Moderate Islamism: the West’s unrequited love affair
About a decade ago, the (politically) Western hemisphere enthusiastically volunteered for a political experiment based on generous euphemism for “moderate” Islamism, unable to see that there is only Islamism and there are only physically more violent forms of Islamism. The West had fallen in love with something that did not exist. The laboratory room the experiment would take place was called Turkey.
Or, in President Barack Obama’s words in 2009, Turkey, “the great Islamic democracy.” He and many others hoped it would be so. In that fairy tale, Turkey’s Islamists would build a beacon of democracy that would create the French Revolution effect on all other Muslim nations in one of the world’s most turbulent neighborhoods. Since 2009, President Obama has left us wondering why he has never called Britain “a great Christian democracy,” Israel “a great Jewish democracy,” or Japan “a great Shintoist democracy.” Nor has he explained why “democracy” should need a religious prefix.
Now it looks it is payback time. Read this:
“[Then] Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s performance in political and economic reforms is brilliant … He showed a tremendous capacity for political and economic reforms, preparing the way for Turkey to head into EU talks.” – Eric Edelman, former US ambassador to Ankara in a 2006 speech when he was official number three at the Pentagon.
“Mr. Erdoğan’s overriding objective has instead been to achieve a parliamentary supermajority that will grant him an executive presidency and solidify what is rapidly becoming a one-party state … An ally racked by violence and insurgency simply can’t play the role that the United States needs a secular, democratic Turkey to play in the turbulent Middle East.” -- Eric Edelman, op-ed contributor in New York Times (“America’s Dangerous Bargain With Turkey,” Aug. 27, 2015.)
Mr. Edelman is only one of possibly thousands of important Western men who misread Turkey. Just like a new title by Toni Alaranta of the Finnish Institute of International Affairs explains, as reviewed in this newspaper only two days after Mr. Edelman’s op-ed.
Mr. Alaranta’s book, “National and State Identity in Turkey: The Transformation of the Republic’s Status in the International System,” forcefully reminds readers of “international conditions combined with Turkey’s internal politics to legitimize a crude power grab dressed up in the language of liberalization and human rights.”
Mr. Alaranta puts it very realistically: “There was a huge expectation both in U.S. and EU circles that Turkey was more or less destined to become a role model, a liberal democracy ruled by Muslim conservatives who had allegedly managed to move beyond the political Islamist position and were now embracing democratic pluralist values.
“I believe that the leading cadres of the AKP [Justice and Development Party] realized this situation and saw it as an opportunity - they used the ‘bridge’ [between the West and East] metaphor themselves. But in my opinion all the reforms of the AKP’s first term were very much instrumental. Their purpose was to delegitimize their political opponents and to consolidate the AKP in power. So I would definitely say that the EU and the U.S. should look in the mirror and take at least some responsibility for the legitimization of the AKP within this liberal democratic discourse…
“There was a widespread expectation that political inclusion and economic development would moderate the political Islamists, but we are now witnessing a very significant - even historic - course of events. If the AKP is unable to get back its absolute majority, we will come to the question of whether the political Islamists will hand over power … Either the political Islamists will have to step aside or it will be proven that the very widespread idea of political inclusion of these groups to make them more democratic has been a failure.”
It could have been a fabulous love affair – had the one loved by the other existed. It was like falling in love with a ghost, hoping it exists in real life. It did not, although its lover’s euphemism even gave it a fancy name: Post-modern Islamism.