World Magazine
April 6 2014

No more Turkish delight

Turkey | The hope for Turkey as an anti-Sharia beacon for the Muslim
world is fading quickly

By Marvin Olasky

For most of the 20th century Turkey was the great hope for yanking the
Muslim world out of Sharia law. Mustafa Kemal, Turkey's 1920s-1930s
autocrat, took as a new last name Ataturk, which means "father of
Turkey"--and he truly was the progenitor of a country that kept
Islamists at bay. His secularist vision, with the assistance of
Turkey's army, stayed dominant until 2002.

Just before April Fools' Day, though, two developments--one political,
one military--dashed the slight hope that remains. The political story
began 12 years ago when Recip Tayyip Erdogan's Justice and Development
Party (AKP) took power not on an overt Islamist program but an
anti-corruption one. Prime Minister Erdogan since then has used salami
tactics--one slice at a time--to cut out the Ataturk legacy and edge
back toward traditional Islam's union of mosque and state.

Erdogan's administration has also displayed the cronyism that he
deplored when in opposition, and some secularists predicted that
elections on March 30 would curtail the prime minister's power.
Exactly the opposite happened: The AKP won big, and Erdogan is now
likely to become Turkey's first directly elected president this
summer, a triumph that would allow him to rule for another decade and
stomp on the little bit of religious liberty that remains.

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The military development also reflects Turkey's growing Islamism, and
it has international implications. Syrians in the northwestern part of
their country reported at the end of March that jihadist rebels
fighting the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad are
receiving help from Turkish tanks and anti-aircraft fire. The
jihadists attacked villages inhabited by Alawites, the Muslim sect of
the Assad family, and others that are home to Armenian Christians.

Thousands of Christians had to flee, seeking refuge in nearby hills or
the coastal city of Latakia. One pastor told World Watch Monitor about
desecrated churches and pillaged houses. Churches were sheltering 600
families, with local charity groups providing food, mattresses,
blankets, and clothing. "Turkey is hosting jihadis," said a Syrian
Muslim humanitarian worker (name withheld to protect his life). Those
fighters reportedly include Chechens, Tunisians, Turks, and Arabs.

Turkey is a member of NATO, and the United States has a massive air
base at Incirlik, just 130 miles away from the area of border
fighting. Armed military conflict between Turkey and Syria could
severely escalate the Syrian war, forcing a NATO intervention. But
Erdogan seems intent not only on re-Islamizing his own country but
supporting neighboring jihadis.

Time magazine put Mustafa Kemal on its March 24, 1923, cover: He was
the great Muslim hope. In 1924 Kemal said, "The religion of Islam will
be elevated if it will cease to be a political instrument, as had been
the case in the past." In 1925 he declared, "The Turkish republic
cannot be a country of sheiks, dervishes, and disciples." The
following year he closed Islamic courts and created a European-style
penal code.

At the rate Turkey is marching back to its future, the 100th
anniversary of Kemal's directives may bring their complete unwinding.
What's happening in Turkey is part of a long-term trend that might
better be termed an ooze. A decade ago many Americans hoped that a
democratic Iraq would join Turkey in providing liberty and justice for
all. The "Arab Spring" brought similar hopes regarding Egypt. But
ancient traditions backed up by dictatorial religion are hard to
topple, and those forecasting the growth of freedom in Muslim
countries may have to follow those words by saying "April Fools."

--with reporting by Mindy Belz in Beirut; for more on Turkey, see
"Turkey's U-turn" in this issue.