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Time for Israel to come to its senses

Wednesday 16 February 2011, by Sahin Alpay

There is no doubt that Bernard Lewis is a prominent historian of the Middle East, including Turkey. His book “The Emergence of Modern Turkey” (1961) is indispensable reading in the field of Turkish politics, and I respect Lewis for that.

What I do not respect in Lewis’ work is his ideas that have inspired Samuel P. Huntington’s “clash of civilizations” thesis that maintains that after the end of the Cold War, the major conflict in the world is between the Christian West and the Muslim East. I do not at all agree with the Lewis/Huntington approach, which attempts to explain the backwardness of the economies and the authoritarian politics of the Middle East by Islam’s inherent incompatibility with modernity and democracy.

Lewis’ views have, unfortunately, been a major source of inspiration not only for the militaristic policies pursued by the George W. Bush administration, which have caused great human suffering in Iraq and elsewhere, but also for the neocons and the Israeli lobby in the US, who advocate unconditional American support for Israel’s hard-line policies. Turkey’s democrats have lost all respect for Lewis and his disciples, particularly because of their support for the political role of the military and for an authoritarian reading of Kemalism, which is hard-line Turkish secular nationalism.

Lewis in a recent interview published in the Cumhuriyet daily (Jan. 17), the mouthpiece of the Kemalists, made a number of incredible assertions regarding Turkish politics. He said there was no dictatorship in the Turkey of the 1930s, when the country was governed by an authoritarian single-party regime inspired mainly by the Soviet Union and Italy of the time. He said the Democrat Party (DP) government was toppled by a military junta in 1960 because it refused to hand over power through democratic elections, whereas it is well known that the junta began organizing for a coup in the mid 1950s.

Lewis said the ultimate aim of the current Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government is the establishment of an “Islamic democracy,” meaning it would refuse to be voted out of power. The truth is that, whatever its shortcomings, the AK Party government has been the engine of economic and political reforms that led Turkey to start accession talks with the European Union.

The AK Party is likely to win a third consecutive election this summer because, after eight years in power, it has managed through liberal policies to double per capita income, considerably improve income distribution, broaden freedom of expression so that nearly all previously taboo subjects are open to debate and also make the country a force for peace and stability in its region. Those who are even a bit familiar with Turkey know very well that a party cannot win and retain power without popular support.

Lewis went as far as to argue that if Turkey and Iran were to continue on the path they are currently pursuing, the formerwould eventually become an Islamic republic while the latter a secular democracy. The reality is that Turkey, increasingly prosperous and free under the AK Party, has become a source of inspiration for democrats in the entire Muslim world, including Iran. The far more credible scenario is that as Turkey advances in putting an end to the political role of the military, Iran will move towards eliminating the political role of the clergy.

In the same interview Lewis goes on to reiterate his argument that Europe, being “gradually Islamized due to increasing numbers of Turkish, Arab and other Muslim immigrants,” is bound to become “an extension of the Middle East.” How can a distinguished historian who can be expected to know better put forward views that do not at all make sense and can hardly be taken seriously? I do not believe such views can be accounted for by old age because I know that he is endowed with a mind that resists aging. I therefore, unfortunately, suspect that it may be due to Islamophobia and a sort of paranoia widespread among those who unconditionally support the hard-line militarist policies of Israeli governments, a paranoia most likely triggered by growing opposition to those policies in not only Turkey but also Europe.

I can only assure those infected minds that governments — whether in the United States,Europe,the Arab world or Turkey — that provide unconditional support to hard-line Israeli policies do not at all serve the long-term interests of the Israeli people. The possibility of assuring the security and welfare of the people of Israel by hard-line policies is fast losing ground. Autocratic Arab governments that have supported Israel have started to fall one after the other. It is high time those who govern Israel come to their senses and conclude as soon as possible a just peace with the Palestinians. It is also time for the Jewish Diaspora in the United States and Europe to put its weight behind efforts to achieve peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Israel can surely win over the sympathy and support of the vast majority of the Muslim world by concluding a just peace with Palestinians instead of continuing to occupy and oppress them.

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Source : Todayszaman.com, 14 February 2011

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