30 March 2013

Neo-Ottomanism


An Old Paradigm Reborn

If the Euro currency fails and the European Union itself collapses, more than ever we will be returning to an older paradigm and one in which a unified Germany is placed in an awkward and undesirable situation.[i]

But perhaps even more interesting than Germany is the position of Turkey. When the Ottoman Empire collapsed and its lands were devoured by the Anglo-French alliance, even the Turkish lands of Anatolia were under threat. The British and French were more than ready to carve up Asia Minor into ‘protectorates’.

Sadly it was a fervent Nationalism that saved the Turks. The Young Turks had slaughtered the Armenians and Assyrians and under the leadership of Mustapha Kemal the Kurds and others were subjugated.[ii]

It’s hard for Americans to appreciate because our collective memory is so short but in Asia Minor the Turks are the ‘new kids’ on the block. They only arrived in the 8th century or so. The Armenians, Assyrians, Kurds, and certainly the Greeks were there far longer. When ‘Ataturk’ or Father Turk as Mustapha Kemal became known, formed the modern state of Turkey in the 1920’s, he had to suppress the historical claims of these peoples. Even a tacit acknowledgement of their ‘claims’ could lead to legal action and reparations, which could include a loss of territory.

The Greeks were expelled after their disastrous expedition (aka The Asia Minor Catastrophe of 1922) and the Armenians and Assyrians were so reduced as to become silent. The remnants of Armenia ended up settled in the Transcaucasian Republic which became part of the Soviet Union. The Kurds alone continued on, subjugated and persecuted until their rise in the 1980’s under the Kurdistan Worker's Party or PKK.

Ataturk was determined to set Turkey on a secular path. He tried to outlaw old Islamic customs, The Turkish language took a Western tilt by adopting the Roman alphabet and the legacy of Ataturk is that of a strongly Nationalistic, Militarist secular state.

This was perfect for NATO during the Cold War. After World War II Turkey was orienting toward Europe and did not wish to fall into the Islamic realm, or under the shadow of the Soviet Union which was just another manifestation of their old enemy… Russia. The United States wanted a location for air bases, the positioning of nuclear weapons on the Soviet border and perhaps most importantly, a listening posts and a base for espionage.

Remember historically Russia has always struggled with ice free access to the sea. And while they established many good naval ports on the north shore of the Black Sea, there was a major disadvantage to this location. Every ship, every submarine had to pass through the Bosphorus and NATO had listening posts and spies everywhere recording every activity. While Berlin was certainly the ‘hot spot’ for espionage and intrigue, Istanbul would certainly have ranked high on the list.

Turkey was long on the road to full integration with Europe. Germany started the guest-worker (Gastarbeiter) programme back in the 1960’s and as the Cold War ended and the European Union was forming, Turkey seemed as if it would make the final leap into the lap of the West.

But for various reasons this has failed. European leaders resisted bringing the Turks into Europe due to cultural and strategic concerns. Some were nervous about Islam, others about the fact that politically Europe’s borders would now extend to the porous zone adjacent to Syria, Iraq, and Iran. Turkey just doesn’t seem to fit into any of the paradigms and the country seems to belong to neither East nor West and yet both at the same time. As many have said this uneasy status is both its strength and its weakness, its charm and its curse.

It’s a land where you can find deeply traditional Islam and accompanying lifestyles out in the rural areas and drive a few hours and be at a discotheque or on a nude beach. It’s a country of fascinating dynamics and contrasts.

The United States forged a very close relationship with the Turkish military and has not been shy about working with it in order to intervene in the nation’s affairs, including more than one coup d’├ętat.

But in Turkey itself there have been many complex forces at work that have worked to change the nature of their society. This combined with the end of the Cold War has created a new and very interesting formula. The improving economy, rejection by the West, and for some a questioning of the Ataturk legacy have given rise to a new conservative, mildly religious, and yet Nationalistic middle class. They have a new set of values that envisions and embraces Turkey’s role as a mediator between East and West and yet as a natural and more desirable leader in the Middle East.

