Monday, August 18, 2008

More of the Same

Eurasia Daily Monitor's Emrullah Uslu's recent profile of Gen. İlker Başbuğ who is largely seen as a smarter version of Büyükanıt. Although Başbuğ has been more ready to talk about the economic reasons for Kurdish terrorism, he is just as recalcitrant as Büyükanıt when it comes to granting cultural rights--something AKP has also proved reluctant to do. As Uslu's analysis notes, Başbuğ is also just as equally committed to status quo understandings of the Turkish 'nation-state,' solidly inculcated with the familiar rigidity of Kemalist ideology. Of particular interest, however, is Başbuğ's concern with 'Islamic reactionism.' I have heard about this from a few other sources, but his fixation with an Islamic backlash against the nation-state is certainly relevant to how he will govern and contradicts analysis by many experts of Turkish politics who write of political Islamists inside Turkey as devout nationalists (see Berna Turam's analysis of Gülen in Between Islam and the State and Yıldız Atasöy's even more developed conversation of the topic in Turkey, Islamists, and Democracy: Transition and Globalization in a Muslim State). From Uslu:
Basbug is now in a firm position to maintain the durability of the nation-state. He thinks that “without maintaining the structure of nation-state, it is not possible to maintain the unity of the state ( August 25, 2006). Like his predecessors, Basbug also believes that the Turkish nation-state has two challenges. The first is the Kurdish question. On this issue, Basbug, like the rest of the security establishment, is deeply committed to eradicating the PKK through any means possible, including harsh military repression (Sabah, October 5, 2007). Unlike many of his colleagues, however, he is realistic enough to acknowledge the social and economic aspects of the problem and engage in criticism toward former policies that “failed to prevent people from joining the PKK” (Sabah, October 5, 2007). Basbug is, however, by no means sympathetic to the idea of providing political rights to the Kurds (Milliyet, October 28, 2006).

Basbug’s thinks that the second challenge to the foundations of the nation-state is Islamic reactionarism, irtica. In an opening address at a ceremony of the Turkish Military Academy in 2006, Basbug made the irtica debate public, stating that there was a threat of irtica against the state. Since then, Basbug has been the foremost advocate of this view.

With regard to irtica, domestic developments are against Basbug’s position. An overwhelming majority of Turks are sympathetic toward moderate Islamic government and social networks and do not consider the networks a threat to the state. In that area, Basbug has no public support. Basbug, who has a Western orientation, recently found himself in a political environment led by neo-nationalist movements unsympathetic to the West. Under the influence of these movements, Basbug went so far as to suggest that Turkey needed a “local bourgeoisie” that subscribed to protecting and maintaining the Turkish revolution (Milliyet, December 1, 2006)

Political circumstances and international developments are not on Basbug’s side. If he insists on an isolationist political perspective and tries to use his power to replace the new middle class political figures with neo-nationalist politicians, he is likely to face political confrontation at best or political chaos at worst.
Click here for the whole analysis.

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