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Turkey's Ascendancy, the Russification of Israel and the Future of the Middle-East

By       Message M. Nicolas Firzli     Permalink
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Adapted from an article first published in the Journal of Turkish Weekly, June 15 2010

Since the beginning of this century, Turkey has shown impressive results both on the economic and political fronts, growing three times faster than the EU average in the past ten years, while demonstrating that Islamic culture is fully compatible with democracy, constitutional government and the rule of law. But, the Turkish Miracle was met with a combination of disdain and skepticism in Brussels, Berlin and Paris - where conservative commentators and politicians regularly warn their readers of the growing "Turkish threat" (1)- a rather peculiar way of thanking Ankara for having stood by Western Europe throughout the Cold War! Having been repeatedly rebuffed by the European Union, Turkey, by far the most advanced Eurasian nation, has progressively rediscovered its Asian and Middle-Eastern hinterland, rebuilding age-old ties with Damascus, Delhi, Baku, Beijing and Teheran.

The economic dynamism and cultural openness of Turkey today stand in stark contrast with the ossification of Israeli society: having to deal with the consequences of its continuing military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, Israel is increasingly shifting away from the Western ways of its founding fathers (e.g. David Ben-Gurion, the first Prime Minister of Israel, was trained as a corporate lawyer in Warsaw and Istanbul) toward an obsessive focus on colonial control- crudely stereo-typifying the autonomous Muslim populace it seeks to subjugate, and thus reproducing the xenophobic worldview its right-wing leaders inherited from Czarist Russia. Here, we will try to understand the historical and ideological roots of the rise of Turkey, in interactive relation with European and Asian attitudes, and how they relate to the current cultural drift of Israeli society towards renewed violence and rigid militarism.

Many Turks are understandably disappointed with Europe: the systematic opposition to Turkey's EU admission (2) (even though less developed nations such as Croatia, Cyprus and Bulgaria were allowed to join), the sarcasms with which Turkish diplomatic efforts to defuse the Iranian nuclear crisis have been received in European capitals, the accusations of "Oriental duplicity - etc. were a shock to many in Turkey, be they secular Istanbul urbanites or lower-middle-class Islamic-orientated conservatives. The people of Turkey resent the caricatured way their country is described in the columns of Le Figaro, L'Express, Die Welt and The Daily Telegraph: "What have we done to deserve this?" is a question often heard in Turkey and in the Muslim world at large these days" Yes, a significant segment of the European political elite is now openly anti-Turkish and anti-Asian. But it was ever thus: even in the late 19th century, when hundreds of sincerely Europhile Turkish and Arab intellectuals, aristocrats and civil servants made the effort to learn French (or German) and adopted Western ways and ideas (some even claiming to be "agnostic" or "atheist" to please their Parisian peers), Europe remained largely indifferent, if not hostile, to their genuine cultural efforts. As long ago as 1903, a vexed Turkish secularist could write that "One can deduct from the writings of these two eminent [French] historians that Midhat Pacha [the Ottoman Empire's most secular, pro-Western statesman] was, together with the political movement he represented, a fanatical warmonger, hostile to Christians, an enemy of Europe and its civilization; and that by proclaiming the Constitution, Midhat's only goal was to fool Europe: that it was the "ultimate and most audacious act of his impudent masquerade'" (3)

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M. Nicolas J. Firzli is Director of the CEE Council, a Paris-based economic strategy think-tank.

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