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Archive for April 2013

East and West

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Over the past week, there has been a flurry of reactions from the usual suspects regarding Israel’s surprise apology to Turkey.  The part that President Obama played in bringing about this reconciliation has brought the nearly 3 year old conflict between Israel and Turkey into the Western media spotlight.  Predictably, when Turkey becomes the topic du jour amongst commentators who know little to nothing about the country, the cliches start to fly.  One of the most common of these is some derivation of Turkey being a country that exists in the gray zone between “East” and “West.”  Since the rise of the AK party, it has been fashionable for articles and editorials to warn that Turkey was turning its back on the West.  A simple google search of “Turkey turns east” reveals the prolific use of this cliche.  The Turkey-Israel rapprochement has again led opinion writers to speculate where Turkey’s loyalties lie.  While some have interpreted Turkey’s acceptance of the apology as well as the PKK ceasefire as a “promising shift to the West” others have cited Erdogan’s vociferous (and predictable) gloating as further evidence that Turkey has been taken over by racial “Islamists” and that the “West” must confront it.

This division of the world into the West (read: US and EU) and the East (read: everyone else) is not only overdone but a dangerous rehashing of Samuel Huntington’s famous “Clash of Civilizations” thesis.  Though Huntington’s thesis has been the focus of a slew of criticism,  it is still indicative of how many people in both the “West” and the “East” view the world.  In his essay, Huntington uses Turkey as the premier example of a country “torn” between East and West.  He concludes that as hard as the elites may try, Turkey will never be able to escape its Islamic roots.  He believes that the “Islamic Revival” that was just then starting to grow in the country (and in which the AKP is rooted) is powerful evidence of this.  Huntington does not simply point out the real differences in history, cultural and belief between different regions, he posits that only Western Civilization (defined as Catholic and Protestant countries of Western Europe and North America) is compatible with the liberal values of “…constitutionalism, human rights, equality, liberty, the rule of law, democracy… and the separation of church and state” among others.  When Turkey’s dealings with it’s regional neighbors are discussed in terms of “looking East” Huntingtonian baggage is implied.  If Turkey is cooperating with “Eastern” states, it is dismissing liberal values in favor of those of the unchanging “Islamic” Civilization.

Ziya Meral has jokingly dubbed Turkey’s current foreign policy “Free Range Turkey,” a groan-inducing but more accurate characterization of Turkey’s actions than the tired East-West dichotomy.  If Huntington’s model were to hold true, Turkey’s democratically elected but conservative Muslim government should have focused on strengthening its ties to other heirs of the “Islamic Civilization” to the determent of those it shares with the “West.”  Of course, this is not the case.  Turkey has perused its long-standing candidacy for the EU while simultaneously attempting to increase its regional standing and heal previous rifts with its neighbors.   Turkey’s leadership may at times show that it has a soft spot for countries with which it has religious or cultural ties, but the laws of Realpolitik outweigh any ties of “Civilization.”

Written by ataturksrepublic

April 2, 2013 at 7:25 pm