Confessions of a recovering ‘Erdoğan enabler’

Confessions of a recovering ‘Erdoğan enabler’

Michael Rubin, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington DC, published a notable piece a couple of weeks ago in the magazine Commentary. Titled, “Erdoğan’s Willing Enablers,” this was a bold critique of some Turkish writers, including myself, who allegedly enabled the “authoritarian, repressive regime” of President Tayyip Erdoğan. (It was also, apparently, a pun on Daniel Goldghagen’s famous book, “Hitler’s Willing Executioners.”)

Before countering what Mr. Rubin said in that piece about my views, first let me clear out a personal point. Mr. Rubin wrote that I, in a 2007 piece, falsely suggested that he had “labeled Erdoğan’s government as an ‘example of so-called Islamo-fascism.’” He reminded that he had never used that term, and accused me of putting words into his mouth. Let me plead guilty to that charge. At that time, “Islamo-fascism,” a term used by President Bush, was heard frequently among some neo-conservatives, and I apparently counted Mr. Rubin’s strong criticisms of the AKP in that light. But Mr. Rubin says he never used that term. So it is appropriate for me to offer a better-late-than-never apology.

However, on the broader issue of my former support for successive Justice and Development Party (AKP) governments, I don’t see much to regret. Throughout the first decade of the 21st century, anybody who wanted to see a more liberal and democratic Turkey could easily see the light in the AKP rather than its political rivals. It was the AKP that championed rights for minorities (including non-Muslims), freedom of speech, free markets, and the whole “Copenhagen Criteria” of the European Union. The fact that these liberal causes were championed by a party of conservative Muslims made me only even more enthusiastic. Here was the “Islamo-liberal synthesis” that the whole Muslim world desperately needed.

Admittedly, this apparently bright story soon began to grow sour. Power corrupts, and it corrupted the AKP. Moreover, it turned out that Erdoğan was interested in the “Copenhagen Criteria” only for pragmatic reasons — such as saving his rule from the wrath of secularist generals. The more the masters of that hard-core Old Turkey declined, the less the masters of New Turkey proved to be principled.

However, this story could still have worked out differently, if different personalities had been in play. If former president Abdullah Gül — apparently the only prominent figure who really believed in the Islamo-liberal synthesis — was in power now, we would today be seeing a very different AKP, and I would be proud to have been one of its “enablers.” History is made partly by luck, or the lack thereof, and Turkey just did not prove to be very lucky.

Moreover, I should note that even at times when I fully supported Erdogan’s “New Turkey,” I also tried to oppose its excesses. What I mean in particular is the series of witchunts against the old guard — such as the “Ergenekon” and “Sledgehammer” cases, which put hundreds of people in jail. I would not be wrong to say that I was probably the first voice in the pro-AKP camp to openly oppose the excessive arrests and the large-scale demonization that occurred in these cases — which was the work not only of the AKP, but also of the Gülen movement.

I am not going to deny that, today, I am deeply disappointed by these - first closely collaborating, then bitterly fighting - masters of the “New Turkey.” But unlike the hard-core secularists in Turkey, (and the Islamo-sceptics in the West), I never had a problem with who they were. Rather, I looked at what they did. And as what they did changed over time, so did my views.