Will Iran Look More Like Turkey, or Turkey Like Iran?

Nathan Gardels

Editor, NPQ, Global Services of Los Angeles Times Syndicate/Tribune Media

"Crooke’s mission in this erudite and most readable book is to reassure America and the rest of the world that Hamas, Hezbollah and the seemingly menacing Islamic governments in Iran and elsewhere are not the enemies of the West… a scholarly and closely argued critique of what passes for Western diplomacy today." --Seymour Hersh, The New Yorker magazine
"Crooke’s mission in this erudite and most readable book is to reassure America and the rest of the world that Hamas, Hezbollah and the seemingly menacing Islamic governments in Iran and elsewhere are not the enemies of the West… a scholarly and closely argued critique of what passes for Western diplomacy today." --Seymour Hersh, The New Yorker magazine

ISTANBUL — The effort to forge new forms of non-Western modernity in the Muslim world has pushed Iran into bloody civil strife while Turkey swirls with persistent rumors of military plots against the Islamist-rooted government. The great historical question is whether, at the end of the day, Iran will look more like Turkey, or Turkey like Iran?

As the legendary M16 agent Alastair Crooke argues in his new book, Resistance: The Essence of the Islamist Revolution, the Iranian revolution was a direct consequence a half century later of the forced secularization of the Ottoman Caliphate by Kemal Ataturk. With the superstructure of the Muslim ummah dismantled and replaced with the Turkish nation-state, insurgent religious movements, from the (Sunni) Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt to the Shiite imams of Qum and Najaf, moved into the vacuum to reclaim Islam from the shadow of Western modernization.

Paradoxically, Ataturk’s whole modernization project is today being recalibrated by the ruling Islamist-rooted (Justice and Development) AK party, which is seeking to reintroduce piety into public life while projecting Turkey as a neo-Ottoman regional power in the Muslim Middle East instead of a mere NATO appendage or European supplicant. At the same time, Iran, the other regional power, is moving in the opposite direction: the Twittering partisans of popular sovereignty are locked in a battle with their theocratic guardians over the legitimacy of power in the Islamic Republic.

What goes around comes around, it seems. The reaction to the Great Transformation of early 20th century modernization may have given rise to what Crooke calls the “Great Refusal” of the Islamist resistance. But now the legacy of the Great Transformation in Turkey as well as the Great Refusal in Iran are facing the reverse challenges of bringing faith back into the public realm on the one hand, and democratizing a religious state on the other.

The historical cross currents are complex. In Turkey, one AK Party leader told me, by way of allaying suspicions about an Islamist takeover, that “without its Western orientation, Turkey would be just another Muslim country.” Yet, a publisher friend worries that “without the military guarding Turkey’s secular institutions, the Islamists would take over tomorrow.” And yet again his 20-something daughter, despite the ever more prevalent sight of headscarves on the street, shrugs her bare shoulders doubtfully at the idea of Turkey ever becoming a repressive religious society like Iran.

In Iran, the very idea of an Islamic Republic, borne out of the 1979 revolution, is coming apart. What we are witnessing is a contest between the Shiite idea of an imamate, where, essentially, God is the head of state, versus the Republic, in which the people rule. What happens to the legitimacy of the state when the people, through their democratic institutions, disagree with God? How can this contradiction at the very heart of the constitutional arrangement of the Islamic Republic ever be resolved?

For all its grumblings and even rumblings, the military that stands behind secularism in Turkey has not so far frustrated the democratic aspirations of the religious resurgence there. In Iran, the Revolutionary Guards that are protecting theocracy have done just that: they have sought to crush the assertion of popular sovereignty.

The clerical establishment aligned with the Revolutionary Guard in Iran won’t be easily dislodged from power. Yet, once they’ve felt their power in the streets, as in 1979, neither will the people accept the suppression of their rights. By reasserting his authority after the election through brutal repression, Ayatollah Khameini has undermined the legitimacy of his rule. It may be a long, slow erosion, but the repression of legitimate aspirations is always the beginning of the end for any system of governance.

For now, the Turkish experiment in creating a non-Western, post-secular order seems more sustainable because it respects the will of the people. That is now the challenge for Iran.

Source:  www.huffingtonpost.com, June 20, 2009

‘This book is required reading at a time when alternative perspectives on the causes of global terrorism and new Western diplomatic initiatives urgently need to replace the failed policies of the Bush administration-led “War on Global Terrorism”.’–John L. Esposito, professor of International Affairs and Islamic Studies at Georgetown University and co-author of Who Speaks for Islam? What a Billion Muslims Really Think

Obama’s link to the Muslim world: Turkey


The West can learn a lot from Ankara’s perspective and democratic successes.

By Helena Cobban

As President Obama looks for partners in the Muslim world, he should consider listening to the government of Turkey as much as he listens to Egypt’s president. He could learn a lot from Turkey about how a smart Islamist party can be a valued participant in a democracy.

Turkey, a NATO ally, has been ruled since 2002 by a moderate Islamist party – the Justice and Development Party (AKP) – that has proved its commitment to democracy and pluralism at home and to an active, nearly always nonviolent, engagement in diplomacy abroad. And that’s why the record of the AKP in Turkey is so compelling.

At home, after the party first won power, grass-roots supporters tried to leverage that victory to ban alcohol sales in some Turkish cities. The judiciary struck down those regulations – and the national government complied with the ruling.

Later, the national government tried to lift the country’s longstanding ban on admitting scarf-wearing women to universities or to jobs in government. Once again, the courts struck down the proposal. And once again, the government complied without a protest. (That, though the wives of both the prime minister and the president always wear head scarves in public.)

In 10 days of travel, in three Turkish cities and vast swaths of countryside, I saw Turkish women wearing clothes that ranged from skimpy Western dress topped by tumbling – sometimes bleached-blond – hairdos, to a stylish version of Muslim hijab that involves an elegantly tied head scarf over a mid-thigh tunic and jeans, to the baggy black coverup of the ultrapious.

Most Turkish women are near the middle of that spectrum, and in many places young women with and without head scarves mingle easily, chatting and laughing together.

Regarding domestic affairs, one professor in Istanbul told me, “If you’re a politically liberal Turk who cares about women’s rights, the rights of the Kurdish minority, and religious minorities here, you couldn’t find a better party than the AKP.” I heard versions of that voiced by several other strongly secular Turks.

Back in early April, Mr. Obama came to Turkey and delivered a first important address to the Muslim world. Turks seemed delighted that he had included their country on his first trip abroad as president, and nearly all appreciated the respectful way he addressed the concerns of Turks and other Muslims.

On June 4, he gave another major address to the Muslim world in Cairo. Egypt, like Turkey, is a historic center of Muslim life. But the Turkish government follows policies that are much more in line with Obama’s inclusive, diplomacy-focused approach to international affairs.

Turkey’s two AKP governments have maintained good ties with Europe and with all Turkey’s neighbors – including Greece, Iran, Georgia, Iraq, and Syria. In 2007-08, Ankara also undertook an important mediation effort between Israel and Syria.

But Ankara fell afoul of the Bush administration in Washington for a number of reasons. Most significantly, in 2003, Ankara – like many other NATO allies – strongly opposed the US invasion of Iraq, and it refused to allow Washington to launch part of the invasion from Turkey.

The Bush administration also objected to the good ties the AKP maintained with Syria and – after the hard-line faction won the Palestinian elections in 2006 – with Hamas.

While George W. Bush was president, he seemed to ascribe little value to the inclusive and generally de-escalatory policies the AKP government has pursued at home and in the broader Middle East. He preferred instead an approach to the Middle East that sharpened divisions between the two groups he defined as “moderates” and “extremists.”

In the former group were the notoriously anti-democratic governments of Egypt and Saudi Arabia. In the latter, any government or party that seemed to support Iran, regardless of whether – like Hamas and Lebanon’s Hezbollah – they might have proved their popular support in democratic elections.

