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Saturday, May 8, 2004


This is the 8th article in the series on the democratic prospects of the Arab countries, at a time American foreign policy in the Bush era is actively seeking to promote liberalizing reforms in all 22 of them . . . the ultimate aim to try nudging them in a solid democratic direction.

That aim is a central part of the wider war on terrorism, an ideological struggle unfolding everywhere in the Muslim world between modernizers and fundamentalist forces of various sorts. Not all the modernizers are democratic, though most probably are to one degree or another. One thing for sure, scarcely any of the fundamentalist movements are democratic in any meaningful way, the line between so-called moderate and radical Islamists very fuzzy at best . . . save in Turkey, a point we'll return to in a few seconds. As for the masses of Arab populations --- what can we say about them? Where do they stand in this ideological tug-of-war?

Well, in the absence of ongoing systematic survey data in their despotic countries --- a big drawback for scholarly work --- the best we can do is speculate. Most likely, the Arab populations are largely concerned with jobs, income, and law-and-order, plus better social services, and will support any government that helps provide them adequately . . . any whatever its political nature.

Back to Islamist fundamentalists.

With a tiny handful of exceptions --- Turkey the stand-out here --- they and their mass followers and sympathizers actively support Islamist terrorism, including bin Ladenism. That claim isn't speculative. As we'll see in a moment or two, a 2004 Pew Global Attitudes survey provides hard evidence here. Simultaneously, though, the fundamentalist leaders and spokesmen in each of the Arab dictatorships have to be wary of actively promoting any challenge, direct or indirect, to the existing despotic governments themselves. Any such challenge will be ruthlessly quashed by the secret police and other security forces: witness Syria in the 1980s or Egypt and Algeria in the 1990s or Yemen now. Even the more moderate Arab dictators have sought to repress any challenge from home-grown fundamentalist movements . . . all of which, with little variation across the 22 Arab countries, are inspired by some notion of purified Islamist revenge for hundreds of years of Arab decline and humiliation, the root causes of which are always imagined, in paranoid conspiratorial fashion, to lie with foreign devils --- Jews, Israel, and the US above all, plus their dictatorial lackeys within the Arab world itself.

Part One:

In the previous two buggy articles, the democratic prospects of the 22 Arab countries were set out and evaluated at length. A small handful --- Algeria, Morocco, Jordan, and the tiny Gulf states --- were found to be more promising on this score. In turn, remember, democracy tends to reduce radical fundamentalist appeals. That, to repeat, isn't feckless speculation. Here are the results found in the tantalizing Pew Global Attitudes Survey for 2004.

As you can see, 65% of the people in Pakistan, a struggling country whose leaders are seeking to become more democratic after years of military rule and ethnic conflicts, admire bin Laden. In Jordan, one of the better situated Arab countries as far as democratic prospects go, the figure drops to 55%, still alarming enough; in Morocco, more advanced in its prospects still, it declines to 45%. By the time you reach the much more solidly democratic Turkish Republic, public support plunges to around 7% . . . scarcely higher than the equivalent figures in West Europe. Yet Turkey, recall --- though by far the most promising Islamic electoral democracy in the Middle East, and one of only two or three others (Mali, Senegal, and Indonesia) --- isn't even ranked as a totally free country in
Freedom House's annual surveys, generally regarded as the best comparative source for ranking countries across 14 categories --- grouped more generally into three broader classes (free, partly free, not free).

Freedom House's ranking of Turkey, note immediately, is actually encouraging. In effect, it seems to suggest that an Islamic country need not even be a fully free, liberal democracy for the appeal of bin Ladenism to be heavily blunted, even shattered.

All of which prompts a key question, the overarching theme of this article: what explains Turkey's democratic success in fostering democratic development and a clear pro-Western orientation that immunizes its population against radical Islamist fundamentalism?


Part Two:

Turkish Achievements

Turkey --- with 68 million in population (about the size of the largest Arab country, Egypt) and a per capita income of around $7300, roughly two to three times the equivalent for the non-oil rich Arab countries --- has been undergoing a modernizing revolution with ups and downs, including democratic development, under military auspices for almost a century now. Even now, more than 8 decades after the revolution began, the military remains a dominant force in Turkish politics. In this respect, it's not much different from Arab countries. What is different is that the military officer corps is the embodiment of the modernizing revolution, with a strong emphasis on secularism and a pro-western orientation. It has implanted Turkey inside NATO; seeks to enter the EU; and has a military alliance with Israel in all but name. More to the point, it has also shown a much greater willingness than the Arab militaries --- whoever the despot is (a king or a president-for-life) --- to foster democratic development as well.

