than the utopians turned state terrorists of the earlier 20th century totalitarianism. That they tend to fall into internecine feuds and mutual self-destruction will not spare the world of their violence even if, luckily, it is likely to rule out  any new and coordinated central command such as Osama Bin Ladin once attempted.

But the continued upsurge of this violence means that despite the other myriad overwhelming problems which bedevil policymakers in Washington and the other capitals of the civilized world, carrying on a complex and difficult program to meet the terrorists’ challenge will not go away. The significance of the Nairobi episode, which is still not resolved and analyzed at this writing, is that it does show that the terrorist infection is not only alive but that it is continuing to spread. Like the Muslim extremist  threat in Mali and Nigeria, the terrorists have now shown their tentacles reach beyond the Middle East and Central and South Asia into Black Africa. And almost simultaneously with the Nairobi explosion, there was an attempted jihadist takeover of Zamboanga in the southern Philippines and a bloody attack on a Pakistani Christian church, both virtually blacked out in the mainstream media. These episodes show that the network of Islamic extremists stretches from one end of the umma [the worldwide Moslem community] to the other, and even when not directly linked, draw their intellectual vigor and sometimes material resources from one another.

The Syrian crisis has complicated the already confused strategies to effectively combat the jihadists. Unfortunately, a relatively spontaneous uprising against decades of unrestrained brutality of the al Assad family dictatorship has fallen under the shadow of international jihadist volunteers who are flooding in from all directions to fight it – not excluding second and third generation Muslims from all over the democratic West including the U.S and Australia. Their growing presence among the opponents of the regime and the Obama Administration’s fumbling of the issue of the use of chemical weapons of mass destruction by Basher Assad has further muddied the waters.

But whatever the outcome of the Syrian struggle, these new volunteer jihadists will provide a new reservoir of terrorists, as did a similar liberation war against Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, a new cadre of bloodied fanatics to return to their own countries or to the next terrorist front for new violence. Willy-nilly, al Assad’s support by Iran’s state terrorists in their effort to dominate the region and Pres.Vladimir Putin’s desperate ploy to reassert Soviet grandeur by supporting Damscus is further aggravating the terrorist picture. Both Moscow and Tehran believe they have a stake in exploiting the centuries-old bitter feud between the two principal wings of Islam, Sunni and Shia. In addition to attacks on non-Muslims and Islamic innocents, the result is likely to be a welter of explosive intra-Muslim conflicts, vitiating the possibility of one central command, but contributing to the general bloodshed of noncombatants.

There will not be any easy answers to the problem of combating this growing international menace to peace and stability, which could reach across continents as it did on 9/11 to the American homeland. But an effective campaign relies on three general categories of government activity:

Somehow the open societies of the West, inherently vulnerable to terrorism, will have to learn to take more protective measures, short of limiting the freedom which is their essence. The bumbling bureaucracy of air travel security, for example, needs a surgical overhaul. Too much effort and money is being expended on unnecessary gateway inspection procedures. New technologies will provide more inspection efficiency. But the introduction of common sense at the highest administrative levels appears a necessity. The airlines, themselves, should assume an increasing role in filtering out possible saboteurs. Without such programs, the terrorists are going to continue to be a jump ahead of security measures.

There are economic measures the American government needs to take to enhance any effort at defeating the terrorists. The sanctions against Iran, much too long coming in their current growing intensity, point to the enormous impact U.S. Treasury controls can have directly and indirectly on an adversary. The shale revolution with the enormous increases in domestic gas and oil production have now made it possible for the U.S. to do more than try to persuade those in the Persian Gulf states, including individual Saudis as well as officials in Riyadh, and the outrageous troublemakers in Qatar, to end their direct and indirectly financial support to the terrorist networks. What is require simultaneously, of course, but hardly likely, is an about face in the Obama Administration’s war on  fossil fuels, which nevertheless has ironically not haled new record production and possible exports.

Any attempt at taking security measures, of course, must ultimately rely on enhanced intelligence. Repeated efforts to reform the American intelligence community have only added additional layers of bureaucracy without, it seems, increasing actual benefits. If “stove-piping” – excluding necessary interchange among the various  intelligence bodies – has been somewhat eliminated, the Snowden treason episode and the Washington Navyyard Massacre are evidence that the whole system of “need to know” security precautions which once dominated government operations has fallen afoul of the digital revolution  Furthermore, it is clear that many of those who are entrusted with the war on Islamic intelligence have an inadequate knowledge of the history of the religion and its adherents. Unlike the British who in their imperial heyday could depend heavily on their academy for such resources, the U.S. faces a generally unrealistic, antagonistic and disloyal professorate with its hangers on from the parlor Marxist politics of the 1960s.

This leads to the a general failure reaching to the highest echelons of the Obama Administration which in its effort to reduce international tension has taken an idealistic and unrealistic attitude toward the problem of Islam and its radical appendages. Islam is not and never has been “a religion of peace”, from its earliest conquests in the Arabian desert to the subjugation of former Christian, Zoroastrian, Hindu and pagan societies of the Middle East, North Africa and India. There are hundreds of millions of peaceful Muslims, of course. But the idealization of an officially tolerant Islam, for example, in Berber-ruled kingdoms in Spain in the 14th and 15th centuries, is pure fiction. Islamic regimes have always condemned non-believing citizens, at best, to an inferior status with onerous tax burdens. Islam has never had its Reformation or Counter-reformation, nor its haskalah, having largely rejected Greek learning in monumental debates almost a thousand years ago. Unless and until the majority of Muslim intellectuals and spokesmen for Islam parse the indivisibility of their religion with the implanting of a sharia state, the seeds of jihadism and accompanying terrorism are planted wherever the religion prevails.

Therefore, an important element – perhaps the most important — in an effective and continuing defense against Islamic terrorism is a more realistic understanding of this relationship of the Muslim faithful and the jihadists. It is incumbent on American Muslims, for example, to halt their wailing about a nonexistent victimization. Since 9/11 – contrary to what might have been expected in another society less tolerant than the U.S. – they have seen little “Islamphobia”. Rather, such highly placed individuals as Ms. Huma Abedin, principal assistant to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, have an obligation publicly to explain and renounce their family relationships with the Muslim Brotherhood, an original source of inspiration for much of the current jihadist leadership.

It is in the nature of the American system of government, unfortunately, that none of this is to be accomplished rapidly, even given the growing urgency for an effective reform of the efforts for dealing with terrorism. The wake-up call of 9/11 has been hushed, ironically, in the enormous vitalilty of U.S. society and pursuit of happiness which is the ultimate American goal. But unfortunately the problem of terrorism, even in the homeland, is not going to go away.

sws-09-22-13