Indeed, in the Bush years, Washington worked actively to overthrow both Hamas and Hezbollah, and maintained what one Bush White House official has described as “a state of quasi-war” with Syria.

Several Bush-era officials openly questioned whether the electoral victories of Hamas and Hezbollah actually “proved” that a party could be both dedicated to Islamist principles and democratic rule over the longer term. Turkey’s experience provides intriguing evidence that it can.

Obama should value Turkey’s views on regional affairs. He may not be ready yet to go along with all the advice he receives from the AKP government in Ankara. But Ankara has much valuable experience that it can share with its NATO ally.

Helena Cobban is a former Monitor correspondent. Her latest book is “Re-engage! America and the World after Bush.”

Source:  www.csmonitor.com, June 12, 2009

Local Elections Herald a New Era For The AKP

Local Elections Herald a New Era For The AKP

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 61
March 31, 2009
By: Saban Kardas

Turkey’s local elections on March 29 produced mixed results, with the governing Justice and Development Party (AKP) emerging victorious, yet underperforming compared with earlier elections. The AKP received a 38.86 percent share of the vote, while the Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the Nationalist Action Party (MHP) gained 23.10 and 16.08 percent respectively. The AKP’s support fell from 46.6 percent in the 2007 general elections and 41.7 percent in 2004 local elections (www.ntvmsnbc.com.tr, March 30). While retaining its popularity within major cities, it failed to further expand this and lost several mayoral posts. The gains made by opposition parties raise the specter of imminent changes in Turkish politics.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, acknowledging his party’s losses, emphasized that the AKP did not fall below its performance in the local elections in 2004. It received almost the total percentage of votes cast for its two rival parties (www.cnnturk.com, March 29). The representatives of the opposition parties, in contrast, referred to their increases in the share of the vote, and the “erosion” of the incumbent party’s popular support.

The results exposed wide regional variations and followed an apparent trend in previous elections: whereas the AKP controlled central Anatolia, the CHP and MHP were popular in the Aegean and Mediterranean coastal provinces as well as in the northwestern provinces in the Thrace region. Significantly, the MHP regained some of its past strength in central Anatolia, challenging the AKP’s dominance over center-right voters. In addition to the defeat it suffered vis-à-vis the pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party (DTP) in the southeastern provinces, the AKP’s support also declined in some northern regions. The Islamist Felicity Party (SP), an alternative to the AKP for some conservative voters, also increased its vote to 5.17 percent.

The local elections marked the first decline in the AKP’s share of the vote since the general elections in 2002. Despite surpassing its major rivals by a clear margin, the psychological effect of this decline is undeniable. Previously, the party claimed to be the only viable choice for the electorate. However, a series of electoral victories arguably bred a sense of overconfidence, which left the AKP in general, and Erdogan in particular, open to accusations that they have grown insensitive to criticism, either from society or opposition parties, and developed an authoritarian style of leadership. Faced with losing popular support, the AKP will likely soften its discourse, and foster compromise with the opposition.

Turkish opposition parties, however, are now seeking to capitalize on the AKP’s apparently declining support, claiming that it has entered a period of rapid decay (www.ntvmsnbc.com.tr, March 29). Whether such drastic erosion is occurring remains to be seen, but the results may force the AKP to reconsider its policies. Indeed, Erdogan expressed dissatisfaction with the polls and admitted that the AKP must assess the causes of its decline. Meanwhile, he is expected to reshuffle his cabinet, possibly replacing some high-profile ministers involved in preparing the AKP’s discredited election strategy (www.cnnturk.com, March 29; www.ensonhaber.com, March 30). The AKP will also need to reevaluate its economic policies as well as the Kurdish question and the pursuit of political reforms.

