Wonderful news: Arabs love Turks!

Wonderful news: Arabs love Turks!

A recent study by the prominent Turkish think tank TESEV has found that Turkey is the most popular country for the people of Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iraq (and Iran). As well as its methodology (the research is based on telephone interviews with over 2,000 people), the principal finding of the study was impressive: The Arabs like Turkey. 

That’s wonderful news. If in the near future Turkey should consider applying for membership of the Arab League, instead of the European Union, the accession process should be much smoother and eventual membership guaranteed. But Turks are not Arabs? Never mind, they are not Europeans either. 

According to TESEV, the Arab love affair with Turkey has four explanations: the country’s economic power; its democratic credentials; its Muslim-ness, and; its fierce pro-Palestinian and anti-Israeli polity. It is puzzling why Arabs think Turkey, with its roughly $10,000 per capita income, and not Saudi Arabia or the much-wealthier-than-Turkey Gulf countries, is an economic power. Similarly, Turkey’s “democratic credentials” could be considered a joke when viewed through a western compass; but, sadly, they are in fact “impressive” for the Arab world, confirming what this column refers to as the “bon pour l’Orient” reality. 

More problematic is the Arab thinking on the good criteria to like and dislike: Muslim-ness and anti-Israeli polity. Although Muslims often – and sometimes rightfully — complain of Islamophobia in the West; their own mindset unmistakably reveals powerful evidence of Judeo-phobia. In fact, the same study found that over 60 percent of Middle Easterners polled view Israel and the United States as the biggest obstacle to peace in their region. 

Some observers believe the findings of the survey reflect “Muslim modernity.” What they deem as “modernity” is indeed “modernity” if we understand that to mean posh villas, fancy cars, internet use, more advanced electronic toys and tablet computers. All the same, “I-like-him-because-he-is-Muslim” or “I don’t-like-him-because-he-is-not” can hardly be defined as modern thinking. For instance, a recent study revealed that Turks think books are the 132nd most important commodity in their lives. Gucci headscarves must have found a better ranking in this newfound Muslim modernity!

And according to TESEV’s poll, Turkey, whose popularity was measured at 78 percent, was followed by the United Arab Emirates (UAE - 70 percent), Palestine (66 percent), China (65 percent), Saudi Arabia and Lebanon (64 percent) and Egypt (62 percent) in terms of positive sentiments felt. So, the Arab “top five” are: Turkey, the UAE, Palestine, China and Saudi Arabia. Which, in other words, tells us the Arabs are certainly not craving democracy! Modernity? 

Modernity, in fact, is to question the wisdom behind feeling attached, en masse, to the world’s most undemocratic countries. Modernity is to long for better democracies, not autocracies merely because these autocracies share one’s own religion, or, in the case of China, have either no religion or a religion which the Arab respondent does not view hostile. 

Ironically, the advocates of the fancy terms “liberal Islam,” “Muslim democracy,” and “Muslim modernity” are unintentionally discriminating against their fellow worshippers. The contents of liberalism, democracy and modernity are universal. Prefixes and suffixes around Islam/Muslim only mean that Islam/Muslims are not good enough to embrace these universal values; that their faith puts practical limits on the degree to which Muslims can enjoy democratic/modern/liberal culture as they are universally defined. 

Oh, by the way, what a simple twist of fate! The Middle Eastern refugees passing by way of Turkey almost invariably seek new homes in the non-Muslim lands of the West, instead of the countries they so dearly love: Turkey, the UAE, Palestine, China and Saudi Arabia…

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