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The Economist on Turkey

March 20th, 2005

One thing that’s struck me about the recent wave of triumphalism regarding good news from the Middle East is how rarely Turkey is mentioned[1]. Yet Turkey’s progress towards full-scale Western-style democracy over the last few years has been by far the most hopeful development in the region over this period.

And the Bush Administration has played a positive (if occasionally unsubtle) role here, strongly backing Turkey’s application to join the EU, which is the main motive for reform. Yet this never seems to get a mention, while the fact that the absolute monarchs of Saudi Arabia have decided, like their counterparts in Communist China, to permit municipal elections is presented as if it’s a democratic revolution.

For those interested, The Economist has an excellent survey.

fn1. Except in the context of Thanksgiving.

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  1. Giles
    March 21st, 2005 at 00:52 | #1

    “the Bush Administration has played a positive role here, strongly backing Turkey’s application to join the EU”

    I’d have thought that an endorsement by Bush hinders rather than helps here!

  2. March 21st, 2005 at 01:34 | #2

    The US supports Turkey’s EU candidature because of the fact that the inclusion of a large Muslim Third World nation would effectively wreck any rival ‘superstate’ ambitions of the Europeans.

  3. Jay C
    March 21st, 2005 at 03:18 | #3

    While I agree with your contention that Turkish issues tend (in the US at any rate) to fall “below the radar” all too easily, I am not sure that the Bush Administration has really been all that much of positive influence for a couple of reasons:

    First, there are probably residual resentments in Washington over Turkey’s refusal to jump in on Bush’s Grand Crusade in Iraq: Shrub & Co. tend to hold on to their grudges: that Ankara declined to join the “coalition of the willing” (democratic decision though it was) hasn’t been forgotten.

    Second (dovetailing with the above): the Kurdish Question is still a timebomb on a powderkeg in the region: given the Turks’ historical (and still, apparently unshaken) antagonism towards Kurdish autonomy, whatever final form the “New Iraq” takes is going to impact Turkey one way or another. Whether good or bad remains to be seen.

    Also: inasmuch as the US has basically positioned itself as the de facto Protector/Guarantor of Iraq, how much the Bush Administration is truly happy at the prospect of their Protectorate actually potentially bordering on the EU is good question (that has so far had little examination).

  4. March 21st, 2005 at 10:01 | #4

    JQ, in Dar el Islam, the muslim world, democracy enables fundamentalism. Unless for some weird reason you consider democracy valuable in itself, and not merely in a derivative way as means, “progress towards democracy” has no value in itself. Certainly in Turkey it is veryu harmful.

    If nothing else, it builds up internal contradictions. Without a democratic ethos in place in Turkey, it can only lead to the destruction of any value you may choose to attach to democracy.

  5. Katz
    March 21st, 2005 at 10:29 | #5

    Democracy and religion mix perfectly as long as:

    a. Democrats don’t insist on toleration

    or

    b. The religious don’t insist that public policy reinforce and amplify their teleology.

    The outlook is therefore a bit glum.

    Democrats have been cutting corners on foundation principle for more than a century.

    But recently, in the eyes of the religious these concession have ceased to be sufficient.

    Abroad in the wolrd is a yearning for the millennium that would be highly amusing were it not for the fact that it is driving all sorts of reckless foreign policy aimed at achieving “the end of days” and all sorts of bizarre domestic policy aimed at executing the torments of hell on the wicked, just in case the hell to come turns out to be insufficiently unpleasant.

  6. March 21st, 2005 at 12:40 | #6

    Bush deserves credit for bringing democracy to Iraqi and Afghani voters, although the cost has been extravagant. But Bush admin boosters ME democratic triumphalism is a little overwrought, not to say premature. Democratic and populist regimes have been coming into & out of power throughout the ME during the generation preceding Bush’s demo-promo strategy:
    Iran
    Lebanon
    Algeria
    Turkey
    Palestine
    Moreover ME democracy is a mixed blessing, both morally and politically, if it leads to pro-Islamist and anti-Western political regimes. The example of Algeria is pertinent, esp to regimes with Sadrist elements like Iraq..
    This ambivalence is very obvious in the case of Turkey. I hope that “Johhny Turk” will benefit from integration with the USE, although it is an open question whether there will be a vice-versa effect. Democracy is empowering sectarian Islamist elements in Turkey, with a consequent disempowering of secular nationalist elements. Attaturk wanted Turkey to be a secular European nation. I am not sure this is how things will turn out.

  7. March 21st, 2005 at 12:47 | #7

    The Economist brings up the subject of the conflict between Turkey’s sectarian democratisation and secular integration.

    Turkish students are taken to Ataturk’s mausoleum, Anit Kabir, to be taught the official, politically correct version of the republic’s history. On a hill in the capital, Ankara, the great man’s remains are laid to rest pointing unequivocally towards Europe, not to any religious monument in Arabia or in Turkey’s Anatolian heartland.

    …………..
    Unfortunately not all good things in the world can be had at the same time, as anyone who wants a trim figure and chocolate sweets can testify. Turkey’s mass democratisation is a good thing, as is Turkey’s USE integration. But they may not go together.

  8. March 22nd, 2005 at 03:06 | #8

    Katz, democracy and anything mix perfectly as long as potential contradictions are headed off in advance by defining them out, i.e. defining the people to be only those that adhere to the fundamental principles of the anything in question.

    This, of course, is using one of the loopholes in democracy I’ve mentioned before. It is a variation on the “no true Scotsman” theme. It is not academic, as shown by, e.g., Israel. And this of course is a fundamental defect of democracy, if one persists in thinking of it as a system complete and sufficient in itself.

    Naturally, there can be cases in which the anything is self denying. This has also happened, but it doesn’t make the democracy incompatible, it simply makes it ephemeral. Cases include all those fake republics which lasted just long enough to dissolve themselves and transfer their sovereignty elsewhere, as in the USA, India, the USSR, and so on. However these gainer states usually claim(ed) democratic legitimacy themselves, having found it so flexible and convenient or else sincerely supposing there was nothing wrong with what they achieved.

  9. Katz
    March 22nd, 2005 at 10:29 | #9

    PML, elegant statement of the general case.

    When the deceptions, self-mystifications and logical inconsistencies become common currency, then it will be recognised that all collectivities are bound together by ropes of sand.

    Then, the only viable collectivities will be post-modern, where people will choose not to ask uncomfortable and confrontational questions about the nature of collectivities in return for autonomy, tolerance and respect.

    And that’s when hell freezes over.

  10. Ian Gould
    March 22nd, 2005 at 13:29 | #10

    Islam is not monolithic. Turkey’s adoption of democracy has been assisted by the influence of the alevi sect of islam.

    From the Wikipedia article on the Alevi:

    “Adherents of Alevism (in Turkish Alevîlik) are called Alevis. The correct number of Alevis isn’t known, it varies from 15% to 35%, i.e. 10-23 million of the Turkish population. …

    While Alevis, like other Shia groups, particularly revere the memory of Ali, almost to the point of deification, they are not regarded as orthodox, or even as Muslims, by many other Muslims (Shia or not). They interpret the Qur’an largely figuratively rather than literally, they do not teach a religious prohibition of alcohol, and they also have an unusually strong devotion to Jesus and Mary, and strong naturist elements to their faith. Modern Alevi theology has been profoundly influenced by humanism and universalism, probably more so than any other school of Islam.”

    The alevis are as much a part of islam as the wahabbis or the shia or the adat muslims of Java.

    Seeking to encourage and support those elements of islam which are most likely to be sympathetic to liberal principles and democracy is more likely to be successful in promotign democracy in the long run than blamket hostility to islam.

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