- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 26, 2005

The anti-American fervor in Turkey has been of interest in the U.S. media recently. American officials and pundits express concern about the widespread resentment of America evident in the Turkish media and popular opinion as well as even some Turkish bureaucrats and politicians.

While they recognize a global controversy exists about the war in Iraq and that anti-Americanism among Turks is not unique, they also identify an odd fact especially pertinent to Turkey: the widespread acceptance of bizarre conspiracy theories about the United States.

However, these conspiracy theories should be viewed in context. Americans should resist taking them personally. This phenomenon is just an example of how the common Turkish mind works. A great many of our people believe conspirators rule the world. Mapping out their plots is a national pastime.

This is evident in Turkey’s internal debates. Some Islamists, for example, are quite convinced the country is ruled by a cabal of Freemasons and crypto-Jews. Turkish nationalists, on the other hand, believe there is a Western agenda to break Turkey into pieces and that Kurds and libertarian intellectuals are paid agents of this evil scheme. The Marxists believe the drive to join the European Union is the most recent plot of the international, evil bourgeoisie to enslave the Turkish proletariat.

Such bilge has parallels in many other countries, but Turkey has also some indigenous ones. The ultrasecularists, who are also known as Kemalists (because of the cult of personality they created around Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, Turkey’s founding father), believe devout Muslims in Turkey are secretly heading for an Islamic Revolution. Sociologists have repeatedly demonstrated this is pure paranoia, but the “Muslims are coming” hype never calms down. Kemalists are so preoccupied by it they see any Muslim foot in the public square as the first step to theocracy. That’s why they do not allow any woman with a headscarf to walk — yes, literally — on official grounds. Policemen guard the gates of the universities to shield them from these “tightheads,” as they are abhorrently called. Turkey’s dreary president, Ahmet Necdet Sezer, a doyen of Kemalists, doesn’t invite parliamentarians whose wives wear headscarves to his official cocktail receptions in Cankaya, his residential office.

And here is the most astounding part of the conspiracy theory believed by Kemalists: They are convinced an Islamic regime in Turkey is being cooked up by an alien power. Any bets on who that is? Why, the United States, of course.

Bizarre as these suspicions might sound, they have some understandable roots. First, as historian Daniel Pipes well analyzed in his book “The Hidden Hand,” a belief in conspiracy theories is widespread in the Middle East. And second, Turkey is haunted by the memory of a real conspiracy it faced at the end of World War I. The Great Powers of Europe sliced the country into pieces at the infamous treaty of Sevres — which was never carried out, thanks to the Turkish War of Independence.

Today, very few Westerners remember Sevres, but it is one of the first things a Turkish youth learns in school. And he swears “never Sevres.”

American policymakers should be mindful of these facts, and, moreover, beware of buying into countertheories of conspiracy, such as Turkey becoming an ally of the Ba’athist/Zarqawist radical Sunni axis. A parallel mistake would be to think Turkey is becoming more anti-American because of the rising power of Islam. That is untrue: Simply, Turkish Islam is not monolithic.

While some of the Islamic media — such as Yeni Safak or Milli Gazete — have an overt anti-American tone typical of radical Islamism, Zaman, no less Islamic and more popular than the other two, is quite balanced and, by current Turkish standards, even pro-American. The incumbent conservative AK Party has various factions, and anti-American sentiments of some members do not represent the whole party’s view.

Actually, the AKP government took revolutionary steps in line with U.S. policy on many issues, such as the European Union, Cyprus and Afghanistan. On Iraq, they have been confused by the worldwide propaganda about the alleged evil plans of the “neo-cons,” but we should remember this propaganda is fostered by the U.S. liberal media as much as anyone else.

The mainstream media in Turkey also are not monolithic. In that mainstream world, it is the Kemalists and leftists who pump the anti-American hype. Most are typical Bush-haters: They hate him for being a “fundamentalist,” i.e., someone who believes God exists and has given us infallible moral truths.

In the broader analysis, Turkey’s anti-American trend is not only about radical Islam. It is more than that: about the reaction of the ultranationalist and ultrasecularist Old Turkey to the new facts being created in the Middle East, including liberation of Iraqi Kurds, suppressed by Saddam and the rise of a democratic model both compatible with and respectful of Islam.

The better news is that Old Turkey is challenged by a new generation of open-minded Turks who are fed up with the Islamophobia, Kurdophobia and Sevrophobia of the traditional elite. America should encourage the rise of this New Turkey. After all, if the authoritarian Middle East can be democratized, why should already nearly democratic Turkey lag behind?

MUSTAFA AKYOL

Mustafa Akyol is an Istanbul writer and columnist. He is author of the forthcoming “The Opium of the White Turks,” a critique of the Turkish elite.

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