Posts Tagged ‘Turkey’

Clerics Schmerics

May 12, 2008

I posted the following comment to Edward Luttwak’s editorial on the New York Times website:

Although it is true that even if Mr. Obama becomes president the United States will be viewed with distrust abroad, Mr. Luttwak’s analysis of how Muslims will perceive Mr. Obama is wide off the mark. The Middle East is not a monotone swath of fiery clerics and their mindless followers. I spent last year in Turkey and met a wide variety of Muslims. Many Turks both enjoy their national alcoholic beverage raki with fish and attend mosque services on Friday afternoons. The idea that Turkish police would refuse to protect Mr. Obama because of some obscure Sunni cleric’s sharia decision is patently ridiculous.

Mr. Luttwak gives examples of state persecution in Iran and Afghanistan. Those two countries are indeed very repressive Islamic states. Most Muslim countries are not devastated war zones like Afghanistan or run by clerics like Iran. Judging how Mr. Obama will be perceived in the Middle East by referencing “jurists of all Sunni and Shiite schools” is like judging how President Gul of Turkey will be received in the United States by reading what the far Christian right thinks of Islam.

Religions are not monolithic unchanging institutions, and culture isn’t easily deciphered by reading religious scripture in Maryland. However Mr. Obama’s religion is perceived abroad, the very fact that he is not President Bush will instantly improve America’s image throughout the Muslim world.

Luttwak’s mistake is seeing the world as more black and white than it really is. This common misperception is apparently also one of the reasons that conservatives are happier than liberals.

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Whence Turkey?

April 1, 2008

I find the latest news from Ankara both distressing and sad. The highest court in Turkey unanimously agreed to hear a case about banning the ruling AK party. The case purports that AK Party intends to turn Turkey into an Islamic republic.

The New York Times, The Economist, and most other respectable Western newspapers describe Turkish politics today as a moderately religious middle class standing up to and replacing an old, secular elite–who in turn are struggling to hold on to power. Petek has long been trying to convince me that the real situation is an Islamic government trying to uproot the foundations of secular Democracy on which Turkey was built.

Petek’s view unfortunately took a heavy blow today. If the secular elite were interested in Democracy, then their courts wouldn’t consider banning the popularly elected ruling party–the religious, middle-class Justice and Development Party. Unless one resorts to some sort of doublethink about destroying Democracy in order to save it, I just don’t see how Petek’s view is tenable in light of recent events. If the ban goes through (which the New York Times expects), the real verdict will be about Turkey’s elites.