Off and on, to be more precise, the country has experienced a growing trend of increasingly free elections in the last two decades, and --- a sign of clear progress --- a moderate fundamentalist party won the last parliamentary election in 2002 and now dominates a government that respects fully the secular Constitution of the country. This is a notable achievement. There are other achievements too.

In particular, its current leaders --- the heads of the military behind the scenes and the elected government headed by a moderate fundamentalist party (ATP) and its leader as Prime Minister, Recep Tayip Erdogan and his ATP party in parliament --- studiously avoid what Arab fundamentalist movements constantly drum up support for. Concretely put, Turkish leaders of all sorts . . .

  • Shy away from any demands to apply the Shari, Islamic law, in the country.

  • Eschew the conspiratorial paranoid fantasies that flourish in the Arab world about Arab despotism (the fault of others), economic and technological backwardness (ditto), and declining power and influence for generations now . . . likewise the fault of others, especially Jews, Israel, the US, and its western lackeys that follow it.

  • Renounce any demonization of Israel, an Arab obsession in the popular media everywhere and on the Arab street. On the contrary, Turkey has close military ties with Israel and draws repeatedly on Israeli expertise for its technological and economic development.

  • And, finally, avoid any anti-Semitism . . . now a flourishing part of the Arab street almost everywhere, purveyed in virulent, Nazi-like racist ways. Not only does Turkey maintain a semi-military alliance with Israel, there is scarcely any observable animosity toward Jews in public or private life. When, for instance, a synagogue was bombed last year by Islamist terrorists, the lead politicians of the country --- together with the leading Muslim clerics --- all spoke on the same public platform with the chief rabbi of Turkey's tiny Jewish population (about one-fifth of 1.0% of the 68 million Turks) and, without exception, denounced the barbarous attack on a co-religious place of worship.


Vivid Differences with the Arabs Here

The contrasts on these scores with the Arab countries, even the more moderate and politically promising, are graphic, a cause for reflection.

Consider, to take just one example --- a very recent one --- the latest garbled, crazy-house outburst that blames the recent terrorist attacks in Saudi Arabia on Jews [click here for MEMRI]. Its demagogic ranter? Believe it or not, none other than Prince Abdullah, the Crown Prince himself . . . widely regarded as the head of the modernizing camp in that Mafioso clan of utterly corrupt, gangster-rulers who control the country and have lavishly used oil-money to spread the hateful racism and other extremism paranoia of Wahhabi Islam around the world.

Apparently, as with the Nazis in the Hitlerian era, Jews are the all-purpose scapegoats, responsible because of their diabolical nature and scheming for everything that goes sour in your life . . . whether for Germans and their European collaborators in the 1930s and 1940s or nowadays for the members of the Arab street and at least some of the besieged dictators in charge of their countries, plus of course their paid publicists. Not so for the Turks, just the opposite. After a synagogue was bombed by terrorists in that country last autumn, not only did all its political leaders --- including the heads of the moderate fundamentalists in power --- quickly meet in public with the chief rabbi there to show solidarity with the tiny Jewish minority, but so too did the national heads of the Muslim and Christian religions.

These days, with the laudable exception of Morocco --- whose people and king rightly pride themselves on their tolerance --- it's unthinkable that such a display of humanity and even minimal decency would take place in any Arab country.


Part Three:

The lesson to be drawn from all this: when it comes to either democratic politics or economic development, Turkey has three notable advantages compared to the Arab countries:

1. A clear secular Constitutional tradition, something that has been in existence in Turkey ever since Ataturk's modernizing revolution in the 1920s under authoritarian rule. There is no Arab country that has such legal secularism, even when, as in many of the Arab countries, the despots' political practices are largely secular in nature.

2. A solidly pro-Western orientation, roughly from the late 1930s on, in its institutional development and its foreign and military policies.

