It's not just women in the Islamic East who may be veiled. It can happen to whole countries. See what's happening in Turkey, the West's old ally and new adversary. The danger to freedom there becomes ever more clear and present every day. But the tragedy of it can scarcely be apprehended without an appreciation of the dark past out of which this current Turkey arose, and to which it is about to return.
The new, modern, secular Turkey emerged from the shadows of the crumbling old Ottoman Empire when the sultan found himself on the losing side of the Great War. Then a young, much decorated army officer who would be given the name Ataturk, Father of the Turks, set out to bring his country into the light.
Seldom has any one man since
The changes Ataturk decreed were as comprehensive as they were revolutionary. There's a reason we still call ambitious reformers
Ataturk proclaimed a republic in 1923 and established a constitutional government with all the modern fixtures, principally the separation of powers. Montesquieu and the writers of the Federalist Paper would have been proud of the result. Legislative and executive branches took form under Ataturk's tutelage, along with an independent judiciary. The rule of law would be given a chance to supplant the old authoritarianism.
One of the first changes
The old religious schools (madrassas) were secularized, and a system of public schools were established as an alternative. Ataturk himself adopted Western dress, replacing the fez with Western headgear and discouraging the veil and turban. The Turkish republic, he insisted, could not be a country of sheikhs and dervishes but must become part of the secular West, of modernity.
This was perhaps the most important part of Ataturk's legacy: Foreseeing the violent reaction to his radical changes, he charged the military with preserving his new order in the face of what he knew would be fierce, fanatical and recurrent opposition.
From time to time after he was gone, the generals would fulfill that responsibility, seizing control whenever a government threatened to undo Ataturk's republican reforms and pull Turkey back into its long sleep. As the years passed, Turkey became increasingly Western in outlook, more European than Asian, a strong American ally, a member of the North Atlantic alliance, and a bulwark against Soviet expansionism.
But what a fanatical opposition could not achieve by an outright challenge to Ataturk's new Turkey, a stealth Islamist has now done step by step, all the while denying that he was undermining Ataturk's old dream and the country's secular constitution.
When the country's new prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, presented himself as a clean-government type, his Islamist rhetoric was dismissed by the usual sophisticates as just that -- only rhetoric. The way they once thought Nazi slogans were only slogans, or communist ideology only a cover for conventional realpolitik. They've always underestimated the power of ideas, our "realists," not understanding that an idea may be the most real thing in the world when it comes to shaping reality.
By now, thanks to Saudi money and Western gullibility,
If there was any one moment when
Now a court has indicted 196 more defendants, including four retired military commanders. The charge: plotting to overthrow his regime. More than 400 other leaders of secularist bent are already on trial, the evidence as ridiculous as the regime's wiretaps are comprehensive. The handwriting is on the wall for Ataturk's old dream of a modern, secular Turkey. It is turning into a place where anyone who takes an interest in politics knows he is being watched -- and listened to.
Yet there are still those who can't see that Turkey has changed from ally to adversary. Any more than they can grasp that
As for the president's
Those who can see no real danger to freedom in this new Turkish regime are the diplomatic descendants of
Ataturk's dream is dying, and with it, freedom as another nation falls under the spell of a resurgent Islamism. Ignoring the shift, or trying to pretend it isn't important, won't help the West cope with it. To fend off danger, one must first recognize it. And at this point, the Obama administration can't even bring itself to say Islamism out loud. Not for the first time, the defense of the West, and all it stands for, begins by calling things by their right names.
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(C) 2010 Paul Greenberg