March 30, 1998
The New York Times
To the Editor:
Stephen Kinzer’s March 28th article, "Turkish Generals Demand Curbs on Islamic Fundamentalists", unquestioningly accepts the military’s recurring pretext for its endemic human rights violations against practicing Muslims, as well as others, living under Turkish rule: to prevent "condemn[ing] the Turkish people to a backward way of life". What seems to have escaped Mr. Kinzer is the absurdity of such a statement coming from a medieval regime which has among the worst human rights records in the world, secular or otherwise.
An even more ambitious proposition than that portraying Turkey as a faithful American ally is the oft-repeated mantra that Turkey can serve as a role model of a secular, democratic Islamic nation to other Muslim countries, and somehow export this model as a check to the rising tide of Islamic fundamentalism. While this has been a key argument underlying our foreign policy establishment’s apologia for our support of such an outlaw government, even a cursory review of the Islamic world’s political realities would demonstrate the tenuous nature of this position.
The Turkish model holds no ideological or political currency with the Arabs, Persians or other Muslim states. Just the opposite. Were it not for Turkey’s status as an Islamic nation (the very attribute the West wants Turkey to suppress), the Arab view of Turkey as a Western sellout and aggressor-state, and the Arabs’ historical resentment over the Ottomans’ culturally retarding domination of their once highly accomplished civilization, would most likely have turned their uneasy détente with Turkey to bitter hostility.
It is no foreign policy secret that when looking at Turkey Arabs do not see an example of a democratic and secular Islamic state to emulate, but rather, a paper democracy ruled by a ruthless and corrupt kleptocracy subsidized by foreign powers. Our support of Turkey has actually achieved the opposite of our stated foreign policy objectives in the area by wholly undermining the West’s credibility with Arabs and other Muslims and providing fundamentalists with their best argument against western secularization.
For Arabs and other Muslim states at the crossroads of their political evolution, Turkey serves as the prototypical example of the West’s hypocrisy and doublespeak about human rights. Rather than serve as an example for Muslims to emulate, Turkey has best served to substantiate fundamentalist claims of the West’s lack of genuine concern about international non-aggression and democratic principles. Arabs of all ideological shades, whether democrats, fundamentalists or Marxists, see Turkey simply as an immoral regime where rampant corruption, ethnic cleansing, assassination, torture and the silencing of dissidents are the rule rather than the exception. Turkey’s secular capitalism is seen not as a model to aspire to but simply as another form of colonialism by the West.
As Kurds are ethnically cleansed from their rural homeland by security forces and displaced to urban centers, rather than further the government’s plan to dismantle and assimilate the Kurds’ agrarian culture, their congregation in impoverished urban ghettos has instead created ideal spawning grounds for radical Islamic militants.
On March 5th a Turkish court sentenced a journalist to nearly two years in prison for an article criticizing Turkey’s warming relations with Israel, and closed down the small pro-Islamic newspaper, ruling that it was a threat to national security. Treading carefully under the watchful eye of Turkey’s generals, Erbakan’s recently deposed Islamist administration was clearly the most moderate of any fundamentalist government in power. Yet, as in Algeria, our ratification of the military’s overthrow of Turkey’s democratically elected Islamic government and Turkey’s harsh suppression of its Muslim faithful will inevitably radicalize the country’s fundamentalists, increase the popularity of their cause at the secular government’s expense, and simultaneously undermine the West’s waning legitimacy.
As with other Western-supported secular governments in Islamic countries with administrations repressive of fundamentalism, such as in Egypt and Algeria, U.S. policymakers have failed to grasp the profound irony of their disastrous policy in Turkey. Rather than absorb this populist and reformist movement into moderate administrations, filtering out its extremist elements and incorporating legitimate Islamist concerns, the U.S.’s blind encouragement of these states’ repressive policies based on our own foreign policy establishment’s anti-fundamentalist hysteria is guaranteeing that Islamic extremism will come to dominate the Muslim world in its most virulent, radicalized and militant form.
Very truly yours,
P. D. Spyropoulos, Esq.