By Barry Rubin
In Washington DC they are still ridiculing the idea that Turkey’s government is Islamist, is working step by step to transform fundamentally that country’s state and society, or that it is closer to Tehran than to the United States nowadays or more friendly to Hamas and Hizballah than to Israel.
Yet anyone who actually talks to Turks or looks at daily life there—and that includes the U.S. embassy in Ankara—knew better.
First, a bombshell. No sooner have the heads of the armed forces resigned than the regime issues an arrest warrent for seven senior officers. The Turkish army is finished as a political force–partly thanks to the European Union insisting that it withdraw from a political role–while the courts are being neutralized and the media is being bought up. There is no institution left to prevent the current regime from Islamizing Turkey and fundamentally transforming its society.
In all, 22 suspects are being sought. And what is the charge, you might ask, after all, Turkey is a democratic state, isn’t it? The charge is: conducting anti-government propaganda. In other words, if people in the army have criticized the government and its policies even in conversation that is now a crime. This kind of thing is the characteristic of a dictatorship.
Here are the officers to be arrested: former 1st Army Commander retired Gen. Hasan Iğsız; Maj. Gen. Mustafa Bakıcı; the General Staff’s legal counsel Maj. Gen. Hıfzı Çubuklu; Lt. Gen. Mehmet Eröz; Vice Adm. Mehmet Otuzbiroğlu; Lt. Gen. İsmail Hakkı Pekin; and Aegean Army Corp Commander Gen. Nusret Taşdeler, who was recently appointed head of the Education and Doctrine Command (EDOK).
I suspect that their “crime” was advocating secularism and critiquing the government’s Islamist policies. The result will be a disaster for Turks, for the region, and for Western interests. This is nothing less than a coup against the armed forces.
Second, as Ramadan approaches, the city government of Istanbul is seizing outdoor tables from restaurants and cafes so that no one is able to eat openly in public during that month where Muslims fast. It is no exaggeration to say that the impact on historical Turkish society would be equivalent to French fashion shows being able to feature only Islamist garb. Secular Turks understand precisely what this means.
One excuse used was to say that sidewalks and strees must be kept clear. But then the Beyoglu municipality said it would organize evening dinners during Ramadan and concerts that would block busy intersections.
The media reported—it might or might not be true—that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan saw all the highly visible eating and drinking when driving through one of the city’s most entertainment-oriented neighborhoods, was shocked, and asked the mayor to act. Erdogan is also a former mayor of Istanbul.
In 2007, 39 percent of Turks said that restaurants should be closed on Ramadan. Now it is 44 percent. Other polls show that pro-Islamist sentiments are rising. I asked a respected Turkish friend why he thought that was and he attributed it to media saturation indoctrination, though there still are some independent newspapers and television channels. He also attributed shockingly rising anti-American and anti-Israel sentiments to this growing immersion in Islamist propaganda.
Want more cases in the “secular republic” of Turkey where democracy prevails and the regime is a U.S. ally worthy of being trusted with mediating Syria’s future? Here are a few:
A woman beaten for wearing shorts while riding on a bus during Ramadan. (Turkish)
In other words, the public enforcement of Islamic “behavior” begins with vigilantes and ends with government regulations.
The problem isn’t that the United States is following a wrong policy to deal with the problem of Turkey, with its powerful army and economy, joining the Islamist side. The problem is that the U.S. government is pretending it isn’t happening at all.
But there are also wider issues. As I’ve noted, the problem is political Islam. When governments and all of their institutions tell Muslims that there is only one way to be properly religious and then forces that definition onto their daily lives then Islam is turned into a tool for the creation, maintenance, and expansion of dictatorial regimes and the destruction of all political dissenters who are Muslim and of all non-Muslim minorities.
The victory of the revolutionaries and making Islamism the standard for Islam isn’t inevitable. But it is a strong trend in Egypt, Turkey, Lebanon, and among the Palestinians. It is a possible victor in Syria and is generally advancing, including among Muslim communities in the West. In Iran, the majority rejects Islamist government but what chance do they have against so many guns and so little international support? With the United States and Europe doing nothing to help–and often refusing to recognizing that the problem even exists–the defeat of radical Islamism is going to take longer, be tougher, and cost more lives.
Here’s a video on the neighborhood, mostly in Turkish but gives a good sense of the place.