The Turkish Spring

It was from the ruins of the banned parties that Erdogan, with the help of his fellow Erbakan acolyte, Abdullah Gul, constructed the AKP (the Justice and Development Party, Adalet ve Kalkinma Partisi). The founders’ hard experience also induced them to adopt the pragmatic radicalism turned into an art form by the Muslim Brotherhood: softening their supremacist rhetoric while in a position of relative weakness; going the extra mile to appear unthreatening; lying about their true intentions, particularly to a credulous West that is manic to prove its Islamophilia; prioritizing the enhancement of their influence over major societal institutions; directing demagoguery at lighting-rod targets (in Turkey, Jews and Israel work well) in order to rally support; and infiltrating their political opposition, gradually defanging it from within.

As I contended in The Grand Jihad, the parallels between the Brotherhood’s modus operandi and Saul Alinksy-style ground-up radicalism – also known as “community organizing” – are palpable. They do much to explain the confederation of Islamists and Leftists against the culture of liberty. When both Brotherhood operatives and community organizers speak publicly, they emphasize semiotics over bombast, code words being a perspicacious device for winking in solidarity at one’s allies while steering clear of explicit, actionable incitement. In the AKP’s case, the choice to name itself after “Justice” speaks volumes.

Hearing the word, ordinary Westerners draw the common inference of simple “fairness” or “rectitude.” It seems aspirational, not provocative. But just as the term “social justice” in Leftist parlance connotes an entire system of statism, confiscatory taxation, and redistribution of wealth, Islamist odes to “justice” connote sharia, Islam’s legal system and totalitarian societal scheme. It is not for nothing that one of Brotherhood theorist Sayyid Qutb’s most influential tracts is entitled Social Justice in Islam – and would be equally at home at either the book-stand of an Occupy Wall Street encampment or an Arab Spring rally.

By 2002, the scene was set for a “Turkish Spring.” The multiple Kemalist parties were widely disdained, being seen as sclerotic and responsible for thoroughgoing governmental corruption. Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party saw its opening. The AKP pols shrewdly packaged themselves not as implacable Islamists but as pragmatic reformers: members of a conventional, moderate, “socially conservative” movement committed to “improving” the secular framework, not tearing it asunder. Riding the demographic wave, AKP took 34 percent of the vote – nearly doubling Erbakan’s haul only seven years earlier. And thus did the purported safeguards Kemalists built into Turkey’s electoral system come back to bite the designers: with the wretched showing of the secular parties, the AKP’s mere one-third of the vote translated into a stranglehold two-thirds’ majority in Parliament.

Michael Rubin, the American Enterprise Institute scholar who has written with singular clarity on Erbakan’s Turkey, recounted the debacle in National Review. In triumph, Erdogan was sagely subdued. “We are the guardians of this secularism,” he feigned, “and our management will clearly prove that.” As is reliably the case when Erdogan bats his eyes Westward, there was an ulterior motive. Having been convicted of sedition, he was disqualified from public office. Regardless of his unquestioned control of the AKP, Erdogan was thus denied the premiership he so coveted.

So, while disarming wary onlookers with the AKP’s apparent eagerness to please, Erdogan busied himself behind the scenes, arranging to have the prime minister’s chair kept warm for him by Gul, fresh from a lengthy stint as a sharia-finance specialist in at the Islamic Development Bank in Saudi Arabia – a venerable underwriter of Islamist causes, which, during Gul’s IDB tenure, included the Islamization of Sudan.[2] With Gul’s leadership and the AKP’s stranglehold on Parliament, the law was amended so that Erdogan could run for office. He promptly prevailed in a suspect special election – as Rubin notes, “after a court conveniently threw out the results in one district.”

Now officially a member of the legislature, Erdogan became prime minister on March 14, 2003.