Domestically, Turkey’s devout Muslim premier, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, wanted to further isolate and reorient his country’s military — which, for all its faults, has for decades defended the secular constitution that was Ataturk’s great legacy.
Michael Rubin notes the fact that Turkey’s army no longer can forestall “the destruction of Turkey’s secularism.” As Peters writes, we’re seeing “the greatest transformation in the Middle East in at least three decades. . . . On Monday, Turkey turned its back on the West. History changed.”
But it’s not some amorphous “secularism” that has passed away. The Turkish regime (“regime” in the broadest, poli-sci sense) is based on the ideology of Kemalism, a combination of secularism, racial chauvinism, and a cult of personality of Mustafa Kemal. It worked very well for a long time, but like the other ideologies that backward nations adopted in reaction to modernity and the challenge of the West, Kemalism has run its course and been exhausted. We’ve seen this with Communism in China and the Soviet Union (when I was a student there in mid-80s, I met only one person in two years who believed in Marxism, and he was a graduate student of Marxism), with emperor-worship in Japan (which went out with a bang rather than a whimper), with the PRI’s brand of bolshevism-lite in Mexico, Juche in North Korea, Ujamaa in Tanzania, and Velayat-e-faqih in Iran.
Kemalism has now joined this list of spent ideologies. In some of these cases, the demise of the reigning ideology was a good thing, but in Turkey the only alternative basis for the state is Islam. Eventually Islam will also exhaust itself as a blueprint for Turkey in the modern world, but there will be a lot of drama in the meantime.