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Don't Think About Turkey - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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Ever since a detachment of Israeli troops stormed the Turkish aid ship the Mavi Marmara that was part of the Freedom Flotilla bound for Gaza, and which resulted in Israeli troops killing a number of activists, dozens of newspaper articles and television talk shows in the Arab world have followed up on this issue.

I studied a portion of this media response, the majority of which went down the path of weeping and wailing and insulting Israel and insulting those who failed to insult Israel. Some newspapers and writers even began a “witch hunt” against those who dealt with this issue and analyzed it with calmness and composure.

The argument was that some people did not sufficiently support the Freedom Flotilla and those on board, and did not completely and unequivocally take their side, as if everybody who is involved in the profession of writing should have dropped everything to become a weeping protestor, or even take up arms [against Israel]. This is despite the fact that we have indeed been doing this for almost a century.

Personally, I did not write about Gaza and the Freedom Flotilla crisis because of urgent concerns, however this has given me an opportunity to reflect upon what has been written in the press and stated on our television screens about what happened.

In order not to be misunderstood – as usual – I would like to first say that the debate is not about the moral description of Israel’s actions. This was a crime, nothing less, and I do not think that anybody with any conscience could disagree with this description.

There is also nothing wrong – in fact it is perfectly natural – for people to protest in solidarity with the victims of this crime, and against its perpetrators. This is normal human behavior and a spontaneous response. The media outlets that covered this response were obligated to do so as part of their professional duty, namely to report and comment on news stories, and this is something that is carried out by all media outlets around the world.

There is nothing to worry about even if some “opinion” articles echo these protestors and their anger, especially as we are generally known to belong to an emotional and expressive culture in which resounding rhetoric plays an important role. In fact, some people look upon writing as a kind of general “jihad.”

The problem starts when some writers grow annoyed at our attempts to analyze and question the reasons behind the recent Turkish behaviour, and the behaviour of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. For example, there was Erdogan’s walk-out at the World Economic Forum in Davos more than a year ago following an angry exchange with Israeli President Shimon Peres, and he has also made repeated references to Turkey’s greatness and its new regional role. Erdogan has also publicly acknowledged his country’s relationship with the Hamas organization and others, opposed international sanctions against Iran, and cooperated – along with Brazilian President [Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva] – with Iran to this effect, not to mention the Freedom Flotilla and Erdogan’s – carefully planned, of course – inflammatory speech against Israel.

All of this represents a new shift in Turkey’s foreign policy; however on closer look this shift is not completely new. Secular Turkish officials have been issuing statements in support of the Palestinian Cause since 1967, as the writer Adel al-Turaifi explained in an analytical article on Turkey’s transformation published by Asharq Al-Awsat last Wednesday. In this article, al-Turaifi said that Erdogan’s use of Palestinian issues as a means to exert international pressure for Turkish policies represents something new.

This represents a startling transformation in a pivotal country that represents one of the pillars in the Middle East, and which has an important historical and political heritage, as well as economic strength, and strategic importance to the US and the West. In that case, wouldn’t such a transformation call for careful analysis and examination, or should we just blindly applaud Erdogan for fear of being branded apathetic or traitors?

The duty of any writer is to think outside of the box, to turn things over in his mind and try to view the situation from a different angle, this is not out of a love for going against the “mainstream” but out of a desire to see the bigger picture, rather than just one corner of the picture that only reveals a fragment of the truth.

Is Turkey’s Ottoman history behind Ankara’s current shift in foreign policy or is this motivated by a desire to spite Europe for its reluctance to admit Turkey into the European Union?

Is this new foreign policy stimulated by Turkey’s perception of Iran’s political isolation and the Arab’s weak presence and Ankara’s resultant fear of the imbalance of powers in the Middle East which has caused it to step forward to bridge this gap?

Or perhaps Turkey’s new foreign policy is economically motivated?

Given that Turkey is a constitutionally secular state, a member of NATO, and a strategic European and American ally, and that there is a large US military base in Turkey, and that Ankara enjoys military and security cooperation with Israel and follows a moderate form of Islam, supports the two-state solution, and is against military action by militant groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah, could Turkey be acting with the consent of the US and some Arab countries in order to reduce the Iranian role in the region and take over championship of the Arab street from Tehran?

In short, isn’t it true that Turkey is a country whose mode of struggle is comfortable [for the West] whereas Iran is a state without borders, a constitution, or ideological boundaries?

Other assumptions must be carefully examined and analyzed in order to try and understand why Turkey is doing what it is doing under Erdogan’s leadership.

Is Erdogan a fraudulent Islamist or a Turkish nationalist with an Islamic touch?

Or are we truly seeing a new version of Islamism that has risen under special circumstances, namely almost a century in post-Kemalist Turkey?

Does Erdogan represent a new type of Muslim politician, one that combines Sufi intensity, political activism, and national patriotism?

Or is he nothing more than a man seeking fame and fortune?

Is Erdogan a new Ottoman Caliph, or a Turkish General who secretly despises the Arabs, or something completely different?

Or is he nothing more than a man acting within the borders of the new Turkish regional role?

More questions than answers, however those who specialise in Turkish affairs and who have observed the situation in the country in the past are able to answer such questions, and it would be far better if we looked for these answers and examined them rather than mindlessly protesting.

The problem is that such vicious campaigns that accuse anybody who tries to think carefully in the heat of battle of treason is something that is recurrent in our Arab media, from the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war, to the recent Gaza War, and now the Freedom Flotilla. Prior to all of this, there were the numerous wars waged by Saddam Hussein, and before that anybody who dared to criticize [Egyptian President] Gamal Abdel Nasser prior to the 1967 [Six Day war] defeat was branded as a traitorous devil. This same response and frenzy is something that has always remained the same, and this causes one to wonder; does the Arab mentality suffer from a collective and deep-seated neurosis, even amongst those who seem to be calm and wise?

Ironically, some Arab intellectuals who are known for their revolutionary dispositions like Kuwaiti Islamist and political sciences professor Dr. Abdullah al Nafaisi takes up positions that are not shared by the mainstream. Dr. al Nafaisi recently gave a lecture at a forum organized by the Kuwaiti Bureau of National Unity in which he said, “The most dangerous thing about politics is that it is dealt with emotionally, as can be seen with the emotion and publicity towards Turkey and Erdogan.” This is something that can also be seen in a position taken by the spiritual father of the Nursi movement in Turkey, Fetullah Gulen, who criticized the way that the Turkish government handled the Gaza-bound Freedom Flotilla, arguing that the Freedom Flotilla should have worked to obtain Israeli consent before travelling to Gaza rather than challenging Israel.

It is hard to accuse al Nafaisi or Gulen of giving in to the West or committing treason, despite their views that go against the mainstream. We do not know how those who love to accuse others of treason would react to the statements made by al Nafaisi or Gulen, unless of course they already set their sights on a particular target.

In any case, what has been said in this article is not debate or analysis on the latest Turkish positions, but rather this is a quick analysis of the position taken up by some Arab figures that have grown annoyed and exasperated at our attempts to understand and analyze Turkey’s recent behavior

I fear that the day will come when the profession of thinking will become a crime, as this is something that disturbs the noisy mainstream.

Mshari Al-Zaydi

Mshari Al-Zaydi

Mshari Al-Zaydi is a Saudi journalist and expert on Islamic movements and Islamic fundamentalism, as well as on Saudi affairs. He is Asharq Al-Awsat’s opinion page editor. Mr. Zaydi has worked for the local Saudi press, and has been a guest on numerous news and current affairs programs as an expert on Islamic extremism.

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