The new year has started horribly for Turkey. If the year that just went by featured regular terror attacks, often killing innocent civilians, the bloody start to the new year with the deaths at the Reina club attack was shocking even to people used to bad news coming regularly from Istanbul.
No doubt there will be a lot of op-eds condemning the incident, offering sympathy to the dead and the usual “nothing to do with Islam” protestations which remind us of the old Tamil adage “Father is not hiding in the barn”. Sensible comments and prescriptions, such as this, have been rare.
What exactly is ailing Turkey?
Briefly, Turkey is Pakistan-ising itself. And the chief architect of that is President Recip Tayyip Erdogan – the Turkish Zia ul Haq. The resemblances are indeed startling. This is sort of ironic because Pakistan wanted to model itself on Attaturk’s Turkey. Now it is leading by example.
1. Just as Pakistan sought “strategic depth” in Afghanistan and considered it its province, Turkey under Erdogan sought regime change in Syria. Not only that, exactly as Pakistan did, it acted as a transit lounge cum supply base for jihadi fanatics fighting secular Assad regime. Practically every ISIS-wannabe even from far off places like Malaysia and Indonesia, flew to Turkey to join the jihadists. No doubt many stayed back, looked around and found a lot of un-Islamic things in Turkey itself that need ‘correction’. As if that were not enough, his sudden and selective U-turn, triggered more by self preservation instincts than change of ideology, has incensed the very snakes he has been rearing in his backyard, to quote Hillary Clinton’s remark on Pakistan. This again parallels the Pakistan situation almost 100%. And like Pakistanis, he too loves to pass the blame to the Americans whenever it suits him and have a love-hate relationship with the ‘great satan’. Both are not clever enough to realise that the Americans are not idiots and they play the poisonous game in someone else’s backyard, not their own.
2. Pakistan’s dream reviving the golden era of Babur, Lodi, Mughal rule in the sub-continent, expressed with the colourful “green flag in Red Fort” phrase was the exact sort of dream that Erdogan too had. For him it was reviving the Ottoman era when Turkish Sultans controlled vast territory and were ‘amir-ul-momineen’ or Caliphs. This crazy obsession drove thought and policy. Seeing the neighbourhood as a one of ex-possessions that need fresh direction and inspiration from Istanbul no doubt added to the hubris.
3. Erdogan’s cynical use of the shadowy Gulen gang to brutally purge the old secular establishment too is almost identical to the Pakistani use of jihadi groups to deal with secular internal opposition. His even more brutal U-turn against the Gulenists too is simply a case of turf war and mafia style power struggle rather than genuine change of heart against use of religious fanaticism for political gains.
4. The gradual poisoning of secular, liberal Turkish ethos, created after years of effort by Attaturk too has parallels with Pakistan. This meant not just “freedom” to wear burqas, restrictions on alcohol, prayers in the Hagia Sophia and other symbolic moves but also a gradual Islamisation of everything and anything – academia, judiciary, military and so on. Over time, this creates a self-sustaining, growing conservative base which sees each such move as vindication and demanded even more. This set the stage for competitive conservatism with each Talibanic step followed by even more conservative ones – in other words a slippery slope with Saudi Arabia style society as the destination. Again this is exactly the path Pakistan followed in the Zia years and later.
5. Just as Pakistan did, Turkey under Erdogan defined itself as a pure Wahabi Sunni state which effectively de-legitimised all other faiths, beliefs and sects. This meant imposition of one official version of Islam on others who were either agnostic or practiced other synthetic faiths like Alevism. This was done through the school system and through regular haranguing by ruling politicians as well as mullahs. In fact this search for Islamic purity has recently matured to a point where Christmas and New Year were seen as evil habits of kuffars.
Naturally the Reina attacker too thought the same, although not everyone arguing against Santa wanted the revelers killed, violent imagery of Santa getting punched notwithstanding. Turkey’s Chief Mullah issued a routine boiler plate condemnation that’s all too familiar now, but he was the one that ranted against New Year celebrations in a sermon read out at all mosques just a day before the attack!
6. The gradual decimation of the army too followed identical templates, though the situations were not identical. The Pakistani Army, once seen as secular and professional was gradually turned into one of bearded as well as beard less jihadi fanatics. Turkish army, fiercely secular, resisted but that resistance crumbled under Erdogan, with the result that both countries cannot trust their armies any more! The recent purge of tens of thousands of Gulenists from the armed forces, on top of the Gulenist inspired purged of equally large number of secularists have altered the face of army, possibly forever. While this may have made the country immune to coups it is certainly a lot more vulnerable to ISIS-lite leadership.
Where does the solution lie?
At least in the case of Turkey, the answer is easy enough. Turn the clock back (or forward, as Erdogan has neatly managed to move it back a few centuries) and go to Attaturk’s Turkey. Not that this solution is unknown to Turks. Many brave Turks are trying to do exactly that and ironically, are getting arrested by a regime that sees them more as a threat than the ISIS!
In the case of Pakistan the delusions run far too deep within the society which never had the strong secular base to start with in the first place. Nor did it have a leader of calibre of Attaturk. More importantly, in case of Turkey, it is one strongman – Erdogan who is pushing it towards 7th century Arab ideal, in the case of Pakistan the rot runs much deeper.