Thus far, the government has ignored charges that the Turkish economy has been badly impacted by the global financial crisis. Although some of the AKP’s populist policies helped cushion the full effects of the crisis, economic considerations played a major role in the local elections. Particularly, the declining performance of the AKP in the Marmara, Aegean, and Thrace regions, as well as some Anatolian cities, reflected the impact of the crisis in Turkey’s industrial heartlands. In this context, the AKP will come under intense pressure to secure a loan from the IMF which it has tried to avoid, consequently leaving the country in a weaker bargaining position than before.

Moreover, the results represent a blow to the image of the AKP as an inclusive party, representing not only conservative Turks and Kurds but also liberal and secular voters. There appear to be limits to the AKP’s appeal to the Turkish people. Its failure to gain support within the western coastal provinces and in the Thrace region, and the traditionally less conservative central Anatolia, shows that the AKP has been unable to diversify its appeal. The DTP’s strong performance in the southeastern provinces is a setback for the AKP’s policies on the Kurdish issue. It shows that “identity politics” remains on the popular agenda, and the AKP’s policy of providing services and socioeconomic incentives alone cannot resolve the Kurdish problem. Crucially, the higher profile of the DTP suggests it cannot be ignored as a major stakeholder in any resolution of the Kurdish problem. Paradoxically, the AKP’s initiatives on the Kurdish issue, though failing to satisfy Kurdish voters, alienated some Turkish voters in the west, in turn boosting the MHP’s popularity.

The AKP has been a largely populist party, attracting votes from across the political spectrum. Since it is potentially losing ground to its rivals, it will come under pressure to address the deeper causes of these failures, or risk the further erosion of its popular support. Whether it can formulate consistent policies to address these multiple challenges, particularly over the looming economic crisis, will be an immediate and major test for the AKP’s government.


Science gives way to religious dogma in Turkey

By Ferruh Demirmen

The recent censorship of the Darwin story in the “Science and Technology Journal, published by The Scientific and Technological Research Council (Tübitak) of Turkey, caused consternation in the scientific community in Turkey and beyond. Tübitak is the leading government agency established to advance science and technology in Turkey.

The censorship, first time of its kind in Tübitak’s 46-year history, was an event that would shame any respectful scientific organization.

The making of a scandal

The event started innocuously enough when the chief editor of the journal, Dr.  Çiğdem Atakuman, decided to commemorate Charles Darwin’s 200th birthday by running a 16-page cover story on the scientist’s life and his theory of evolution in its March edition. Unesco, the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization, had declared 2009 as the Year of Darwin.

By established protocol in Tübitak, Atakuman had the authority to decide on the contents of the journal. But when Prof. Dr. Ömer Cebeci, a vice-president and member of the governing Science Board, found out about the Darwin article while it was at the press, the article and the photograph of Darwin on the cover page were peremptorily removed.

A revised March edition, missing 16 pages and one week late, was issued, and Atakuman was verbally fired from her editorial position (“re-assigned”). The cover page was replaced with one dealing with global climate change.

What Tübitak did not realize was that its actions were a recipe for a scandal.


The reaction from various quarters in Turkey and abroad was swift. Academics and students from various universities in Turkey gathered in front of the Tübitak building in Ankara to protest the censorship. Amid calls for the resignation of the Science Board, other academics, journalists, nongovernmental organizations and opposition politicians condemned Tübitak’s action. Turkish media gave wide coverage to the incident, and newspapers abroad weighed in.

Tübitak was caught in a storm it had not expected.

Voices of concern came from the Royal Society in London, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the Federation of American Scientists (FAS), EU politicians, and other foreign sources. Bloggers wasted no time on the Internet to chime in.

Science versus dogma

What lay at the core of these criticisms, and rightly so, was that science was being subjugated to the dictates of religious dogma. Darwin’s theory of evolution, while it forms one of the building stones of modern science, is incompatible with Islamic faith that man was created by God.

Data suggest that only 25 percent of Turks believe in evolution, some, including the education minister Hüseyin Çelik, associating it with atheism. Turkish theologians generally reject the idea that man evolved from lower beings.

