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New Left Review 51, May-June 2008

An iconoclastic journalist looks at the thinning substance behind the AKP’s façade of ‘democratization’, and demagogic responses from Turkey’s secular establishment and army.



Mainstream european and american opinion likes to consider Turkey as an example of democracy to the Islamic world, and the governing AKP as the chief ‘democratizing force’ in the country. This matches the American-made project of a ‘moderate Islam’, celebrated after 9/11 as the cure for radicalism in Muslim societies. The AKP's Recep Tayyip Erdogan was the answer to HAMAS or Hizbullah in the Middle East, just as Malaysia’s Anwar Ibrahim was the model for Southeast Asi-a. As former US Assistant Secretary of State Richard Holbrooke put it, ‘there are only two moderate Islamic democracies in the world: Turkey and Malaysia’. Ibrahim, dubbed a ‘Golden Asian’ by Newsweek, was a staunch friend of Malaysia’s corporate elite and defender of IMF policies, who liked to underline his liberal-internationalist credentials by stressing his fondness for Elvis. AKP leaders show a similar proclivity to demonstrate their familiarity with Western ways. After a well-received speech in Oxford about the AKP’s democratic virtues recently, Erdogan’s spin doctor Egemen Bagis raised his glass to the assembled scholars: ‘You see, I drink wine!’ The meaning was clear: moderate Islam, just as you like it.

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Ece Temelkuran, ‘Flag and Headscarf’, NLR 51: £3

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