Obama in Turkey: Praise or Tough Love?
ISLAM AND THE WEST
By Daniel Brumberg
We Turks have lately been thinking only in opposites -- that you are either secular or religious, Kurd or Turk, European or Middle Eastern. It took a young foreign leader...to remind us that we are all of those things, and much more.
-- Asli Aydintasbas, former Ankara bureau chief of the newspaper Sabah.
As far as I am concerned, the high point of Obama's first overseas trip as President was his visit to Turkey. There he encountered a land whose leaders are struggling to reconcile contending visions of community. For an American president whose roots lie in Africa, Indonesia, Hawaii and Chicago, Illinois, Turkey's story must have resonated with Obama's own experience.
Yet if he happily reminded Turks of their rich heritage, not a few Turkish liberals politely suggested that Obama's call for further political reforms -made before the Turkish Parliament--was, in the words of the above-cited journalist, "insufficient."
Well...maybe. Many secular Turks see in Prime Minister Erdogan a kind of "Putin Lite"--a political leader who is using his party's majority in parliament to pass laws designed to browbeat, silence or incapacitate his critics. As Aydintasbas put it: "Since 2007, Prime Minister Erdogan has become more authoritarian, lashing out at his critics, suing journalists and alienating liberal Turks."
I can't say whether these claims are objectively true, false or simply exaggerated. But the fears provoked by Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (JDP) are real. These worries are growing, particularly among liberal secularists who constitute a strategically important political minority in Turkish society.
What should be done when democracy is wielded for illiberal ends? Turkey's constitution provides one answer, which is to call upon the army. But a reimposition of military rule would be like drinking cyanide to relieve a stomachache. The only antidote to a crisis of democracy--to echo a famous Algerian leader--is more democracy, not less.
Turkey just had a taste of the democratic remedy. As Aydintasbas notes, voters in recent municipal elections "delivered a serious warning: the party's overall support fell to 39 percent, from 47 percent two years ago." But what lessons will Turkey's leaders draw from these elections? Will they create a stronger political machine, or will they reach out to their critics with messages of inclusion?
To encourage a more inclusive politics, the US must convince its Western allies to take seriously the possibility of bringing Turkey into the EU. On this score, Obama is to be congratulated for keeping his cool after President Sarkozy asserted that membership "is up to member states of the EU to decide." More importantly, President Obama struck the right note during his speech before the Turkish Parliament. Praising Turkey for initiating "difficult political reforms," he reminded his audience that the many reform laws must still be "implemented."
Obama gave a nuanced speech before the Turkish parliament. But if, as he stated, Turkey is "where East and West ...come together," American officials must balance praise with a much more emphatic tough love. Turkey will never be an effective bridge between the West and the Islamic world until its elected leaders embrace and sustain a democratic solution to the country's own divisions.
Daniel Brumberg is acting director of U.S. Institute of Peace's Muslim World Initiative and associate professor at Georgetown University.
Posted by: mmm1110 | April 14, 2009 3:10 AM
Report Offensive Comment
The comments to this entry are closed.