It has been weeks since the falling out between the US and Turkey over the continued detention of pastor Andrew Brunson, a symptom of many problems between the two countries. Just to briefly recap, some of the other outstanding issues between the sides include Turkey’s anger at US support for Kurdish forces affiliated to the PKK in Syria; the violation of the Iran Sanctions Act by a Turkish state-owned bank, possibly with the full knowledge or even behest of the highest levels of the Turkish government; Turkey’s intent to purchase Russian S400 surface to air missiles; and the residence in the US of Fetullah Gulen who Ankara blames for the July 2016 attempted coup.
Despite the US sanctions which wreaked havoc on the already vulnerable Turkish economy, and the threat of more to come, Turkey is still resisting US pressure. All Ankara has to do is drop the charges against Brunson, so why is Ankara resisting so much? Why not find a face-saving measure and fall into line, just like Ankara did after tensions with Russia?
In an earlier post, I explained how Turkey and the US might overcome some of their differences. And if I can think of a way, I am sure the brilliant minds in Washington and Ankara can do better. I also wrote a post about the underlying symptoms for the breakdown of relations in which I factor Turkey’s internal security threats, Ankara’s delusions of grandeur and Turkey’s authoritarian turn. But there is an additional factor, namely, President Erdogan’s version of political Islam.
Faced with ongoing Magnitsky Act sanctions and high tariffs on aluminium and steel, as well as being excluded from the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter programme after the passing of the 2019 defence spending bill, Turkey is experiencing a continued strain on its economy, an ongoing currency crisis and uncertainty about future military hardware. If President Erdogan truly cared about the Turkish economy, he would have appointed representatives from the business community to establish an economic advisory council, increased interest rates by guaranteeing the independence of the central bank, and, of course, immediately released American Pastor Andrew Brunson. Instead, Erdogan chose his son-in-law to be the country’s economy minister, maintained his position that high interest rates leads to inflation and pressured the central bank to reframe from raising rates. Not only did Erdogan not release Pastor Brunson, but he responded to US sanctions with some of his own, which practically amounts to a trade war against the biggest economy on Earth.
“They have their dollars but we have the Quran”, declared Erdogan, not just once but on countless occasions over the past couple of weeks. This is typical of religious fanatics everywhere; when they don’t have the answers, they double down on God. When asked about the dismal economic performance of the Islamic Republic of Iran, for example, Ayatollah Khomeini responded that, “the revolution was not about the price of watermelons”. Indeed, how can it be when Khomeini promised that Islam was the solution? This is why Erdogan continues to resist increasing interest rates which he has described as “evil”, no doubt a reflection of Islam’s abhorrence to usury. If it is not proscribed by God, it cannot be part of the answer.
Erdogan adds that there is no need to fear, the world is bigger than the United States. Never mind the fact that the US accounts for 25 per cent of the world’s economy, Turkey, Erdogan insists, can turn to other countries for economic support and arms purchases. Qatar and Russia, or, in the case of F-35s, Turkey’s own military aviation industry (ignoring that the TF-X project, for example, is currently dependent on the expertise and intellectual property of UK firms).
It appears that President Erdogan and his sycophantic band of advisors believe the hype about America’s demise and the rise of the rest. But unlike serious observers who write about America’s inwardly looking trajectory and the rise of China and other developing nations, President Erdogan and his cohorts seem to think the time is nigh. They appear to have missed that for the time being at least, the US is still the most powerful nation on earth, and that remains the case whether we are talking about hard power, soft power, smart power or any other kind of power.
