I can imagine the fury of a well-educated, secular Turk as he reads this article by the young Sabrina Tavernise. For it is so uncomprehending of Turkish history, and of all that it took to systematically constrain Islam so that the very possibility of some modicum of reasonableness, the very development of an educated secular class, the very class that Sabrina Tavernise and all other Westerners frequent and the only class with which they feel, quite rightly, fully comfortable, came about only because of Ataturk.
If Kemalism is on the ropes, it is not because the Kemalists have been too ruthless, but because they have not been nearly ruthless enough. They did not push, relentlessly, their program after the first few decades, and some of those who followed were content to pocket the benefits of Kemalism without systematically trying to change the minds of the masses — and the masses remained largely unaffected.
Since, in any society, the primitives will always and everywhere outweigh the others, it was important that those to whom, thanks to Kemalism, the freedom to think was granted, should never have taken those freedoms for granted. Now it may be too late. Make no mistake; there is a program by those who want more and more Islam. Its proponents are patient: look at the statements about waiting for the right moment by the sweet-reasonably sinister Mr. Gulen, waiting in his Washington-area exile, for the results of the election.
While America dithered, and still does, in Iraq, Russia returned to KGB-shchina. While America dithered, and still does, in Iraq, China established economic colonies everywhere, from New York to Belize to West Africa to Italy, and is steadily driving whatever local competition remained, from the silk manufacturers of Como to the makers of pottery in Mexico, into non-existence — while the Administration keeps singing the praises of “free trade” and Nafta, as the free-market fundamentalists they are. While America dithered, and still does, in Iraq (spending $880 billion that China, just as dependent on Middle Eastern oil, for some reason didn’t think it had to spend a penny in Iraq to keep being supplied with that oil at the market price — is it possible the Chinese understand the workings of the oil market better than the Americans?), Turkey has been allowed to become ever-more thoroughly re-islamized. Softly-softly, Sabrina Tavernise seems to think. I’d rather the Times depended on intelligent and secular Turks, less readily fooled. Not fooled at all.
Turkey provides a salutary example for Infidels in many respects. First, that doctrine of deliberate de-islamization known as Kemalism, after its great architect, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, was not aimed at changing Muslim doctrines. Ataturk was quite unlike the shallow “reformers” of today — Anis Sorroush in Iran, who spent a year at Harvard Divinity School, or some of the young Muslim academics busily getting grants and the admiration of their innocent colleagues, for their noisy attempts to “reform” Islam (and where there is Grant Money to be shared, there will be true believers in “reform” among non-Muslims as well), or Azizah al-Hibri, who seems to be under the misapprehension that the Qur’an and hadith are just like the American constitution with which she has become acquainted far from Lebanon. The Qur’an can have its little unpleasantnesses “interpreted away.” Usually such people focus exclusively on the treatment of women — the view of Infidels, the dar al-Islam/dar al-Harb distinction, is something that is for them the third rail and they won’t touch it. In contrast, Ataturk understood Islam could only be constrained, not changed.
The second lesson that Turkey offers is that such reforms take place when a country is at the end of its tether, not when it is supported from abroad. After World War I, Turkey had lost its Empire. Greek troops had disembarked at Smyrna. The forces of the Allies paraded through Istanbul. It was only in such an environment of total collapse and despair that Ataturk could do the things that needed to be done to save Turkey — by limiting the power of that belief-system which stood in the way of all progress and intellectual improvement — Islam. He could do some things, and not others. He gave women the vote, he outlawed the tarboosh, and he traded Arabic script for the Latin — a very clever way to cut ties to Arab Islam.
The example of Turkey now also shows that Islam keeps coming back, and back. It is back despite the decades of nearly all-out war by Ataturk, despite his successor Inonu, despite the 80 years in which secularism has developed in Turkey and permitted the enlargement of a class of thinking Turks who are recognizable to Westerners, who do not engage in kitman and taqiyya as their favored forms of expression, who are largely forthright, who have become appreciators of and participants in Western culture. But these people are now more than ever before in danger of losing their position, and of seeing the secularism of Ataturk undone.
It was Erdogan, after all, who said that the “minarets are our bayonets” and “the mosques our barracks” just a few years ago. He is smoother now — but there is no evidence that either he, or his followers, have changed.