Turkey shows the way

Published: June 5, 2010
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The writer is a lawyer and political commentator based in London. (ayesha.khan@tribune.com.pk)

The writer is a lawyer and political commentator based in London. (ayesha.khan@tribune.com.pk)

In the aftermath of the Israeli Defence Forces’ barbaric attack on the aid convoy attempting to break Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip, Turkey has emerged as a hero and regional leader. It is important to study why Turkey has been able to play this leadership role. As a democracy, Turkey’s government is bound to reflect the aspirations of its people in stark contrast to Egypt which, although the largest Arab country, is a dictatorship and is left reprimanding its press for not being “patriotic” enough when it criticises the government’s role instead of standing up for fellow Arab Palestinians. Turkey’s support for the Palestinians, on the other hand, has made Egypt look bad and Turkey is poised to challenge its historic leadership position in the Muslim world.

But only being democratic is not sufficient. Turkey has other key ingredients to play an effective leadership role. Very importantly, it has a formidable army. It may be relevant to note that the Turkish army has often been criticised by Islamists for its alliance with Nato and defence pacts with Israel. Nevertheless, without the backing of its army, Turkey would not have been able to take the stand it did. In addition to a largely educated population (in 1927, about 11 per cent of Turkey was literate but today 88 per cent is), it also boasts good economic indicators. Under Ataturk, education from grade school to graduate school was made free, secular and co-educational, with compulsory primary education. The armed forces implemented an extensive programme of literacy.

Although some may criticise Ataturk’s secularisation drive to have gone too far, it certainly reaped development benefits. And yet Islam very much remained the religion of the masses. Turkey was able to forge a strong national identity but kept its Islamic identity intact. In doing so, Turkey was able to strengthen itself domestically, while forging important diplomatic relationships with Europe, America and even Israel. It is because Turkey has diplomatic relations with Israel that its actions are so relevant today. Unlike Iran or Libya, Turkey cannot be dismissed as some radical Islamic country or a failed state. Its historic relationship with Europe and America has categorised it as a respectable international actor.

By maintaining relationships with both the Muslim and non-Muslim world, Turkey was able to facilitate a convoy of humanitarian assistance that transcended nationalities and mobilised international civil society. The efforts of some 700 activists from 38 different countries, including 12 Muslim countries, managed to “take the mask off Israeli aggression,” as one analyst on Al Jazeera put it. With ex-ambassadors from America, members of parliament from Malaysia and Germany, journalists from countries as diverse as Mauritania, the attack on the convoy has damaged Israel’s reputation internationally and sparked demonstrations around world capitals and major cities. It has even led some Jewish analysts in America, like Norman Finkelstein, to speculate that Israeli actions have called into question world security and provide a rationale to strip Israel of its nuclear status. It is also curious that though Saudi Arabia and Iran both claim theocratic legitimacy – albeit in very different ways – neither country was represented in the aid convoy.

Turkey’s focus on intelligent Islam seems to have trumped the rudimentary version preached by more conservative Muslim countries. There is a lesson here for all of us in the Islamic world, that we live in a modern age where diplomacy, democracy and humanitarian missions can do more to further our causes than rogue statements and ill-thought out jihad. It is also essential to realise the importance of nation-building. Without strong nation-states Muslims will not be adequately represented in the modern world. One in four people are Muslims. We can work within the system laid out by the international order, instead of rejecting it, to have our demands met. Israel’s good days may be over. But Turkey’s are just beginning.

Published in the Express Tribune, June 5th, 2010.

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Reader Comments (17)

  • Nomoredespots
    Jun 5, 2010 - 7:13AM

    Lets hope Turkey’s motives are genuine, as their sudden bullying tactics in world affairs seems typical of the works of a developing dictatorship.
    Forging friendship with Iran for instance, appears to be a misguided strategy, rather than wanting to be friends. Iran’s oppression of their own people is well documented and does not need encouragement for further barbaric moves. Encouraging Iran’s nuclear development, after decades of clandestine dealings with the UN, also indicates that Turkey has ulterior motives.Recommend

  • Masood Hassan Raja
    Jun 5, 2010 - 8:08AM

    An excellent and impressive article written by Ms Ayesha Khan.Turkey has been a major power in its recent past.Turkey’s Sultan Abdul Hameed refused to sell out Palestine to Zionists.Unfortunately Israel did not learn lesson from history.Whereas it claim the custodian of Holocaust it has imposed second Holocaust for Palestinian people under its immoral and illegal occuption.By killing Turkish aid worker on Freedom Flotellia Isreal has shown its true colors as astate sponsoring terrorism against unarmed civilians. Turkey may not get E.U’s membership by supporting Palestinain cause but surely it will be the leader of Muslim world.For over billion plus Muslims all over the world its a new Turkey to lead them.Recommend

