Resurgence of Nationalism and Islam Threaten to Turn Turkey Away From West

Resurgence of Nationalism and Islam Threaten to Turn Turkey Away From West

ANKARA, Turkey -- Adolf Hitler's "Mein Kampf" and several conspiracy-themed books depicting Turkey as under attack by American and European influences sell briskly in local bookstores. Turkey's $10 million movie "Valley of Wolves," the most expensive to date, vilifying Christians and Jews pulls in record crowds. A 28-year-old lawyer shoots a secularist judge to death inside Turkey's High Court. The Islamic and far-right press is filled with stories of missionaries within Turkish borders converting "defenseless" Muslims to "infidels."

Masked by Turkey's 80-year Kemalist embrace of secularism, these recent trends reflect a hard fact: Beneath the surface of the West's most crucial ally in the Muslim world, a dismaying anti-Western blend of political Islam and nationalism is blossoming. A series of recent patriotic shows of force -- including angry mobs protesting the arrival of Pope Benedict or deriding Elif Shafak for "insulting Turkishness" in a growing chorus for restriction of freedom of speech -- have revealed an increasing backlash in Turkey towards Western values. Even as Turkey aspires to join the European Union, the current administration led by the pro-Islamic Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has made several attempts to roll back Turkey's brand of draconian secularism: criminalization of adultery, passage of punitive taxes on the wine industry, and decriminalization of Hezbollah-backed Quran courses were but a few items on the administration's agenda as recently as 2005.

So how did this Mediterranean nation often promoted by Western politicians and media as a "model Islamic nation" develop such a taste for pro-Islamic nationalist sentiments? In a recent Pew poll asking why Islam's role is gaining strength in Turkey, the largest reason cited was "growing immorality in our society." "The current mood is a reaction to an anxiety felt by some people that some of the values that are important to us are being sold out by the EU drive," Suat Kiniklioglu, head of German Marshall Program in Ankara, commented in The Christian Science Monitor in 2005. Last year, "the country's hopes and forward-looking vision were behind the EU drive. Now people are becoming confused. There is fatigue, and nationalism becomes an escape route," he lamented.

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