Joined: 09 Sep 2006
|Posted: Mon Oct 12, 2009 10:18 am Post subject: An Open Letter To My Turkish Friends
|An Open Letter To My Turkish Friends
BESA Center Perspectives Papers No. 92, October 11, 2009
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: After a long run of arguing the benefits of AKP rule in
Turkey, the author fears his critics might have been right. Worrying trends
by the current leadership, such as invitations to radical leaders and
defense of Hamas, show a possible "loss" of Turkey to Islamism. The author
appeals to his Turkish friends and colleagues to stop Turkey's slip towards
the Middle East and maintain its alignment with "secure" Western powers.
For years I have been active in Israeli-Turkish relations, traveling often
to that beautiful country, writing about it and establishing strong
friendships there. The Begin-Sadat (BESA) Center for Strategic Studies,
which I direct, pioneered Israeli-Turkish academic dialogues and through
symposia and lectures, educated Israelis about the nature and the strategic
importance of Turkey. Over the years, BESA welcomed Turkish academics,
journalists, and political and religious leaders. I believe that the
Israeli-Turkish strategic partnership is of utmost importance and value to
both countries, and to the West. As result of being a philo-Turk, some
Israelis have even called me, "Mr. Turkey."
As a true friend of that country, today I am greatly concerned. The Turkey I
have learned to admire seems, unfortunately, to be sliding in the wrong
In contrast to many in the West who were suspicious of the Islamic
credentials of the ruling AKP party, I welcomed the ascendance of the AKP in
Turkish politics. I argued that traditional Kemalist secularism needed a
religious corrective to help Turkey find a delicate synthesis between rich
religious tradition and modernity. I believed that an AKP-led Turkey had the
potential to become a true model of moderate Islam for the Islamic world; a
world that is grappling, mostly unsuccessfully, with the challenges of
Looking today at AKP foreign and domestic policies I am tentatively coming
to the unpleasant conclusion that I was wrong.
Turkey under the AKP is increasingly succumbing to Islamic impulses;
relegating its political and cultural links to the West to a secondary
priority. For example, Turkey welcomed the despicable President of the
Islamic Republic of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, for a formal visit in August
2008. No Western country has issued such an invitation to the Iranian
Moreover, in contrast to its Western allies, Ankara announced recently that
it will not join any sanction efforts aimed at preventing Iran from going
Similarly, Turkey has deviated from the Western consensus by inviting
Sudan's President, Omer Hassan al-Bashir, who was charged with war crimes
and genocide in Darfur. Befriending such international pariahs, Ankara's
moral stature is deeply hurt.
Turkey's defense of Hamas, a terrorist organization, also indicates that
Turkey has sacrificed its moral compass for a very primitive Muslim
brotherhood. Even pro-Western Arab states supported Israel's struggle
against Hamas. The Turkish premiere's vehement and deeply insulting
denunciation of Israel during Operation Cast Lead also grated heavily on my
ears. We cannot simply chalk up his criticism to cynical domestic public
At home, traditional Ottoman and Turkish tolerance is gradually being
replaced by pressure to conform to Muslim mores and by intimidation to
comply with government policies. Several friends in the business community
confessed that sipping a glass of raki (the Turkish equivalent of ouzo or
arak) in public could hurt ones chances of receiving government contracts.
A sensational trial of former officers, government officials, journalists,
businessman and academics, accused of plotting against the AKP government
(known as the Ergenekon affair), continues to occupy Turkish attention since
2007, and seems to play a role in intimidation of political opponents too.
Similarly, the recent exorbitant fine of $2.5 billion imposed by the tax
authorities on the Dogan Media Group, which dared to adopt a critical
attitude toward some government-sponsored activities, smacks of an attack on
the freedom of press. Colleagues in academic institutions speak openly about
leaving the country if the situation gets worse.
The AKP-led government is still playing mostly by the democratic rules of
the game. It garnered only 35 percent of the popular vote and it could be
replaced if the fragmented Kemalist camp organizes and nominates a decent
political leader. Such a scenario is unlikely, however, in the immediate
future, despite decline in support for the AKP in the March 2009 municipal
The current negative tendencies in Turkish domestic politics and foreign
policy orientation push it away from the West. Does Turkey really want to
become more similar to Middle East countries? It is the job of my Turkish
friends of all political hues to put a stop to this.
Turkey is amidst the throes of an identity crisis, trying to find a
successful accommodation between its Muslim roots and the challenges of the
twenty-first century. It is at an historic crossroads. Hopefully it is not
too late to choose the right path, despite the many signs that Turkey is
slipping into Islamist retrogression.
I sympathize with my many Turkish friends - secular, traditional and
religious - who are fully aware of the dangerous waters their government is
navigating. Hopefully, Turkish democracy is strong enough to choose the
progress and prosperity that only a Western anchor can grant. The "loss" of
Turkey to Islamism would be a great strategic blow to Israel and the West.
But first and foremost it would be a tragedy for the Turks.
***The author is professor of political studies at Bar-Ilan University and the director of the Begin-Sadat (BESA) Center for Strategic Studies. This
article was first published by the Jerusalem Post on October 6, 2009.
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