Today's Opinions, Tomorrow's Reality 

Yes to Islam, No to Fascism

By David G. Young

Istanbul, April 29, 2007 --  

Turkey should be rejected as an EU candidate, not because it is Muslim, but because it is Europe's last unrepentant fascist state.

The dour grimace of Ataturk stares down at you from the giant picture over the main post office here, making Turkey look rather like any other third world country that hasn't yet made the transition to full democracy. But unlike the images of the strongmen of Morocco, Egypt, Namibia, or any other authoritarian state, Turkey's Ataturk obsession goes far beyond the walls of the government office building or the town square. In Turkey, Ataturk is everywhere. He stares down from giant banners hanging from castles over town. His photo is always looking menacingly right at the viewer with a Big Brother-ish stare. The quantity and omnipresence of the statues and pictures would be enough to make even North Korea's Kim Il Sung blush.

Even Ataturk's name has an overlordish quality. Born Mustafa Kemal, the nationalist leader's cult of personality was so strong that he changed his name to Ataturk, meaning father of the Turks. Some of the biggest monsters of the 20th century followed his lead. Pol Pot called himself "Brother Number One" when he led his regime of mass murder in Cambodia, and the post-Soviet Dictator of Turkmenistan, Saparmurat Niyazov, renamed himself the great "Turkmenbashi" or leader of all Turkmen.

While Ataturk was not personally responsible for the genocidal slaughter of millions of Armenians that took place while he was a general in the Ottoman army, his government engaged in the genocide's cover-up and executed extremely repressive anti-minority policies. His government negotiated a treaty with Greece to expel over a million Orthodox Christians from Turkish territory. And his government began the policy of denying the very existence of the millions of Kurds in eastern Turkey. Even today, the official policy is that there are no Kurds -- they're called "Mountain Turks" who have forgotten their true identity.

The omnipresence of Ataturk's images might seem ironic in today's Turkey, where the government has taken a turn away from his policies. While Ataturk banned the veil in public life and purged the Turkish language of its Arabic words and script, today's popularly elected Turkish government is inclined toward a greater role for Islam in Turkey's life. The ruling AK party controls both the parliament and the presidency of Turkey, and promises to reverse many of Ataturk's secularist reforms, of which the public ban on the veil is most widely discussed.

But the popularity of mildly Islamist policies has done nothing to diminish either the AK Party's or most Turks' slavish love of Ataturk. Both the AK Party and most Turks retain Ataturk's fervent nationalism and desire for Westernization. The AK Party is extremely eager to join the European Union, while at the same time continuing its predecessors' hard-line approach toward Turkey's minority populations.

When discussing its candidacy for membership in the EU, it's usually the AK's mildly Islamist policies that are discussed as an obstacle. Turkey's military, traditionally a protector of its secular orientation, has been so worried about Islamism that it has threatened a military coup rather than leave the government alone.

This coup threat highlights the fact that the real problem in Turkey has nothing to do with a mildly Islamist government, and everything to do with the country's ultra-nationalistic and militarist behavior. Where else in the European Union does a government cover up a genocide, deny the existence of its minorities, throw dissidents in jail for "insulting Turkishness", and face the threat of a military coup when elected officials stray too far from the status quo?

Turkey has absolutely no business being in the European Union, not because it is a Muslim country, but because it is, quite simply, Europe's last unreformed and unrepentant fascist state. The mild Islamism of the AK government is nothing but a sideshow. The real problem of the government is not its departure from the ways of Ataturk -- the problem is the government's continuation of Ataturk's fascist behavior.

Until Turkey gives its minorities full civil rights and learns to openly discuss its genocidal and fascist past, the country has no business even being considered in the EU. Diplomats who disagree should ponder the question under the watchful eye of an Ataturk poster, or at the ruins of an ethnically cleansed Armenian village. Better yet, one could probably do both at the same time -- it's a rare location in Turkey where big brother Ataturk isn't watching you.