With all of the focus on Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and (until recently) Iraq, there has been little recent discussion about another key Muslim nation, Turkey. But history has not paused in Turkey just because we’re not paying much attention to the Turks.
When Turkey was last prominently in the news, there was much controversy within the EU about whether Turkey — which has one foot in Europe and one in the Middle East — should be permitted to join. But nowadays, it’s not clear that, whatever the government’s official line, Turkey really wants to be in the EU. Indeed, it may be that the government continues to express interest in EU membership so that the EU’s rejection can help fuel the drive away from Europe and into the orbit of the Muslim world.
Harold Rhode of the Hudson Institute formerly served in the Pentagon’s Office of Net Assessment. He has also been the Turkish desk officer in the Office of the Secretary of Defense. Rhode is deeply concerned about the Ismlamization of Turkey. He writes:
The present Turkish government [under prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, once a protégé of the Islamist Necmettin Erbakan] is methodically taking over every aspect of society, including every branch of government, businesses, schools and newspapers. How has this affected the citizens of Turkey? Natan Sharansky has posed what he calls the village square test. Can a person go out in the village square and say he does not like the government? Can you talk freely? I’ve been visiting Turkey regularly since 1968. People were always prepared to talk about politics – but no longer. Today, the Turks are obviously afraid of something. It saddens me to see this taking place in an industrious country that was in the vanguard of moving Islam into the modern world.
The battle for Turkey’s identity is far from over. The forces of secularism are waiting right below the surface. There are a lot of passionate, if disorganized, secularists. Yet if a moderate form of Ottoman Turkish Islam is to be revived, it must stand up to the onslaught of Wahhabism and the temptations of Islamism.
If matters continue as they are, both in Turkey and Iran, then one plausible outcome might eventually be that Turkey and Iran switch places. Iran, after its Islamist experience, may rejoin the community of nations, while Turkey may turn toward Islamism and become a driving anti-Western force throughout the Islamic world. How sad for Turkey; how sad for one of the most interesting and industrious peoples in the Islamic world; how dangerous for the world.
Another plausible outcome, I imagine, is that Turkey and Iran, the two major powers that form a sort of sandwich that encompasses much of the remainder of the Middle East, might soon both stand outside the community of nations as implacable enemies of the West.
SCOTT adds: Bret Stephens has an excellent column in today’s Wall Street Journal addressing the problem of Turkey.