A look at Turkey’s history shows how very un-Turkish is the mindset of its current Islamist rulers.
“Democracy is like a streetcar. When you reach your stop, you get off.”
— Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan
Turkey’s recent open embrace of terrorist regimes like Iran and Syria, its high-profile attempt to thwart our efforts to impose sanctions on Iran, and its dramatic push to take over the leadership of the Islamic world by supporting Hamas and Hezbollah and attacking Israel even more virulently than current Arab leaders do — all this came as a big surprise to the foreign-policy establishment in both the European Union and the United States. The Turkish government that did all this — the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the AKP, his Islamist Justice and Development party — took power in 2002. And from then until now, the EU has been the AKP’s biggest booster, with the U.S. running a close second.
To be sure, the supranationalist bureaucrats in Brussels didn’t love the AKP enough to say yes to Turkey’s bid to join the EU. But they loved it more than enough to weaken and immobilize the party’s most widely respected and effective secular opponent: the Turkish military. The military has been the sworn guardian of state secularism since the foundation of the unique Turkish Republic in 1923, and it had an unbroken record of success — until the EU became a major player in Turkey’s internal affairs. The Eurocrats insisted, loudly and often, that they could work with the AKP; it was no threat. The great threat to the Turkish Republic, they insisted, came from Turkey’s pro-Western military, not from its anti-Western Islamists. Unless Turkey’s constitution and laws were changed to eviscerate the military’s role as guardian of Turkish secularism, Brussels repeatedly warned, Turkey could never be an EU member. Our president, our State Department, and our media echoed the EU line. We embraced the AKP, refusing to recognize that it is an Islamist party.
Instead, we deluded ourselves with two clichés, an old one and a new one. The old cliché is that the AKP isn’t really an Islamist party; it’s a moderate Islamist party, sort of the Muslim equivalent of Europe’s Christian Democrats. The new cliché is that the AKP isn’t really an Islamist party; it’s a neo-Ottoman party.
The truth is that the AKP is, and always has been, an Islamist party, and there is nothing moderate or Ottoman-like about it. I’ve written before about why a “moderate Islamist party” is a Western fantasy, a contradiction in terms, concocted by people who are blind to the fundamental differences between Islam and Christianity. I’ve written, too, about how swiftly the AKP moved on the domestic front to infiltrate and subvert Turkey’s police, courts, and media, and to arrest and imprison the party’s most effective secular opponents in the press, the universities, and the business world, as well as in the military. Here, I want to concentrate on why the alleged similarities between the AKP’s foreign policies and those of the Ottoman empire are equally spurious and misleading.