Iran is ruled by fanatics and until the Ayatollah’s have been strung up, Iran cannot fulfill its natural leadership role. The Arabs are viewed as corrupt and decadent, and in many cases as fanatical. The Turks are Turkish first and Muslim second and for many of them they are beginning to look back to the historic role played by the Ottoman Empire…the heir to Byzantium.

The Ottomans sat in a powerful strategic and economic position, astride two worlds and for centuries the Ottomans were key players in the affairs of the world. If Turkey is not to be part of the European Union and if NATO fades into irrelevance, what will the role of Turkey be?

The AKP party[iii] much to the chagrin of Washington has proven both savvy and popular. Newt Gingrich and others have tried to label them as Islamic extremists but this inaccurate. The analogy I often point to is the difference between James Dobson and the intellectual father of Theonomy Rousas J. Rushdoony.

Dobson wants a Christian America. He wants the government to reflect Christian values and to favour the Christian religion. He wants Christianity in the public square and part of the official cult. He doesn’t want to annihilate other religions, but they need to take their place as second class citizens who will never be able to fully exercise their voice in the affairs of the American government or society.

Rushdoony represented the Theonomic thesis which sought to implement the laws of the Old Testament within American society. Rushdoony would hold to everything Dobson does but in much stronger terms. He wouldn’t have been content to allow Muslims and other religions to function within the land. Their buildings would be seized and destroyed. We’d have blasphemy laws, and Sabbath laws. Non-Christians wouldn’t possess basic civil rights and there would be religious tests for public officials etc... There would also be a massive increase in capital punishment and there would certainly be a purge within society as the many undesirable elements would need to be silenced.[iv] 

Though they violently deny it, many rightly see shades of Right-wing, fascist or totalitarian extremism in the Theonomic movement. It officially has disappeared and yet is still actively promoted, but in a more tame and quiet fashion and often behind a linguistic veil.

Rushdoony and the Theonomists are the Christian equivalent of the Jihadists and those who would impose a Wahhabi version of Sharia law. They are akin to the strict Sunni groups running Saudi Arabia and if they were militarized (give it some time) they would resemble a sort of Christian version of Al Qaeda.

Dobson, who also deserves to be resisted and condemned, does not represent this extreme. His theology is erroneous and probably as inconsistent as the Theonomists would keenly point out to him. I think were his ilk to gain control, things would go very badly but at least on paper he doesn’t represent the same type of extreme and revolutionary thought that you find with the Theonomic sect. His school might be called Theonomy-lite.

The AKP in Turkey under Erdogan is like Dobson and the generic Christian Right. They want to stand for traditional values. They don’t like secularism but they’re not into Wahhabism or violence nor do they seek to re-establish an Islamic Caliphate. They want a strong country with strong families and they want to be a leader bridging Europe and the Middle East. They want a strong economy and a future that is Turkish…not European, not Arab or Persian either.

While threatening to America’s regional hegemony, Turkey’s Neo-Ottomanism is a logical outworking of their circumstance and vitality. This quest to reconnect with the past has generated both enthusiasm and optimism for the Turks and they are beginning to do something that few countries have successfully done (and none as well as the United States)…export their culture.

This cultural Imperialism, a form of soft power is the least threatening and yet ultimately leaves probably the longer legacy. Neo-Ottomanism is not at this point militaristic. In fact in terms of the Turkish paradigm, this re-embrace of Islam and traditional values is a rejection of the military which in Turkish society has provided the caretaker role for the secular legacy of Ataturk.

The Turks are not looking for territorial expansion. They’re looking for influence and this emboldened new regime is making Washington very uncomfortable. The first clue seen by public eyes was Turkey’s rejection of Washington’s request to make use of the Turkish bases for the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Incirlik is a joint USAF/RAF (NATO) base located near the Syrian border and has been a hub of many American operations.

Secondly, the Israeli alliance has deteriorated as Turks along with virtually every people in the Middle East have grown both disgusted and outraged at the behaviour of the Tel Aviv regime.

What does Turkey have to lose? Do they fear rejection from the European Union? Practically speaking it has already happened and many in Turkey no longer see the need for the EU. Some would even see it as a hindrance to their progress.

