Saturday, January 31, 2009

Why Erdogan's Outburst Is No Accident

Outside of arguing to reduce our energy dependence, I normally stay away from Middle Eastern issues on this blog. I'll make an exception in the case of the Davos outburst. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan walked out of the Davos conference over a verbal confrontation with Israel's president.

It's no accident that Turkey is the only majority-Muslim country in NATO, the only majority-Muslim country with a chance in hell of joining the EU, and the wealthiest of the Muslim countries that didn't happen to pitch tents on oil deposits a century ago. Why? Because of a reality that not enough Westerners appreciate - Turkey's rigid separation of church and state. By throwing Islam out of government, they created the possibility for a real capitalist economy that could flourish in the absence of theocratic interference, and simultaneously created a real civil society. Consequently, in modern Turkey, women get college degrees and do research and become professionals and contribute to moving civilization forward, instead of hiding at home and wearing a veil. The same cannot be said of Iran or Saudi Arabia.

You'd think Turks would be upset if this beneficial order were threatened, and you'd be right; it's not accident that when an unabashed Islamist was set to become Prime Minister, a million patriotic Turks turned out to demonstrate in support of Turkey's secular democracy.

If only Americans could turn out in these numbers to defend our own Constitution!

It's no accident that the Islamist they were protesting is the one that just walked out of Davos, who is behaving conspicuously differently toward Israel than his predecessors. It's also no accident that Mahmoud Ahmedinejad thinks Erdogan is just super.

Every country has to eke out its own position, but as a Forbes editorial emphasizes, this swing toward solidarity based on religion instead of rational self-interest is troubling. Through the Cold War and the War on Terror has consistently been one of the most important members of NATO and allies of the West, as well as a real success story for secular democracy, and we're seeing the beginning of a regression.

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