When Recep Tayyip Erdogan became prime minister of Turkey, it was anything but clear that he would last more than a few months. The military, the constitutional guardian of Atatürk’s secular order, had killed the Islamist administration of Erdogan’s mentor, Necmettin Erbakan, only a few years earlier. At the time, Erdogan was jailed for several months as a seditionist. Though he was nonetheless permitted to assume the prime minister’s office in 2003 after leading his Islamist party to victory, the man who famously proclaimed “I am a servant of sharia” still aroused great suspicion.
To survive and thrive, Erdogan would have to find ways to erode and nullify his Kemalist opponents. Thanks to Europe, he had cards to play.
It had long been a Kemalist dream to integrate Turkey fully into the West. The leaders of the secular order it was Erdogan’s goal to supplant craved acceptance into the European Union. Ingeniously, Erdogan grasped the brute truth: Turkey would never in a million years be admitted into the EU; Europe’s leaders would never tolerate it.
Of course, to say this aloud would be so déclassé, so downright Islamophobic, that the French and Germans would rather be caught sipping California wine. So rather than be forthright, they have constructed for Turkey an open-ended European-integration “process” — and is there anything transnational progressives love more than a “process”? This one is a limitless series of hoops for the Turks to jump through, at the end of which rainbow Ankara will be admitted to the club . . . probably right around the time hell freezes over or the euro becomes the world’s reserve currency.
Like all Islamists, Erdogan has contempt for Europe and the West. The objective of Muslim supremacists is to dominate and Islamize them, not emulate them. Yet the prime minister is artfully resourceful enough to exploit to his advantage the Kemalist dream of European integration and Europe’s responsive gamesmanship. For among the steps Turkey must theoretically climb on the ladder to Euro-worthiness are religious liberty, the separation of religion and the state, and civilian control of the military. As Erdogan saw, the EU-integration process was the surest way to cow the generals into accepting elected Islamists and to break secularist constraints on Islamic supremacism.
In their obsession over not being seen as Islamophobic, in their purblind insistence that aggressive supremacism is not the nature of mainstream Islam, European elites assume that they know Islam better than did such Muslim giants as Atatürk and his contemporary, Hassan al-Banna — the Muslim Brotherhood founder who notoriously wrote that “it is the nature of Islam to dominate, not to be dominated” and that Islam sought “to impose its law on all nations and to extend its power to the entire planet.”
It is an unremitting fact that mainstream Middle Eastern Islam is totalitarianism packaged as “religion.” To be sure, critics of Islam can go too far with this point. It is wrong to say, as some do, that Islam is not a religion. The doctrine has a number of spiritual principles — the oneness of Allah, to take a prominent example. There are, moreover, interpretations of Islam that focus only on its spiritual and mystical elements. If such interpretations were dominant, Islam would be of no more moment to us than it would if it were true, as the fiction holds, that Islam is a “religion of peace” that has been “hijacked” by “radicals.”
But the fact is that Islamic supremacism is the preponderant Islam of the Middle East. Yes, it is a religion, but it aspires to be so much more: to control every aspect of life, to impose sharia’s political, social, and economic strictures on civil society. Therefore, the guidelines for religions that pose no threat to free societies cannot be applied to Middle Eastern Islam without putting liberty in grave jeopardy.