Thursday, February 6, 2014

Turkish Politics From Socialist Action

I really enjoyed Yasin Kaya's article on Turkey's crisis in the current issue of Socialist Action. I've been following the Turkey situation from the business pages--interesting, but it lacks political insight. I surmise that Mr. Kaya speaks Turkish, which means he actually knows something about the country (more than, say, Larry Kudlow). He also writes well in English.

Mr. Kaya sees the crisis as a falling out among Islamists. The ruling Islamist party (AKP), headed by prime minister Erdogan, has relied on support from the Gulen Movement. The latter is a devoutly religious group (sect? cult? party?) led by Fethullah Gulen (correct spelling here), a 72-year-old cleric living in self-imposed exile in Saylorsburg, PA.

I've been trying to come up with an American analogue to the Gulenist Movement (Wikipedia articles here and here). Wikipedia compares it to the Catholic Opus Dei movement, but that won't ring a bell for many Americans. Its semi-secretive, conservative nature suggests something like the Mormons. But the Mormons are heretical, whereas the Gulenists are stolid traditionalists. Some accuse the Movement of being a cult, rather like Scientology--but I don't think that's accurate.

The closest I can come up with are the Southern Baptists. They're probably not as secretive as the Gulenists, but their insistence on solid doctrine, religious education, and moral rectitude is a good match. With that analogy, the American politician most like Fethullah Gulen is Mike Huckabee--a dyed-in-the-wool, charismatic, Christian pastor and political leader.

So Mike Huckabee isn't president of the United States, and neither is Mr. Gulen prime minister of Turkey, which I suggest is for similar reasons. Mr. Huckabee, an honorable, honest and charming man, holds opinions that are simply too far out of the mainstream. Accordingly, he lost the Republican nomination to the more protean John McCain. Likewise, Mr. Erdogan, a politician first and foremost, views the Gulenist principled insistence on religious dogma increasingly as a handicap. Hence the divorce.

But what a breath of fresh air to learn about a fundamentalist Islamist who isn't a Jihadi. Mr. Gulen is no more a bomb-thrower than Mr. Huckabee. The Gulenists run schools and business, not terrorist cells. Mr. Gulen's exile refuge is Pennsylvania, not Waziristan. He believes in inter-faith dialogue with "People of the Book," i.e., Christians and Jews. (His tolerance does not extend to atheists, though he certainly does not advocate their murder.) Accordingly, he's met with Christian prelates and Jewish rabbis. Mr. Kaya accuses him of being "pro-Zionist." I'm not sure about that, but at least he's not a raving anti-Semite. I don't know his opinion on the Israel-Palestinian question.

The Gulenist Movement borrows heavily from Sufism--if anything, they're pacifists. Jihad, for them, is a spiritual struggle.

As an aside, it is very important that Americans do not vilify all Muslims. However much we may differ from the Gulenists in politics, religion or culture, they are our allies in the war against Islamofascism. I think that people such as Robert Spencer, Michelle Malkin, and the late Oriana Fallaci (a superb writer) carry their passion too far.

The split between the government and the Gulenists has led to a purge of police officers, civil servants, and cabinet ministers, presumably because they're somehow associated with Gulenism. Prior to that, Mr. Kaya accuses them both of human rights violations, including the violent suppression of demonstrators at Taksim Gezo square. He writes,
Such undemocratic underpinnings sustained the corrupt neoliberal economy. This meant unprecedented profits for domestic and foreign financial capitalists and their conglomerates on the one hand, dispossession and pauperization for workers and peasants on the other.
What he doesn't mention is that Turkey has run up large current account deficits. That's what forces them into the hands of the "foreign financial capitalists." The country has to borrow money just to pay its bills. It has been able to do that (according to some commentators) because of the Fed's Quantitive Easing, which sent investors abroad in search of higher returns. But in the current risk-off environment, that capital is now fleeing Turkey in favor of US government securities. The days of cheap, easy money from the credit card are over.

The underlying cause of Turkey's economic difficulties is the country is bankrupt--just like Detroit, Puerto Rico, Greece, California, Illinois, Spain, etc., etc. It is bankrupt because it has been misgoverned for many, many years, by governments that have promised a higher standard of living than they can deliver. Turkey's problem is worse than many other jurisdictions because its debt is owed to foreigners rather than its own banks. (The contrast is China, also hopelessly in debt, but its debt is owed to its own citizens in its own currency. China has had a current account surplus for many decades, and can easily pay off foreigners.)

Mr. Kaya describes three other political currents in Turkey. First are the Kemalists, the founders of the modern, Turkish state, who are now using social democratic language to appeal to voters. Of course this is a recipe for disaster--social democracy simply promises more goodies without offering any way to pay for them. It won't work when the credit card is tapped out.

Second, he discounts the secular Left, which "is still fragmented and lacks the ability to organize public dissent, although its ideas are enjoying a revival." It's fragmented because today's Left is incoherent. I doubt it's undergoing much of a revival. The Left, after all, is the Party of Baathism.

Finally, Mr. Kaya mentions the Kurds. He thinks they've sold out. Frankly, if there is one faint glimmer of hope in Turkish politics, it is the rapprochement with the Kurds.

Mr. Kaya doesn't mention the war in Syria, which alone renders Turkish politics unstable. Twenty percent of the population is Alevi, a Shi'ite sect closely related to the ruling Alawi group in Syria. Kurds also live on both sides of the border. The Gulenist's relationship with the Syrian rebels has to be complicated, at very least. Turkey shares borders with Iran, Armenia, and (across the Black Sea) Russia, along with the European Union. Cyprus is a thorn in everybody's side. The country is a member of NATO. Turkish politics is an unforgiving mess.

Mr. Kaya's suggestion for Americans is just silly: "Our slogan should be 'Imperialist Hands off the Middle East!'” Who knows what that means?

That notwithstanding, Mr. Kaya's article is helpful. But I still have absolutely no clue what is going to happen next. It probably won't be good.

Further Reading:

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