Democracy isn’t freedom—and in today’s Turkey some people realize that, as amazing as that may seem. Not ordinary folks, but the mid-level officers of the Turkish army, who have been watching with a jaundiced eye the steady Islamization of their country by an elected leader.
The recent history of the Turks is rife with intrigues, conspiracies, the usual brutality, and the dark shadow of one man: Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the would-be caliph of a revived Ottoman empire. For nearly a decade his Justice and Development Party has ruled the roost, while the old-style Kemalists and other opposition parties have fought among themselves and impotently protested his growing power.
For years, Erdogan has been busy jailing political opponents, shutting down newspapers, and slowly but surely pushing a “soft” version of sharia into the legal and educational system. But suddenly, July’s failed coup gave him a pretext for accelerating the process—and extending his own power. He has long been preparing a campaign to change Turkey’s secularist constitution, and his purging of the army, the courts, and the media—an effort made easier by the coup and the effort to “cleanse” (as he put it) the political landscape—paves the way for dictatorship.
Goodbye, Kemalism; hello, Erdoganism!
Mustafa Kemal Atatürk revived the “sick man of Europe,” the decayed Ottoman Empire, in the wake of World War I, when a defeated Turkey was served up like a Thanksgiving meal to be devoured by the victorious European powers. Led by the “Young Turks,” Turkey’s nationalist revolution dispensed with the decadent Ottomans and forcibly introduced modernity to a nation that had been steeped in Islamic obscurantism. The hijab was banned, the power of the imams was seriously curbed, and secularism was written into the country’s constitution. Literacy, science, and technology were emphasized, and the old order gave way to the new.
But this new order could not undo centuries of Ottoman rule—nor transform the character of the people who had accepted and sustained it. The backlash continually manifested itself with eruptions of neo-Ottomanism over the years, all of which were put down by the Turkish military, which stayed faithful to the aggressive secularism of Atatürk and nipped every attempt to undermine the system in the bud.
Now, in the aftermath of the coup attempt, the Turkish president and his party are showing their true face: As of this writing, 6,000 people have been arrested. And it’s not just the army that is being purged: the ranks of the judiciary, including the country’s highest court, are being culled of secularists.
The Turkish coup is being spun into a familiar narrative. Those who are (rightly) suspicious of Erdogan’s motives say that the whole thing was a false-flag operation from the very beginning, ginned up by Erdogan himself so that he’d have a good excuse for cracking down on his opponents. One E.U. commissioner is suggesting that the swiftness of the crackdown and the existence of previously compiled lists of those to be purged indicates that this theory may not be as wild as it seems. Perhaps Erdogan got wind of the coup in time to formulate a plan.
On other hand, Erdogan & Co. are insisting that the whole thing was a plot orchestrated from a small town in Pennsylvania, where Fethullah Gülen has established the headquarters for his Hizmet (“Service”) movement devoted to a moderate Sufi-oriented version of Islam and market economics. The Gülenists were once allied with Erdogan, but there was a split in 2014 when the latter decided Gülen was plotting against him by secretly organizing the “GTO”—Gülenist Terrorist Organization—dedicated to overthrowing the state. Dozens of journalists and others were arrested, subjected to a show trial, and jailed.
Gülen condemned the coup even as it was going on, but that was easily brushed aside by Erdogan.
Erdogan is demanding the extradition of Gülen from the U.S. to face charges of high treason. Coincidentally, he’s also seeking to reinstitute the death penalty. Several soldiers involved in the coup have already been murdered by Islamic mobs; one was beheaded on the bridge that spans the Bosphorus.
Turkish Labor Minister Süleyman Soylu has declared that the U.S. was behind the coup—an accusation given wings by Erdogan. Admittedly, Turkish officers stationed at Incirlik airbase, operated by U.S. forces, were a key part of the coup. Nonetheless, the fact remains that Washington has actually been very supportive of the despotic Erdogan, although Secretary of State John Kerry has called Turkey’s NATO membership into question in light of the crackdown.
Most supportive of Erdogan have been the Turkish people, who took to the streets at his urging during the coup. Social engineering hasn’t altered their character or ameliorated their religious convictions.
[Slideshow image: By SAIT71 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons]