On September 12, 1980, the Turkish military cracked down on religious opposition movements that challenged the secular state, and took power over the country. It was a textbook coup d’état. What stood out during these events was that Western nations, whose political structures vigorously opposed military involvement in civil politics, were actually relieved by the military’s action. After all, one year earlier the secular and allied state of Iran had transformed into a theocratic and hostile nation.
But over time, a worrying dynamic revealed itself: The western view on Islamic religious political movements changed, while the core ideology and intentions of these movements did not change one bit.
The West somehow stopped seeing political Islam as a hostile ideology, and on this newly found pink cloud started to actively aid the consolidation of Islamist power, particularly in Turkey.
It was the EU that stated that if Turkey was ever to become a member of the EU, the country had to abolish the influence the Turkish military had over civil politics. It is reasonable that the EU doesn’t want a member state with a military that can undo democracy at will. But it was highly unreasonable of the EU to think that the Turkish military simply made up the threat of Islamist opposition. And it was downright ignorant of the EU to dismiss Turkish military claims that Islamist doctrine was inherently anti-Western.
True, modern Turkish Islamists, with the current Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, being a prime example, have started to preach their theocratic intentions in more discrete and innocent-sounding ways, but it’s not as if Erdogan is a master of disguise. The truth was out there in plain sight for those not blinded by wishful thinking.
It is well known that during his time as mayor of Istanbul from 1994 to 1998, Erdogan said that “Democracy is like a train: when you reach your destination, you get off.” What is markedly less known is that during the same period he repeatedly explained why his ideology is inherently tyrannical.
Erdogan is on video saying: “You cannot be both secular and a Muslim! You will either be a Muslim, or secular! When both are together, they create reverse magnetism [i.e.
they repel one another]. For them to exist together is not a possibility! Therefore, it is not possible for a person who says “I am a Muslim” to go on and say “I am secular, too.” And why is that? Because Allah, the creator of the Muslim, has absolute power and rule!” He went on to say, “When [does the sovereignty belong to the people]? It is only when they go to the polls [every five years] that sovereignty belongs to the people. But both materially, and in essence, sovereignty unconditionally and always belongs to Allah!” This might sound arbitrary and irrelevant to Western readers, but it is not. The overarching theological drive of Islamists is the implementation of the sovereignty of Allah on earth, known as Hakimiyyat Allah, using a divinely mandated set of laws, referred to as Sharia. The problem with the sovereignty of Allah is that it may not be undone by mere mortals, since of course the sovereignty of the people is inferior to the sovereignty of Allah. This means that Islamist doctrine does not allow them to be democratically removed from power, and this makes their ideology inherently tyrannical.
Are Erdogan’s views surprising? Not in the least bit. Erdogan was an apprentice of Necmettin Erbakan, the founding father of what is basically the Turkish Muslim Brotherhood: Milli Görü? What is surprising is that Western politicians, most of them very EUminded, chose to ignore the nature and ideology of Islamists, and instead steered their policy and demands toward abolishing the only institution that could keep them at bay: the Turkish armed forces.
But now, in response to Erdogan’s tyrannical ideology manifesting itself on the Turkish streets, the same politicians are finally, if reluctantly, speaking out against Erdogan and are publicly doubting the desirability of having Turkey as an EU member state. Although the fact that they dare to speak out is a good thing, I can’t help but think the EU worldview has about the same predictive power as the weatherman that forecasts a heavy snowfall for today only after having looked out his window this morning to see his city covered in snow. They should have seen it coming, but their utopian worldview did not allow them to.
European politicians are now condemning Erdogan for his tyrannical behavior, but the fact is that Europe is complicit in the consolidation of Islamist power in Turkey. The EU demand to abolish the Turkish military gave Erdogan unprecedented legitimacy in the continuation of a battle between theocracy and secularism, a battle that predates Turkey’s EU bid by close to a century.
It was on the wings of this newfound legitimacy that Erdogan was able to act more boldly and dismiss or incarcerate high-ranking military personal in mock trials.
But their boldness is not confined to Turkish soil. The Turkish minister of European affairs, Egemen Bagis, told German Chancellor Angela Merkel that he hoped she would abandon her objection to Turkey becoming an EU member state. He then had the sheer audacity to basically gave her a June 24 ultimatum to “repair her mistakes, or there would be consequences.”
The Dutch and Germans have yet to yield, but EU/Turkey talks are set to resume in October. This simply shows that soft-hearted EU figures are no match for the alpha male, street-fighter mentality of the Turks.
In a 1952 dinner after Turkey’s admission to NATO, a Turkish general was asked how he felt about his new American ally. He said: “The problem with having the Americans as your allies is you never know when they’ll turn around and stab themselves in the back.”
Today, President Barack Obama is good buddies with Erdogan and has repeatedly stated that Turkey should serve as an example to the Islamic world. The EU is aiding in the marginalization of the Turkish armed forces, which are indeed dictatorial, but by their nature friendly to the West, and thus paving the way for the consolidation of the power of a hostile ideology: political Islam.
The Turkish general’s fear in 1952 still seems justified in the 21st century.
On this matter, the West has truly and thoroughly stabbed itself in the back.
The writer is a Dutch master student in clinical psychology and works for the largest Dutch independent political blog.