[The Executioner removes the Mad Hatter’s hat in preparation for beheading him]
The Mad Hatter: “I’d like to keep it on.”
Executioner: “Suit yourself. As long as I can get at your neck.”
–Lewis Carroll, “Alice in Wonderland”
A fascinating article on Islamism in Turkey that also reflects on the situation in Arabic-speaking countries has been written by Soner Cagaptay, director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy’s Turkish research program. I’m a fan of his analysis so nothing in the following article should be taken as criticism but rather as an exploration of his article’s themes.
There’s also a very interesting parallel here with domestic events in the United States. But first, Cagaptay’s theme us as follows:
–There are strong limits on how far Islamism can go in Turkey.
–The Arabic-speaking states are very different from Turkey in lacking a strong secularist (or at least anti-Islamist) sector that is deeply embedded in the country’s culture and history.
I think he is right on both points but let’s look more into the details.
First, on Turkey itself. Cagaptay’s article was prompted by a personal experience in Istanbul. In a café he saw a group of Salafists, who had just finished prayers in a near-by mosque, interact politely with a waitress who had tattoos and wore a short-sleeved shirt. He writes that in both words and body language one could see there were no real “tensions between the two opposing visions of Turkey brought into close encounter for me to witness.”
He continues that while “Turkey’s two halves…may not blend, neither will [either one] disappear. Turkey’s Islamization is a fact, but so is secular and Westernized Turkey.” After a decade of Islamist rule—I should note here that few Western experts, journalists, or political leaders acknowledge or understand that the regime ruling Turkey is Islamist in a real sense—there has been, “a rising tide of Islamization in Turkey.” He mentions a recent law that mandates teaching Islam in public schools and a shift in Turkey’s professed identity from European to being Muslim and Middle Eastern.
But, Cagaptay adds, there are limits in a country “so thoroughly westernized that even the AKP and its Islamist elites cannot escape trappings of their Western mold.” As examples he cites the role of women and Turkey’s membership in NATO. He explains that “Turkey’s Islamization is meeting its match” because, for example, there was a consensus that Turkey deploy NATO Patriot missiles on its territory to defend itself from a possibly attack by Syria. “The Turks have lived with NATO too long to think outside of its box.”
Now there is no question that in the broader sense Cagaptay is correct. Turkey is not going to be another Saudi Arabia or Iran. And yet beside that glass is half-full argument is a shocking glass is half-empty counterpart. As Cagaptay notes, Islamist or semi-Islamist parties received 65 percent of the vote in the 2011 elections. That means, he continues: