Turkey: a democratic superpower in the Middle East
Turkey's vote for constitutional reforms last week helped solidify its position as the new superpower of the Middle East and the shining model of what a modern, Muslim-majority democracy can achieve if given the opportunity.
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And yet the AKP continues to face the same tired rhetoric from Turkey’s main opposition parties that it is undermining the “secular foundations” of the state by, for example, allowing girls to go to school while wearing a simple scarf over their hair.Skip to next paragraph
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One hears similar criticisms in the United States, where there has been a lot of hand-wringing lately over Turkey’s increasingly assertive foreign policy, its deepening ties with Iran, Syria, and Iraq, and its overt criticism of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians. Some have even suggested that Turkey, the only Muslim member of NATO, is turning away from its strategic alliance with the West and instead building an “Islamic axis” against America’s interests in the region.
This is nonsense. It is not Islam that drives the AKP’s foreign or domestic policy but rather its economic and national security interests. If Turkey has been focusing its diplomatic efforts on the Middle East, Central Asia, and the Persian Gulf, it is because that is where its economic growth is coming from, not from Europe or the United States.
Further, Turkey’s more-robust foreign policy and its attempts to insert itself as a mediator in the region’s conflicts are the result of its revived sense of national confidence. Turkey is no longer willing to be subordinate to the US but insists on being treated as an ally and equal, with its own proposals and policies for dealing with the region’s problems.
A crucial US ally
That is a good thing, because Turkey’s interests in the region – whether regarding a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, or building stability in Iraq and Afghanistan, or keeping Iran from developing nuclear weapons – align with those of the US. In fact, it is no exaggeration to say that Turkey is now America’s most important strategic ally in the Middle East.
More significantly, Turkey has provided the peoples of the Middle East with a more authentic example of Islamic governance than one finds in the secular dictatorships of Egypt, Jordan, and Syria, or the religious authoritarianism of Iran and Saudi Arabia. The AKP has proved that there need not be any contradictions between Islam and democracy, that a party committed to Islamic values can be equally committed to human rights, constitutionalism, pluralism, and the rule of law. And with the passage of the constitutional reforms, Turkey took another step toward solidifying its position as the new superpower of the Middle East: the shining model of what a modern, Muslim-majority democracy can achieve if given the opportunity.
Reza Aslan is the author of “No god but God: The Origins, Evolution and Future of Islam."
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