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Thanking Michel Zala

Reader comment on item: Islamist Turkey vs. Secular Iran?
in response to reader comment: Let us be careful, before damning the Turks - The Stadler Haymaker missed its target.

Submitted by Erich W (United States), Dec 9, 2010 at 16:02

Michel, I am inclined to think that the Islamic Revolution in Iran runs pretty deep, and that a certain kind of moderation in Islam, as well as secularism, runs very deep in Turkey. The brotherhoods (Tarikah) in Turkey, however, teach a very strong blend of Islam. That can be terribly anti-Semitic and anti-American. The style of the Nurcu and Fetuallah Gulen movements is sophisticated, with a long range project of educating an elite that is infiltrating, and now inundating, leadership positions in the country. Their networks seem vast, and you meet their disciples all over the country. They do seem to be snowballing their power in the Government and the State, without declaring Sharia. Their policies look benign usually, nationalistic/ internationalistic rather than theocratic, postmodern more than absolutist.

Is this all a ruse, or have they learned that Islam will spread more freely if it is not burdened with imposing Sharia publicly? Jury is out on that, but suspicions run high. Erdogan does not look like a brief and forgettable leader, but rather a leader who deftly combines the support of the various Brotherhoods on the one hand, and reflects the admired style of an Anatolian or "Kasimpasha" (that was a rough neighborhood in Istanbul) honorable tough guy. The changes accomplished under his watch are far reaching and have deep roots going back into the much longer, patient work of the Brotherhoods. Those changes involve a great deal of pressure on public employees to practice Islam.

They have been replacing secularists with Islamic personel in the public sector and the education establishment, high and low. The police are thoroughly infiltrated, and some say the officers' corpse is also compromised. The question is how the Islam of the Brotherhoods will synthesize with the practical concerns of the Turkish populace. In all my years there I reached an abiding conclusion: they are a very pragmatic people. For Turkish people, in general, idealisms have only restricted emotional value--platitudes said with gusto and left on the table for aromatic purposes; ideologies have mostly social value for forming solidarity groups. Success and/or human warmth seem to be their main currencies. Judicious dishonesty is the commonly agreed upon way to acquire and secure both.

A Turkish aphorism says that Turkey is a ship sailing eastward, but some of the crew on deck run to the west. Maybe a better illustration is that it really is a bridge, deeply anchored in both the East and the West, and the people on it are sitting in bazaars and tea houses on one end, and in beer halls, banks and bikinied beeches on the other. In the middle all the students are learning how to pass tests by a synthesis of studying and cheating. On both ends of the bridge and in between, they sweetly lie to each other, and enjoy the warmth that brings. It does not look like these realities can easily change. I agree with you, the Turks are pursuing personal success with gusto, pragmatically, usually with lots of interpersonal drama. Their mutual trust factor is low (dishonesty is expected), and therefore they will be hindered in their national progress. Frankly, like you, I love this people on the bridge, and I wish them improvement, honesty, warmth and success.

I doubt that membership in the EU would benefit Turkey much. If I were a Turk, I would want my country to be independent, and to find its own solutions to its own problems. Ah, one more point, concepts of power in Turkey are much more heightened than in the West...that's the Asian side of things. This also creates mutual distrust, and limits effectiveness. In spite of all this, they make progress. The great Jihad of the Ottomans lost energy when their special forces, the Janisseries, began to engage in business on the side. Now all Turkey is engaged in business. Perhaps that is hopeful.


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