Assessing Erdoğan and the AKP
by Daniel Pipes
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I took part today in a symposium published by FrontPageMagazine.com in which Jamie Glazov asks four of us - Soner Cagaptay, Hans-Peter Raddatz, Michael Rubin and myself – a series of questions about the Republic of Turkey. The full transcript is available at "Symposium: Turkey: The Road to Sharia?" I thought it useful to exerpt my comments because they bring together my views on developments in Turkey that I have otherwise not had a chance to write down. They follow:
[Replying to Michael Rubin's blanket statement that "Turkey is a friend."]
Turkey has been a friend; but I have grave doubts about its future status. Let me explain.
I see Turkey as a uniquely pliable country. What Atatürk accomplished, changing so much of the country in fifteen brief years, 1923-38, is a unique development (with the partial exception of the Meiji restoration leaders a half-century earlier). He wrenched the country from one way of life and pushed it toward another, with considerable effect.
I see Recep Tayyip Erdoğan as the anti-Atatürk. He is young enough, clever enough, and popular enough to stay in power as long or longer than Atatürk and step-by-step, almost imperceptively, to undo the entire Atatürk revolution. We have already seen the fruits of this in his two and a half-years in power: the refusal to help the American-led coalition eliminate the noxious Saddam Hussein regime, Mein Kampf becoming a bestseller, and the Turkish public having among the most anti-Bush attitudes of any population in the world.
I do not know where this transformation will end, but if things go as they have the past few years, I expect Turkey before long to be more in the "foe" category, along with Saudi Arabia, than the "friend" one.
[Replying to disagreement with the above by Soner Cagaptay.]
I am pleased to learn that so astute an observer of Turkey as Soner Cagaptay believes "secularism is strong enough in Turkey that it cannot be undone." I see secularism, however, as a work in progress, the cherished ideal of a rather small elite, and as Turkey becomes more democratic and less guided by that elite, an ideal that lies in distinct peril.
The current burst of antagonism to the United States is of less concern to me, as that could well be transient, the symptom of momentary factors. But I no longer have the sense I first had in 1973, when I lived in Istanbul, that Turkey is a country apart from the rest of the Middle East and Muslim world. It appears to be rapidly turning in that direction, becoming increasingly like its neighbors to the east.
As for democracy, I expect the Islamists who run the AKP will ride the democratic process until the day arrives that they no longer find it serves their purpose, at which point they will circumscribe political participation or even terminate it. The people running Turkey today are not true democrats, who accept the vox populi, but soft totalitarians who learned their lesson from the failed Erbakan prime ministry of 1996-97 and intend not to repeat it. I have full confidence that they will not.
[Replying to three questions from the moderator: Whether the AKP will try to institute an Islamic state, what U.S. policy should be, and whether Turkish accession to the European Union is in American interests?]
 I do expect that when the Islamists AKP feel strong enough and the circumstances are right, they will go attempt to reverse the Atatürkist state and impose the Shari'a in its full scope. This prospect should be a matter of huge concern.
 U.S. options are not terribly attractive. One step is vocally to appreciate the military's role in staunching radical Islam. A second one is to urge a change in the minimum needed for a party to win parliamentary representation, thus cutting into the AKP's huge majority.
 I used to be in favor of Turkey joining the EU but changed my mind in 2003. I now see this as bad for Turkey (being more influenced by Europe) and bad for Europe (its historic identity being further eroded).
Will prosperity and stability weaken Islamism? No; there is no indication that these developments diminish the attraction of radical Islam – just look at its success in the United States, a prosperous and stable country.
My advice to Mr. Bush is to stop pushing the EU to accept Turkey as a member; and I would also cool relations with the Islamist rulers of Turkey.
[Replying to Michael Rubin's statement that "The special relationship with Turkey is over. … It is a shame that the Turkish-American relationship has fallen so far. I fear we are past the point of recovery.]
I second Michael Rubin's conclusions and add two observations.
First, while radical Islam in many ways parallels fascism and communism (the brutal drive to power, the totalitarian goals, the intent to defeat the West), it differs in one key way – radical Islam rides a wave of international popular support the other movements never had. This creates a dilemma for the Bush administration, whose urgent push for democracy turns out to enable Islamists to reach power. Worse yet, Washington is beginning to whitewash the Islamists, and even the terrorist organizations among them. The government of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan presents the most advanced and difficult form of this dilemma, however. Though many wish to avert their eyes from his Islamist background, foreground, and future, that ideology defines his prime ministry. Is the U.S. government going to sit by, applauding, as he creates the Islamic Republic of Turkey?
Second, there was a time several centuries ago when the Ottoman padishah, living in Istanbul, wrote Persian poetry; and the Safavid shah of Iran, living in Isfahan, wrote Turkish poetry. I am reminded of that juxtaposition now, when the population of Atatürk's secular Turkey is ever-more seduced by the sirens of radical Islam such as rules in Iran; while the Iranian population of Khomeini's Islamic republic ardently wants to shed its Islamist regime and live more secular lives such as is possible in Turkey. The race is on. Unfortunately, Islamists at the moment rule both in Turkey and Iran. The U.S. role should be to change that dynamic, asking how to wean the Turks of their Islamist proclivities without going through the full Islamist experience.
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