  • faraz
    Jun 5, 2010 - 1:26PM

    Turks faught a war of independence which was motivated by nationalism. The Ottoman Caliph handed over Palestine and other muslim territories to Western powers under Treaty of Sevres while secular Ataturk successfully defeated imperial powers. Wahabi Arabs, who advocate pure Islam, conspired against Ottoman Empire and were awarded terrirtories for their loyalty to British. Later these Wahabis became staunch allies of US. Wahabis promoted sectarianism which fragmented the Muslim world and they are the largest financers of extremist organizations which are wreaking havoc in other Muslim countries. Among Middle Eastern countries, a brave stance against Isreal can only be expected from Turks.Recommend

  • abid
    Jun 5, 2010 - 2:09PM

    great article!Recommend

  • Jun 5, 2010 - 3:21PM

    Turkey was able to forge a strong national identity but kept its Islamic identity intact

    Really? Given that the Turkish Prime Minister’s wife was barred from attending his inauguration as she wears a veil dosent say much about keepings its Islamic identity intact? Education may be free but only if a girl does not wear a veil. Turkey also has one of the highest degrees of inequality. While in the Western parts of the country, where secularism took hold, in central and eastern parts of the country, people remain relatively poor, and due to their persistence in clinging on to their Islamic identity are marginalized from government service and education. Not to mention the bloody repression of the Kurds by the Turkish military.

    Granted its stature as a NATO member and a regional Israeli and US ally gives it the leverage that other Muslim’s states do not, we should be careful, and separate diplomatic tact from the reality of Turkish life.

    On the one hand in Pakistan we have a state apparatus that actively supports religious parties, and in Turkey we swing to the other extreme where the military stubbornly upholds secular values. In either society the state seems to believe that the nations citizenry are beneath making their own choices and decisions.Recommend

  • Qazi
    Jun 5, 2010 - 5:22PM

    Great!Recommend

  • Jun 5, 2010 - 6:59PM

    @ Nadir El Edroos

    I always find it a bit curious when men take such offense to Turkey’s hijab policy. Your reaction is exactly what I speak of when I say that Turkey has always been criticized by Islamists for “having lost her Islamic identity”. But an Islamic identity goes far further than Turkey’s rulings on the hijab in my view. If it were such a big deal to the Turks I am sure the ruling AKP would have passed legislation to undo it—but as I said in my piece, they have focused on intelligent Islam. In due course, however, I do feel it will be reversed, as it should be, but the fact that getting humanitarian aid into Gaza is a priority over the hijab should tell you something.

    I don’t know if you have been to Turkey or not but I have been there three times and as I wrote in my piece, that “some may criticize Ataturk’s secularisation drive to have gone too far, they certainly reaped development benefits.” This is a view I found in Turkey across the board, even among the Islamists. You claim that Turks are marginalized from government service if they hang on to their Islamic identity—well how do you explain AKP’s rise to power then? They are an Islamic party in case you didn’t notice.

    You can talk about economic inequality and persecution of the Kurds but no country is perfect. Even in Western nations, there is inequality—blacks in America don’t have the same average incomes that whites do. The Irish were persecuted in the UK. None of this makes inequality or persecution ok, but one needs to realize that nowhere are things perfect and so it does not take away from what Turkey has accomplished.Recommend

  • Yusaf
    Jun 5, 2010 - 7:01PM

    Excellent article Ms. Khan.
    Many may forget that Egypt is in control of the Rafah crossing between it and Gaza and yet that crossing has been closed since the Hamas takeover. Egypt, like Saudi Arabia, wants to reduce Iranian influence in the area. As Iran is a backer of Hamas, the border has been closed. While it does put Hamas in a very difficult situation sadly the price has been paid by the ordinary people of Gaza.