President Erdogan once commented that there is no such thing as moderate Islam. His foreign policy reflects this. President Erdogan’s government continues to support Hamas. It sides with Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood and sponsors a range of Islamist militants in Syria. Erdogan himself earned his political stripes with the openly Islamist Welfare Party of the one-time Turkish Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan who was anti-western to the core and talked about forming an Islamic currency and uniting the Muslim world against US and Zionist conspiracies. Although Erbakan was ousted following a military intervention, his thinking inspired a generation of Turkish Islamists, and President Erdogan was his (wayward) protégé who is beginning to act more and more like his old mentor. “The attack on our economy has absolutely no difference from attacks on our call to prayer and our flag,” Erdogan recently stated, showing his inability to separate religion from economics and international relations. Just last March, Yeni Safak, a pro-Erdogan newspaper and government mouthpiece if ever there was one, talked about creating an Islamic army of millions of soldiers to fight Israel. Erdogan didn’t distance himself from the piece. It also reflect the apparent statements of King Abdullah II of Jordan who told US congressional leaders back in 2016 that the Turkish head of state believes in a “radical Islamic solution” to conflicts in the Middle East.
Erdogan sees himself as the head of a country that leads the Muslim world. The most recent example was when President Erdogan used Washington’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital as a means to speak on behalf of the Muslim world by convening a special emergency summit of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation. Erdogan used this pulpit to lead the Muslim world’s condemnation of the Trump Administration in the most visceral terms imaginable.
In this context, how can it be possible for Erdogan to back down against Trump? It be a setback for Erdogan’s attempt to lead the Muslim world legitimized by Turkey's Ottoman past, Islamic credentials and the Turkish president’s ability to stand up to Israel and America. Of course, the losers will be Turkey’s long-suffering population who are seeing their money devalued, their savings hurt and their businesses on the brink. But they needn’t worry, they always have God.
4/15/2018 0 Comments
Back when I was pulling pints as a 19-year-old regretting my decision to leave university, Douglas Murray, who was about the same age, was doing something productive with his life. He was polishing off his book about the literary figure Lord Alfred Douglas, a volume published while Murray had yet to sit his second-year finals at Oxford. After graduating Douglas went on to write and debate the major issues of our time not only with flair, but also with erudition and wit. This makes Murray, at least in my humble view, the intellectual heir of the late great Christopher Hitchens.
When I was behind the bar of a drab and dreary dungeon in East London, I heard many costumers complain about illegal immigrants and immigration in general. Sometimes these comments were less than PC and a tad xenophobic. But on plenty of occasions legitimate points were uttered, even after the harvesting of a pint or few, and these comments were not always made by white people. My job as a smooth-talking bar steward was to neither agree nor disagree - never peeve punters or they’ll get pissed and not the type of pissed that pays the pub’s bills!
But what I couldn’t quite comprehend was how Britain’s politicians brushed off concerns about immigration. Those who complained were either ignored or dismissed as bigoted or racist. What a dereliction of service on the part of Britain’s political elite. If immigration and multi-culturalism was policy, it should have been explained properly to the electorate and then defended in public debate.
What Douglas Murray highlights in The Strange Death of Europe: Immigration, Identity, Islam, is the consequences of shutting down the debate. Murray is not really describing death at all, but mass European suicide by seppuku. Although unable to cope with successive waves of immigration, Europe’s political elites continued to facilitate mass immigration in the hope of creating multi-cultural and diverse societies. And this was despite European leaders such as Britain’s David Cameron, France’s Nicholas Sarkozy and Germany’s Angela Merkel all having admitted that their respective versions of multi-culturalism had failed. The words on the tongues of many was no doubt a three-worded sentence ending with the word “Sherlock”. Murray documents the reasons associated with integration that have infuriated many Europeans over the years, namely, terrorism, extremism and challenges to traditional European enlightenment values, especially, in Murray’s view, by immigrants of the Islamic faith.
Murray also demolishes some of the arguments for mass immigration. He explains that immigration does not necessarily solve the problem of an aging society and might not be the best way of doing so anyway. Murray destroys the view that in the long-run immigrants financially enrich society, highlighting that this is only true of some newcomers but not others, especially when one factors in costs associated with shelter, health and education of accompanying dependents. Looking to the examples of Japan and China, Murray adds that immigration is not an inevitable consequence of globalisation either.
