Jenny B. White
The Islam-vs.-secularism formula and the moderate-vs.-radical Islam dichotomy are poor guides for understanding contemporary Turkey.
The American Interests - Volume 10, Number 4 February 2, 2015
Turkey’s turn toward pugnacious autocracy over the past few years has
caused consternation in Washington and European capitals. Some pundits
blame it on the rise of Islam in a country that previously had been
ruled by secular Kemalist governments. Since 2002, the Islam-rooted
Justice and Development Party (AKP) has been elected three times at the
national level with an ever-greater percentage of the vote. In the 2014
local elections, too, it neared 50 percent. As the party has deepened
its hold on Turkey, it has felt more secure in pressing what many
assumed has been its agenda all along: authoritarian rule and the
Islamicization of society.
This view ignores two important things: that Kemalist governments
tended to be tutelary, illiberal democracies shepherded by an intrusive
military; and that during the decade after its election, the AKP, led by
former Prime Minister and now President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan,
transformed Turkey into a liberalizing, internationally engaged,
economic powerhouse that had the respect and ear of the world’s leaders.
If one simultaneously exaggerates the successes of Turkey’s Kemalist
leaders and the recent failures of the AKP government, distortion is
bound to result, and one is left unable to really account for the
seeming knife-edge turns in Turkey’s political character.