There is, of course, a similar quandary with the Christian and Jewish faiths, but in the Turkish case Islamic teachings never stood in the way of evolutionary science. The academics and scientists managed to separate or reconcile evolution and Islamic faith, and the government did not interfere. They were free to practice and teach science including the theory of evolution.

That was in keeping with the secular fabric of the republic as established by Kemal Atatürk.

Tübitak itself featured Darwin many times in its journal in the past, and the event passed without any incident.

Islamic wind

The changeover in Tübitak’s stance on science, in particular the theory of evolution, is no accident. After the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) came to power in November 2002, the government has undertaken a relentless campaign to undermine secular education in Turkey. Elements of Islam have been injected into the educational system in various degrees, and religious schools have been promoted. Evolution has been relegated to second status in favor of creationism.

The government has implemented its Islamic policy through laws, regulations and partisan appointments (in some cases in “acting capacity’). The result is a highly politicized educational system from bottom up, including the Council of Higher Education (YÖK).

The shift in Tübitak is part of this politicization process. Beginning in January 2004, when the current president of the Science Board, Prof. Dr. Nüket Yetiş, was appointed in acting capacity, most members in senior administration resigned or were forced out. Amendments made to Tübitak’s charter in August 2008 gave the government substantial control over the institution.

Also in August 2008 Yetiş, whose appointment had previously been vetoed by President Ahmet Necdet Sezer, was appointed as the president of Tübitak by President Abdullah Gül. Yetiş reportedly has ties to Islamists.

Of the 12 members of the Science Board, 10 received their appointments during the AKP government.

So, at the core of the Darwin scandal was political pressure coming from the AKP.

Damage control

To remedy the embarrassment, Tübitak issued a statement denying censorship of the Darwin article and attributing the incident to “miscommunication.” It said there would be a special issue of the magazine later in 2009 covering Darwin.

A press release issued by Atakuman in reply, giving a detailed account of the events, however, left no doubt that censorship had taken place. Atakuman noted that after the incident she was reprimanded by Cebeci, her boss, in his office for pursuing a “provocative” subject in a “sensitive environment” – meaning the AKP rule.

Tübitak would be hard put to explain why the Darwin article was provocative.

Stung by criticism, the government, despite its well-known opposition to evolution, claimed it had played no role in the incident. Surprisingly – and perhaps not surprisingly – YÖK, the council overseeing higher education, declined to comment.

More fallout

What is most disconcerting about the Darwin incident is that it may stunt independent thinking and hinder science in Turkey. Science can only advance if it is free of ideology and religious dogma. Darwin’s theory of evolution is an integral part of science, and it must be disseminated, argued and researched without outside interference. Tübitak should promote, not hinder, such efforts.

It is no surprise that Prof. Dr. Tahsin Yeşildere, Head of the Association for University Lecturers, commented that “Turkish science is in the hands of anachronistic brains who hold it in contempt,” while Lord Martin Rees, president of the Royal Society, called the Darwin incident an example of “cultural corruption and . . . intellectual dishonesty.”

Nor is it a surprise that some EU politicians expressed disquiet, pointing out that the incident was a blatant violation of freedom of thought and scientific independence. Le Monde commented that Islamic groups in Turkey were waging war against Darwin.

Turkey’s prospect to join the EU, already shaky, will no doubt be affected.

What is also ironic, and disturbing, is that the Darwin censorship has taken place in a country that had benefited from Atatürk’s vision. Atatürk observed, eloquently, that “Science is the true guide in life.”

A disquieting thought

It has been 84 years since America had its bizarre “Scopes Trial” (Monkey Trial“) in a Tennessee court. The trial was portrayed by some as a titanic struggle between good and evil, when in fact it was about truth and ignorance, or about light and dark.

Is it possible that Turkey may soon have its own “Scopes Trial”? That would be most unfortunate. But if the AKP, with its Islamic agenda, continues to meddle with science, it may come to that.

[email protected]