One of the many reasons which Murray points as a culprit for Europe’s coming demise is its loss of confidence and pride. Somehow political elites developed a self-deprecating tumour in the centre of the European mind. A feeling spread that life in European liberal democratic societies lost its meaning and is devoid of purpose. This led the way for European elites to berate themselves and spit upon their own values and culture while being hostages to their own history which is reflected upon with guilt. European ideas suffered from the German philosophical tradition that gained traction across the continent with its drive to absolutism and its propensity to crash, leading to the great catastrophes of the twentieth century – the rise of Fascism, the horrors of the Nazis and the rise and fall of communism. But this feeling of emptiness, Murray adds, is also a result of the decline of the Church. Life is apparently empty without the centrality of Christianity (religion rather than faith or belief), a void that cannot be filled by the latest Apple headset, retail therapy or a holiday, even if it’s all inclusive.
But couldn't there be other explanations for the self-deprecation of European values and culture? I can’t fully subscribe to the decline of Christianity bit of Murray’s argument. It seems to me that there are other plausible reasons than the reduction in the number of church goers. Perhaps the end of imperialism was a factor - despite the sins of European colonialism, the sense of imperial adventure gave meaning to some. Perhaps more potent than the decline of religion was the deconstruction of the nation-state. In many respects nationalism is akin to secular religion with all the motifs and symbols of the nation. You may die but the nation lives on, and many died for King and country. And what about Europe’s pacification? Previous generations fought great wars of survival. Despite recent terror attacks, it is imaginable that many Europeans still do not understand the nature of the threat. And with nothing to die for, it is conceivable than many Europeans have forgotten why they live.
Douglas Murray makes important points with intellectual clarity. There will no doubt be some who will decry Murray a racist, Islamophobe or even both. But surely it is legitimate to express concern about unfettered and under regulated immigration? If a country is to open up borders to political or economic migrants, surely a working model for integration and a system to regulate who is let in is needed? Surely European values are worth saving? Surely, politicians owe it to both migrants and the host society to make things work as smoothly as possible. And if it’s not working, change it before it is decided to let in more people in? Surely?
I recently wrote two different but related articles about Turkey’s ties with the west which can be found here and here. I have come to the view that there is no longer a basis for strategic relations between the West and Turkey. This does not mean that I am advocating that the US and Europe cut diplomatic and economic ties with Turkey, far from it. Trade away! However, I am arguing that there should not be a security component between North America, Europe and Turkey.
Follow my logic.
Strategic alliances are built on mutual concerns over shared security threats. From the perspective of Turkey’s government, its main threats are the Gulen movement (FETO in the parlance of the Turkish government) and the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). Note that both of these organisations are primarily Turkish internal non-state actors with transnational connections. However, from the perspective of the West, the PKK and the Gulen movement are not threats at all. It is not a PKK terrorist attack or the goings on in a Gulenist school that keep leaders in Washington, Paris, London or Berlin awake at night. In fact, the PKK’s sister organisation in Syria is considered an asset against ISIS which the West’s main enemy along with Russia. So, where’s the basis for strategic cooperation? I hold there are none.
As Turkey moves away from the West’s orbit based on its own security calculations (which Ankara is fully entitled to do), Turkey seems less like a strategic partner. The fact that Turkey is a NATO member only makes matters worse. As my articles suggest, Turkey doesn’t really offer its NATO allies that much by way of security anymore. Lax border controls during the Syria crisis until 2016, closer ties with Russia marked by intent to purchase Russian S400s, fighting the YPG, these do not contribute to the West’s security. If anything, they hinder them.
Again, this doesn't mean that trade can’t continue or other forms of cooperation. Perhaps if politicians on both sides are honest with each other and discount the strategic fallacy of their relations, the value of trade might actually increase. That is, of course, if human rights are brushed under the carpet in bilateral meetings and discussions. Kind of like China.
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