The breakup of NATO? I don’t believe Turkey fears this though at this point they don’t necessarily want it either. It’s hard to say and I’m sure there are conflicting opinions within the Turkish power circles. 

Regardless the United States will cast Turkey’s non-compliance as somehow a threat or even more absurdly aggression. Every country that doesn’t lick the boots of the Empire is immediately an aggressive threat to international security.

Once again it must be remembered American hegemony and regional dominance is the historical anomaly. The conditions which brought this about have largely evaporated and so it’s no surprise if the old regional players are questioning the status quo.

Who then is the aggressor? Those who wish to once more take their natural place or the Imperial power which seeks to keep them in subjugation?

Turkey may hesitate to break all ties with Washington for a couple of reasons. First, even though the political regime is somewhat alienated from the military, the Turkish armed forces are heavily dependent on American support and armament. The presence of American bases on Turkish soil are also something of a deterrent to outside forces who would consider provoking Turkey, although it is also a point of humiliation for a country to have foreign troops based on its soil.

But speaking of reversion to historical roles, Turkey’s northern neighbour is also moving along these new-old (but quite familiar) lines reigniting an old rivalry and long simmering enmity.

The Turks and the Russians share no love for each other and this situation did not change even under the Cold War paradigm. If the United States begins to recede from the regional stage, then the old tensions between Moscow and Constantinople (Istanbul) may be rekindled.

In recent years much to the chagrin of Washington, Turkey has been establishing historic and unprecedented relations with Russia, their old arch-enemy. Yet, if history is any guide, this relationship at the very least must degenerate into rivalry and I don’t see it standing the test of time. Right now they want a stable Caucasus for gas and oil pipelines running between the Caspian and Black Seas. The relationship is not a friendship but one built on mutual interests… which are volatile and could quickly change.

Both states are in some sense successors to the Byzantine Empire and more importantly to the role it played as a bridge between East and West. Russia also played a historical role in the Balkans and particularly in the Slavic (and/or Orthodox) nations resisting Turkish rule throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries. Russia has long been a player in Central Asia and Pan-Turkism (led by Turkey) would like to see Turkey filling the post-Soviet void. These frictions are bound to generate more heat.

The United States and the secular Turkish regime have long been involved in some very nasty business in the realm stretching from the Caucasus to the Pamir Knot on the China/Afghanistan/Pakistan frontier. I don’t think the bitterness and intrigue will evaporate. And if you’re not already confused try this… Despite American aggravation with Turkey, a strong Turkey (even under Erdogan and the AKP) also keeps Russia somewhat in check.

It’s a sick game that treats life as cheap. Today’s friend is tomorrow’s enemy. A business deal or international crisis can quickly change the calculus and then change it again in the blink of an eye.

But when the dust settles, it’s not the new ideas that reign supreme, or “being on the ‘right’ side of history” or some kind of nonsense along those lines. It’s the old power game. It’s an old game that’s been played for centuries, and in some cases millennia. New ideas flowing out of Neo-Conservative or Progressive think tanks, or some UN workshop are just ivory-tower pipe dreams. If you want to understand the world as it is, and will be…read history. If you want to understand it as a Christian, then read it through the lens of the Bible.[v]

Business deals work in offices where men in suits shake hands but the real world doesn’t always reflect grand speeches and words on paper. The Versailles Treaty with its related agreements that were signed in the wake of WWI are but one example proclaiming this fact.

Russia also has a historic role as the Asiatic resistor and suppressor of Islam both in the Caucasus and in Central Asia. The tensions between Armenia and Azerbaijan could flare up at any time. Armenia’s historic backer has been Russia and the Azeri people are Turkic and have political and cultural ties with Turkey. Large numbers of Azeris live in Eastern Turkey.

But beyond the Caspian lies the greatest prize…Central Asia, which is another fault zone between Russian and Turkish interests.

As Brzezinski pointed out years ago, Central Asia and in particular Uzbekistan is really the pivot of all these energies.

