Democracy, secularism and Islam in Turkey are part of an immensely complex puzzle of identity, ideology and politics. The Islamic resurgence in Turkish society coincides with a major shift in the political establishment, the outcomes of which are: the rule of law under siege, authoritarian tendencies and ill-guided foreign policy adventures. Ignoring the nexus of the religious-secular label, a grab for power by the ruling AK Party poses severe challenges for Turkish democracy. Almost exclusively controlling political offices, AKP hosts different group interests; above all, the Islamist sect of Fethullah Gülen holds eminent positions of power in the media and education in the shadows of the state apparatus.
The AKP rule is credited as a moderate Islamic-conservative alternative to obstacles to Turkish democracy - the deep state of the military and the traditional Kemalist elite. In fact, AKP's power game has in several instances shown to dismiss constraints on the rule of law and its ideological apparatus is far from being moderate. Along with the constitutional amendments of September 2010 to widen the AKP's influence in the judiciary branch, a pro-AKP media empire ensures the ruling class's exclusive immunity. The "Ergenekon" case shows vividly the enormous deterioration of balances of power. Ergenekon refers to an alleged coup plot from 2003 involving media, academia, military and judiciary to topple the democratically elected government. Fabricated evidence, systematic media disinformation and massive violations of judicial independence allowed for the mass arrests of journalists, activists and military officers. Even elected parliamentarians, a total of 9 MPs (6 BDP, 3 CHP, 1 MHP), have been jailed on Ergenekon accusations.
Economic growth, domestic power, and international cheering for the Turkish model increased the confidence of Turkish policymakers to look abroad. While Turkey was applauding and legitimizing the terrorist group Hamas and seeking common ground with the revolutionary Islamist, anti-Western axis of Syria and Iran, it looked like Islamist and neo-Ottoman perceptions had trumped the reality of being a considerably modern nation state integrated in the Western economic and security structure. Far from being a moderator in the Arab world, Turkey exploits the widespread anti-Israel sentiments for the benefit of appealing to the masses. Since the Davos affair in 2009 and the Gaza flotilla incident in 2010, the once close alliance between Israel and Turkey has disintegrated.
The Turkish decision-makers in foreign policy, represented by Prime Minister Erdogan and Foreign Minister Davutoglu, may not share Western values, but the past has shown that Turkey and the Western states share interests, which often lead to considerable and warm cooperation.
The outcome of the Arab Spring, especially the fighting and brutal crackdown in Syria, led once again to reality overcoming ideology. The "Middle Eastern PKK-circle", as formulated by Soner Cagaptay, explains the situation: the Kurdish terrorist organization remains the most crucial aspect of Turkey's security policy. The Syrian regime's crackdown on protests let Turkey emerge as Syria's key opponent because of Turkey's alleged protector role of Sunni Muslims and the ongoing refugee influx from the Syrian border. Thus, "the more people Assad kills, the more hardline Turkey's policies will become against Syria. This will, in turn, drive Iranian-Syrian action against Turkey through PKK attacks from Iraq". In the short-run, what first began as counter-activities against US-EU policies on Iran may now ironically drive Turkey to be a major contributor to countering Iran's hegemonic ambitions by toppling Iran's main ally and weapon hub for Hamas and Hezbollah activities.
Turkey appears as a Janus-face: a pragmatic, calculating Western NATO ally and an ideologically driven, power-grabbing bully. The process of domestic authoritarianism, assault on the free press, the rule of law and independence of the judiciary along with economic growth and emerging political relevance in the region paved the way for a new political elite that plays a game of power and ideology. The processes in the region are likely to lead to antagonisms between Turkey and the Western states, but the events in Syria could just as easily bind the two together.
The Western states should make sure to keep control over important strategic resources. The US has to remain in control of the important Turkey-based NATO missile defense radar. Recently, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu announced that intelligence from the radar system will not be shared with Israel and that missile defense does not concern a specific country. Turkey wishes for Israel's alienation from NATO military cooperation, but other NATO states should calm the Israel-Turkey relationship because both states are vital to NATO. Turkey's stance towards Iran remains unclear and blurred, while NATO defense should be concerned with Iran and Syria. NATO Members must confront Turkey about the the country's murky NATO agenda.
In addition, the severe violations of democratic principles in the domestic sphere and the counter-productive foreign policy moves in the Middle East must be subject to international criticism. Turkish society has to be reminded and convinced of a mutually beneficial Western orientation, while EU decision-makers must concede failure in alienating Turkey from Europe.
Niklas Anzinger is a student of Philosophy and Economics at the University of Bayreuth.