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Talking Turkey: Learning from the Middle PDF Print E-mail
Peace News
Tuesday, 02 May 2006 11:23

Talking Turkey: Learning from the Middle

AG
- Rami G. Khouri - Turkey can teach several important lessons to two groups of people who seem to be increasingly at odds with one another: nationally distressed and wobbly Arabs, and the American-led West that views election victories by Arab Islamist parties with perplexity and hostility.

www.agenceglobal.com

Turkey Teaches Arabs and West Alike

Rami G. Khouri

Agence Global
May 2, 2006

Copyright ?2006 Rami G. Khouri / Agence Global
[republished at PEJ News with permission of AG]


Rami G. Khouri celebrates the accomplishments of contemporary Turkey,
detailing the many advancements and attributes that Turkey models for the Arab world and the West.


ISTANBUL -- Full disclosure from the start: I am a great admirer of Turkey. Of course I am glad that four centuries of Ottoman control over the Arab world ended after World War One, yet I wish that Turks and Arabs had more regular encounters in order for the modern Turkish experience to rub off on us and inspire us. I admire not only the history, power and astounding rhythms of this city of Istanbul that not once, but twice, ruled pivotal regions of the world, in the Byzantine and Ottoman eras. I admire its ongoing trajectory to modernity.


Turkey can teach several important lessons to two groups of people who seem to be increasingly at odds with one another: nationally distressed and wobbly Arabs, and the American-led West that views election victories by Arab Islamist parties with perplexity and hostility.

I am a Turkey fan because this large, predominantly Middle Eastern and Muslim, neighbor to the north is seriously and simultaneously addressing all those core issues of nationhood, citizenship and modernity that the countries and governments of the predominantly Arab-Islamic Middle East generally avoid.

These include important challenges:

* making a full democratic transformation
* deepening the secular tradition
* coming to terms with their own pluralistic identity
* integrating Islamists into the political system
* fostering civilian control over the military
* grappling with the status of minorities and historical traumas
* strengthening human rights guarantees
* promoting a truly productive economy
* maintaining a vibrant civil society
* steadily reforming their country to become eligible for membership in Europe
* while not losing sight of their links with the Middle East and Central Asia; and,
* forging a new, more dignified, less servile, and mutually beneficial relationship with the United States.

Any country that does all this at once is a real and impressive country in my book.

(For those Turks who dispute my calling their country "predominantly Middle Eastern", preferring to be called European, I offer as compelling anecdotal evidence just one experience: I was in a taxi in the center of Istanbul as the driver suddenly reversed at high speed, drove backwards against the one-way traffic, inside a major traffic circle, or roundabout, at rush hour, in order to avoid going through a few congested streets. Not only did the driver act like a Middle Eastern maniac, but all the other drivers seemed to understand and tolerate this behavior, even to facilitate his lawless and reckless reverse journey against the oncoming traffic. Pretty spectacular, and distinctly Middle Eastern.)

Modern Turkey has always had a core of democratic and secular values since the birth of the modern state after World War One. Yet it has also mirrored the rest of the Middle East in keeping all major national and strategic decisions in the hands of the armed forces, who made ever issue a security issue, and stepped in to run the state at their whim. This is changing rapidly.

Turkey's experience since 1997-98 has been impressive because it revolves around three related dynamics that also challenge the Arabs. The first is developing a deeper, more pluralistic and inclusive, democracy that can accommodate the participation and even the victory of Islamist parties. Several Islamist surges in the last decade were voided by the armed forces and ruling elite, but more mature attitudes prevailed finally when the current government was formed in late 2002 by the (mildly Islamist) Justice and Development Party (AKP) headed by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. This government has enthusiastically championed reforms to bring Turkey into Europe, and has taken bold steps to resolve the conflict with Greece over Cyprus.

The second change has been in the fields of human rights and minority rights, especially the status of Turkey's large Kurdish minority and how to deal with the allegations of genocide against Armenians a century ago, which the world beyond Turkey widely acknowledges occurred. Government and society here are haunted by the prospect of Turkey shrinking again, if Kurds seek independence or some sort of deep autonomy in their southeastern provinces. But the civilian and military leaders recognize that there is no military solution here, as they also open up the formerly shut doors to discussing the Armenian issue in public.

The third, most important, issue in my view has been the gradual expansion of civilian control over the military, in a political system "whose constitution was written by and for the military in 1982," according to university professor and columnist Soli Ozel. The constitution was recently amended in a more liberal and democratic manner, he told me, largely as a result of the terms of the European accession process, which the public strongly supports. This, it seems, unlike Iraq, is one way to do external intervention in order to prod Middle Eastern democracy.

The civilianization and democratization of Turkish politics are ongoing, gradual processes. They are crucial to allowing Turkey to deal with its large challenges in the vast arenas of its own identity, history, economy, geography and nationalism -- and instructive for the rest of us who watch this process close-up, even from the back seat of a lawless taxi driven by a loveable but modern maniac.


Rami G. Khouri is editor-at-large of the Beirut-based Daily Star, published throughout the Middle East with the International Herald Tribune.

Copyright ?2006 Rami G. Khouri / Agence Global
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Released: 03 May 2006
Word Count: 864
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Advisory Release: 03 May 2006
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Agence Global is the exclusive syndication agency for The Nation and The American Prospect, as well as expert commentary by William Beeman, Richard Bulliet, Juan Cole, Mark Hertsgaard, Rami G. Khouri, Tom Porteous, Patrick Seale and Immanuel Wallerstein.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 02 May 2006 11:23
 

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