Turkey’s future within the Islamic civilization
Over the past decade, a multitude of commentators have raised concerns about “where Turkey is heading.” The obvious reason was the more independent foreign policy that Ankara had begun to envision and follow. A parallel reason was the nature of the new Turkish political elite: this more Muslim-minded cadre was quite different from the secular establishment which used to rule the country.
Some alarmist commentators, both in Turkey and in the West, saw this as a process which would make Turkey “another Iran.” (In other words, they had no other political category besides the yes-men of the West and the sworn enemies of the West.) More nuanced (yet-still-concerned) commentators believed that Turkey was making a mistake by “punching above its weight.”
However, it was also possible to see the more confident, more independent, and more Muslim “New Turkey” as a positive force in Muslim world, which would ultimately help the West as well. And perhaps no one articulated that more clearly than Robert W. Merry, the editor of The National Interest, a Washington-based policy journal, in a recent piece titled “The Huntington Thesis and Turkey’s New Role.”
Merry begins his case by correcting a common misunderstanding about the late Professor Samuel Huntington and his much-discussed thesis on “the clash of civilizations.” Huntington, Merry explains, did not want civilizations to clash – he only foresaw their emergence and discussed ways to avoid a clash between them. He, for example, “called for an American foreign policy based on respect for countries of other civilizations and an appreciation for their particular cultural sensibilities.” With the same reasoning, Huntington opposed the Iraq War of 2003.
But, as Merry reminds, Huntington saw a big problem within the Islamic civilization: Unlike America is for the West or Russia is for Orthodox civilization, Islam had no “core state.” Core states are crucial, however, for they are “sources of order within civilizations and, through negotiations with other core states, between civilizations.’’
Actually Islam had a core state until the early 20th century, and it was none other than the Ottoman Empire. “But then Turkey became what Huntington called a ‘torn country’: A nation with a single predominant culture that places it in one civilization while its leaders seek to shift it to another civilization,” Merry notes.
The Cold War preserved Turkey’s Western orientation, for the Soviet threat was a common concern for both Turkey and the West. Change was inevitable, though, in the post-Cold War era, and at a time when democratization made Turkey’s public sentiments more definitive on its foreign policy.
What distinguishes Merry from other American experts he cites and criticizes is that he sees this New Turkey not as a problem but a blessing for the West. He explicitly says:
“Turkey should be encouraged to develop its role as Islamic interlocutor, perhaps even as something of a core state for Islam. It can help guide the Middle East through its current travails and struggles far better than the United States can. That’s because we live in the era of the Clash of Civilizations.”
I agree. I just would add that being placed within the Islamic civilization should not deprive Turkey of the two great inventions of Western civilization: liberal democracy and the market economy. Quite the contrary. Turkey should be able to advance its own liberal democracy and market economy, with an Islamic “color” to both, and thus help other Muslim nations emulate them more easily.
The market economy part here is easier done than the liberal democracy one. On the latter, the AKP government, which deserves credit for making Turkey a candidate for a “core state” in the Muslim world, has still a lot to do, and even some mistakes to correct. Whether they have that vision and will is the next big question.
*For all of Mustafa Akyol’s works, including his recent book, ‘Islam without Extremes: A Muslim Case for Liberty,’ visit his blog, TheWhitePath.com. On Twitter, follow him at @AkyolinEnglish.