Arab intellectuals and spokesmen, by contrast --- never mind the so-called Arab street --- have at best a much more ambivalent world-view of European and American civilizations: save for a few, they tend to see all European countries and European-offshoots as upstarts, once ruled by them in large number; are accustomed to treating Christian minorities for 1400 years as dhimmis, subject peoples, along with Jews, who would be tolerated if they acknowledged Islamic rule and superiority and paid yearly taxes for their communities; and tend to find European and American wealth, technological superiority, and cultural influences as somehow illegitimate, created at their expense. A widespread sense of resentment, envy, and humiliation appear to jostle one another in this world-view, at any rate on the emotional level . . . made all the more seething because of Israel's greater wealth, technological advance, and military power. The appeal of Islamist fundamentalism among some Arab intellectuals attracted to it rests more on its ability to exploit these half-coiled emotions than on any strictly religious message.

3. A widespread recognition --- embraced by a much better educated public than in almost any of the Arab countries --- that Turkey's problems and challenges are Turkish responsibilities, to be solved by the Turks themselves. There is none of the self-pitying blame, rife on the Arab street and parroted by the controlled media --- encouraged by the double-dealing Arab despots for their own self-serving ends --- that singles out alleged foreign devils as responsible for Arab backwardness or setbacks and seeks revenge for their humiliating conditions.


A Pivotal Point Follows

Note right off. None of these three achievements --- political or cultural --- was easy to conjure into existence, the outcome of built-in advantages in Ottoman culture and history compared to the Arab countries. Just the opposite. They reflect the radical changes in Turkish history --- a total break with hundreds of years of development --- that were introduced by desperate military nationalists, who came to power in the early 1920s only after the Ottoman empire had experienced . . .

a good two centuries of precipitous decline from the ranks of the great powers and the loss of its huge Arab and Christian empire, climaxed, by the close of WWI, in the shrinking of the once mighty Ottoman empire to its small, noticeably backward Turkish base . . . and then an invasion of the Turkish homeland by the Greeks.


Turkey's Desperate Back-to-the-Wall Condition after WWI Clarified

No sooner did WWI end in total Ottoman defeat and the loss of its last Arab colonies than the Turks found themselves menaced by an even greater trauma: Constantinople was occupied by the victorious allied powers, and the rump Turkish base itself was attacked by Greece, seeking to seize Turkish territory on the western side of the Dardanelles, an area known as Anatolia.

The Greeks initially made big progress. They were absorbing more and more Turkish territory. By then, the Turks were desperate. They had lost a huge empire; now, at the start of the 1920s, they risked losing part of their homeland. Decline couldn't seep much further into Turkish life. The Sultan, Turkey's authoritarian ruler, decided that further resistance to the Greeks was futile and had resigned himself to the loss of Turkish territory.

It was only then, amid this last trauma --- the threatened loss of Turkish homeland territory to Greece amid the humiliation of the allies' occupation of Constantinople --- that Mustafa Kemal (later Ataturk Kemal) was able to rally most of the officer corps and the new nationalist middle classes, seize power in a coup, and initiate a program of sweeping economic, administrative, and cultural change. The quick turnaround in Turkish fortunes that ensued in a counter-offensive with Greece in 1922 solidified his triumph and the jubilant public support for his revolutionary modernizing schemes. [It was Ataturk, by the way, who changed the name of Constantinople to Istanbul.]


Revolution From Above

Remember the key point here: only total decline, defeat, and invasion enabled these modernizing nationalists from within the military to stage a successful coup, aggrandize power for themselves, and rally vast public support for a clear rupture with Ottoman failures and backwardness that were centuries' old in the making.

What happened then?

Led by Ataturk and his followers, a revolution from above marked Turkish life over the next few decades, much as it had decades earlier, starting in the 1870s, in Germany and Japan and under similar military auspices . . . the modernizers farsighted members of the military and administrative elites in each country. Note though. The ultimate political outcomes, both for good and bad, turned out to be much different in Turkey than in Germany and Japan . . . something you'll see in a few moments here. No need at this point to do more than observe in passing that Turkey never succumbed to the frenzied racism and military adventurism that gripped Nazi Germany and militarized Japan in the 1930s and on into WWII.

On the other hand, it has never fully modernized and become an advanced industrial country either.


Part Four:

The end of the first of two articles on Turkey: the second article continues the argument at this point, starting with Part Four.