    Among other items, Israel has also prohibited movement of cement so that it cannot be used to make bunkers. In the meantime the Palestinians affected by the Israeli war on gaza are living in tents as they cannot fix their homes that were destroyed. This is the same tactic that was employed in Iraq – impose sanctions till it completely destroys the fabric of society. The problem is that the surrounding countries comply with these sanctions while fully understanding that the sanctions are only making lives miserable for the local population. Recommend

  • Nadir El Edroos
    Jun 5, 2010 - 7:50PM

    @Ayesha dont get me wrong, for me its not an issue of an Islamic identity. A women can wear a veil or not, or where Western or Eastern cloths its not for me to judge. What i do have is an issue with the legal cover the state has to marginaliZe, and restrict acess to public goods such as university education based on what women wear. Or the fact that women who wear the veil but were elected to parliment were not able to take up their seats. The ruling party did try to change the laws but they have been thwarted by the military. Sure turkey has
    achieved alot and there is no denying that, but would it not be hypocritical of us if we critisized those amongst us who would stop men from shaving and demand that women stay at home if we condone or over look similar instances abroad?Recommend

  • Arif Jamal
    Jun 5, 2010 - 8:25PM

    Ayesha:

    Turkey is a great country. Better than most Muslim countries. Without a doubt. However, there is no reason to glorify it like this. Turkey does at a greater scale to its Kurd population what Israel does to Palestinians. Why Turkey does not show the way when Muslims kill fellow Muslims? Why Turkey does not show the way in Darfur where 400,000 Muslims have died at the hands fellow Muslims?Recommend

  • Waqas
    Jun 5, 2010 - 10:04PM

    “Intelligent Islam” … a new term you coined thereRecommend

  • Sohail Ahmed
    Jun 5, 2010 - 10:24PM

    I was in Turkey in March this year. For the first time I felt proud to be a Muslim while I was in Turkey. My father who is 83 years old and a very religious and practicing Muslim.He cried with joy when he saw Turks and Turkey. Turkey may not be a perfect Muslim country. But it certainly is the most advanced and democratic Muslim country. My prayers go for the Turks for their courage, modernity, democracy, and love for their religion.Recommend

  • imran
    Jun 5, 2010 - 10:41PM

    Turks faught a war of independence which was motivated by nationalism. The Ottoman Caliph handed over Palestine and other muslim territories to Western powers under Treaty of Sevres while secular Ataturk successfully defeated imperial powers. Wahabi Arabs, who advocate pure Islam, conspired against Ottoman Empire and were awarded terrirtories for their loyalty to British. Later these Wahabis became staunch allies of US. Wahabis promoted sectarianism which fragmented the Muslim world and they are the largest financers of extremist organizations which are wreaking havoc in other Muslim countries. Among Middle Eastern countries, a brave stance against Isreal can only be expected from Turks.Recommend

  • Sohail Ahmed
    Jun 6, 2010 - 12:01AM

    Arif Jamal

    You want Turkey to dio everything for you. Why doesn’t Pakistan sends forces to Darfur. Turkey is not a superpower.Recommend

  • Turkish boy
    Jun 6, 2010 - 12:57AM

    First of all, thanks to the author of this article! As a Turk, I highly enjoyed it, and once again, was proud of being a muslim. It is always great to see the backing of our fellow muslims.

    Arif Jamal, you are making the big mistake of believing the West’s Kurdish propaganda. You are even arguing that Turks do the Gaza thing to a greater extent to Kurds. This is wrong! Kurds have full rights in Turkey. Every Kurd can vote and even be elected as the PM or president of the country. In fact, some of our previous PMs and presidents were Kurdish. The Gaza issue is too different: Gaza is like an open air prison; Arabs in Israel cannot even vote, let alone be elected to the Israeli parliament!!

    Turkey’s Kurdish issue is an issue that is created and continued by Western powers who support the PKK, a terrorist organization with at the most 3,000 members, financed by European countries as well as Israel. The PKK kill Kurds more than Turks, and find no support among ordinary Kurds. Please be more thoughtful and educate yourself before making such accusatory remarks.Recommend

  • Arif Jamal
    Jun 6, 2010 - 7:18PM

    Sohail:
    I want everybody who champions anti-America, anti-Israeli, anti-Indian, anti-everything-not-Muslim to look inside the Muslim whorld where worse is happening and do what they want or try to do in Palestine/Israel. It is a shame to raise voices and pick up arms in favor of Palestinians but turn a blind eye to Darfurians and other victims in the Muslim world. Are the Darfurians childrens of a lesser god and Palestinians of a special god?Recommend

  • Mir Badshah
    Jun 6, 2010 - 10:41PM

    I must congratulate Ayesha Khan for this wonderful article.The difference between Turkey and other authoritarian Muslim countries has been explained very lucidly.There are many lessons for other non-democratic countries of the Muslim world.Let’s hope Turkey will continue to play a positive role to change the negative image of Muslims across the World.With one intelligent move Turkey has exposed the inhumane policies of Israel.Recommend

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