When half of society identifies Turkey as an Islamic nation…
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“Turkey is first and foremost an Islamic country.” That was the answer of 56.3 percent of participants of a recent survey commissioned by Istanbul’s Kadir Has University, the fifth survey of the university’s Center for Turkish Studies on public perception on foreign policy.
This ratio was up from 45.5 percent in 2015, 37.5 percent in 2016 and 39.9 percent in 2017. So one can fairly say that nearly half of the nation believes Turkey is first and foremost an “Islamic country.”
This year’s rise to 56.3 percent can perhaps be explained by the sharp drop of those who see Turkey as a “European country.” In 2015, 26 percent said Turkey is primarily a “European country,” in 2016 some 31 percent said that and in 2017 some 32 percent of respondents said that. This year the ratio has dropped to just 19.4 percent.
For some international observers, Turkey is simply an Islamic country and the ratio of 56.3 percent in the country who agree is actually quite low. For other observers, the ratio is proof of how President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) have transformed a secular nation into an Islamic nation. This could also provide a useful shortcut for these same observers to explain the rising anti–American tide in Turkey.
But it would be wrong to jump to such a conclusion so quickly, as anti–Americanism goes across the board in Turkey. First, let’s look at the figures. At 9.6 percent, “relations with the U.S.” rank fourth (after the Syrian issue, Israel, and terrorism) as Turkey’s most important foreign policy problem. The U.S. tops the list of countries “posing a threat to Turkey” for 60 percent of respondents, up from 35 percent in 2015 and 44 percent in 2016.
In 2015, 40 percent of respondents said there are problems between Turkey and the U.S. In 2018 this ratio had risen to 80 percent.
While the conservative/religious worldview of the ruling elites has certainly played a role in the increasingly negative perception of the U.S., the acute polarization we see in society between conservatives and secularists is nowhere to be seen when it comes to relations with Washington. Only 1.1 percent of all respondents identify the U.S. as a “friendly country,” while only 3 percent identify it as an “ally” and only 11.4 say it is a “strategic partner.”
The fight against terrorism, the long-demanded extradition of U.S.-based Islamic cleric Fethullah Gülen (believed to be the mastermind behind the July 15 coup), the support given to the People’s Protection Units (PYD), the U.S.’s policies on the Kurdish issue in the Middle East, and the Syrian issue are the top five issues that are seen as the most important problems between Turkey and the U.S.
While the Turkish leadership can be blamed for the deterioration of relations, with its miscalculations and misjudgments leading to several management errors, it is fair to say that there is an across-the-board hatred of U.S. policies in the Middle East.
Can Europeans simply explain rising anti–Americanism in Turkey as a consequence of the country’s “Islamic nature,” when they have also been critical of Washington’s decision to relocate its embassy to Jerusalem? Can they now sympathize a little with Turkey after seeing the U.S. pull out of international agreements - such as the climate deal and the Iran nuclear deal – that are seen as critical to European interests? Aren’t they also currently questioning what kind of ally the U.S. is following its latest decision to impose tariffs on European imports?
Turkey–U.S. problems did not start with the arrival of Donald Trump in office, though they have certainly been aggravated during his tenure. In this respect, one can only be puzzled by those who are still puzzled about rising anti-Americanism in Turkey.