[Originally published in Hurriyet Daily News]
My friend Riyad Hammad, a Dubai-based Muslim businessman and an advocate of classical liberalism, sent me an e-mail the other day. His title was telltale: “In Turkey, we Trust.”
This was just one of the countless messages that keep coming from the Arab world with regards to Turkey. Some of these are even plainly visible, as the Turkish flag flies in the hands of thousands of non-Turks in the protests against Israeli policies across the world. The star-crescent, I bet, has never become this popular beyond its homeland.
And all this makes me proud as a Turk. I can even say that Atatürk’s famous phrase – “how happy is the one who says I am a Turk” – looks more meaningful to me now then ever before.
The right side of history
Before explaining why, perhaps I should note something that the regular readers of this column probably already know: I am hardly a Turkish nationalist. In fact, most of my ink is spent criticizing Turkish society, and especially the Turkish state, rather than praising them. The latter’s decades-long denial of the Kurds’ rights and the Armenians’ suffering, and the poor record of human rights in general, are things that give me embarrassment, not pride.
But there are times that Turkey gets things right, and stands in the right side of history. We are, I believe, in one of those moments.
Here is the reason: Turkey is taking the right stance vis-à-vis Israel, by standing by its right to exist, and to live in peace and security, but also boldly standing against her 43-year-long policies of occupation, theft of land, and crushing the Palestinians with a brutal militarism.
Although this balance does not look like rocket science, it is apparently not that easy to keep. America, the biggest player in the game, has been, at least perceivably, unabashedly and unfairly pro-Israel. Most Americans, including Joe Biden, still sound so today when they emphasize “Israel’s right to defend itself” at the expense of the Palestinians’, and the pro-Palestinian activist’s, right to live. (Add to that the right of Gaza’s children to notebooks, blank paper or chocolate, which are among the long list of goods that Israel’s bars from that giant ghetto.)
On the other side, there has always been an anti-Israeli front, which threatens to wipe the Jewish state off from the map. Nasser promised this, bringing only destruction to his county and the region. Nowadays Ahmedinejad promises the same thing, and feeds the radicalism of Hezbollah and Hamas, making life difficult for all of us. That camp only preaches anti-Semitism, hate, and a doomsday scenario. (And they have their mirror images in Israel who preach anti-Arabism, hate, and a rivaling doomsday scenario.)
“Moderate Arab regimes,” of course, are in the reasonable position of asking Israel to retreat to its pre-’67 borders, not get lost from the face of the earth. But they always lose face when Israel goes brutal and their weak reactions do not satisfy their people’s yearning for justice and defiance.
So, what is perhaps needed is a “moderate” stance which is bold, courageous and inspiring.
And now Turkey, under its prime minister, Tayyip Erdoğan, is filling this gap. Admittedly, Erdoğan’s rhetoric is often too harsh and sometimes outright wrong (such as his statement that Darfur is just fine because “Muslims do not commit genocide.”) But it works in its own way. So, the Turkish prime minister is now an “Arab hero,” who wins the hearths and minds of even the more radical Arabs. And this might really be an asset for convincing those more radical Arabs to a fair two-way solution.
If President Obama really has the wisdom and the spine that the world still expects from him, he should see and use the opportunity here.
The militarist way
I am sure that some people who advise Obama think quite differently. There are many devoted supporters of Israel in the United States, who are bashing Turkey these days for becoming dangerously “pro-Hamas.” (I bet some even hope for a “regime change” to bring the ultra-secular generals back to power.)
Well, I have news for this group, something that I learnt from the Turkish experience: Militarism, which they uphold, is not a solution to terrorism. It only feeds terrorism.
Our war with the PKK, a terrorist organization, is a good case study. For years, our militarists told us the reason why we have the PKK is simply the latter’s fanatic ideology and the “outside powers” which support it. All we have to do, they added, is to fight relentlessly. They even regarded the “PKK sympathizers” as enemies to be crushed.
But in fact the PKK was partly a product of our own making. It came out of the hatred that we created among the Kurds by oppressing them.
The same is true for Israel and Hamas: the latter exists not only because of its ideology and a supportive “outside power” (Iran), but also that Israel keeps on oppressing the Palestinian people.
So, unless Israel changes its policies — by ending the blockade, the occupation and settlements — it will not be able to find peace of mind.
And I am afraid the time that will make Israeli peaceniks proud of their country will never come.