It’s complicated but again I ask who is the aggressor? Are countries like Russia, China and Turkey aggressors as they settle back into established roles long ago determined by culture, religion and history, or is it in fact the lone hegemonic Superpower seeking to impose a unipolar world order?

At the end of the day as Christians it doesn’t matter all that much which country is ascendant or what party won the last election here or in Turkey. But, inject a healthy dose of Sacralist theology into the mix and suddenly that changes everything. Now we have ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’ and we seek to justify ‘our’ actions. Our flag-wrapped cross bearing soldiers even while committing murder are ‘heroes’ and theirs become ‘villains’.

It is not the calling of all Christians to agonize over understanding the nuances of history and modern geopolitics. But as I interact with Christian media and certainly with the ‘man in the pew’ I find people are being affected by views I would consider inaccurate, and both politically and theologically dangerous. It’s almost always pretty clear they don’t really know what they’re talking about and yet these ideas have been sold to them and they’re aiding their propagation.

So if I have an interest in these matters, and have any aptitude, I feel compelled to learn more, write and speak. If at the very least I’ve punched enough holes in the arguments Christians pick up from bad Christian and non-Christian radio shows and television to give them pause and furrow a brow in scepticism…then I’ve done something. For others these types of articles will provoke further investigation.

Am I worried that someone might start doing some serious research and disagree with me at points? Not in the least. Because if they’re learning anything they will discover how complicated and nuanced history really is…marvelously complex, profoundly simple, baffling and much better than fiction. Fiction has to make sense. I’m pretty comfortable with the statements I make. Sure there are alternative readings of history but the deeper you dig, the more you will be disgusted with the FOX/CBN style hack jobs even if you partially or ideologically agree with them. I obviously do not.

 

 





[i] In many ways German unification in the 1870’s is what broke the ‘balance of power’ in Europe. To simply blame the Germans or the Kaiser is to miss the point and ignore or deny their interests as people. Nevertheless, the machinations of Bismarck set Europe on path of collision which reached its crisis-point in 1914. Bismarck was particularly devious, but if you strip away the victor’s veneer you’ll soon see other historical figures…Wilson, Lloyd-George, Churchill and Roosevelt in a similar light. They’re all the same type of creature.

 

A key plank of the Cold War paradigm was a broken Germany.  Mauriac said he loved Germany so much, he was glad there were two of them. The presence of ‘Germanies’ keeps a strategic buffer in central Europe. A unified state makes everyone from France to Belgium, Poland and Russia a bit nervous. And once again to evoke Bismarck, it’s not Pomeranian Grenadiers anymore, it’s banks, debt, credit ratings and sanctions. This also played a role in the events following 1914. The Turkish government was in massive debt to European bankers and knew full well the Anglo-French schemers were planning to carve up their domain. Russia was the ‘old’ enemy to the east and north and had long desired to possess Constantinople and the Bosphorus. Turkey’s natural ally was Germany.


 

[ii] The esteemed Newt Gingrich names him a ‘hero’.


 

[iii] The Justice and Development Party


 

[iv] This is just a sampling of Rushdoony’s views. If you want to know more about him and his thought, the “Institutes of Biblical Law’ is probably the best place to start. Obviously borrowing the title from Calvin’s Institutes, Rushdoony and his followers go much further than the Genevan Reformer and are at points critical of his inconsistencies. Rushdoony’s Institutes are revealing and he certainly was a complex figure. On the one hand he’s something of a Holocaust denier, certainly a racist, and on the other hand he’s considered by many as the grandfather of the American Home Schooling movement. Another well known book is his “The Messianic Character of American Education’ which for many was something of an eye-opening manifesto. While I can agree with many of his assessments regarding the American education system I still overall utterly reject his theology and believe the man completely misread and misunderstood the Bible and the Christian Religion.

 

Despite his massive influence, he’s not well known. But you will occasionally run into his name. Beware of those who endorse him or at the very least realize what the endorsement reveals.


 

[v] I’m not talking about reading Dispensational or sensational type prophecy-fulfillment stuff. I’m talking about a philosophy (or theology) of history derived from the Bible in terms of the Kingdom of God and the kingdoms of this world.

No comments: