After the Taliban’s chums enter the Pakistan parliament, the Islamists are back in Turkey. Who said that fundamentalism is dead? No, the victory of Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) is not a specifically anti-American vote – corruption and economic collapse produced its 350 seats in the 540-seat Turkish parliament. But opposition to corruption and economic collapse lay behind the Pakistani vote, too. Indeed, it is the foundation for almost every Islamist opposition vote in the Middle East, the desire to destroy the cancer which infects almost every pro-American regime in the region.
President George Bush, riding the Iraqi war cry in his mid-term election campaign yesterday, will not have spent more than a few seconds – if that – reflecting on the meaning of Turkey’s election results. For this is a country that not only opposes his Iraqi adventure but has made it very clear that, in the event of hostilities, the Turkish army will move into Kurdish northern Iraq to prevent the declaration of a Kurdish state. So much for “safe havens”.
Even now, the Turkish army could push the courts into banning the AKP on the grounds that the party leader, Recep Erdogan – who was characteristically forbidden to participate in these elections – is a closet Islamic militant. This claim is partly based on Mr Erdogan’s public recitation of an old poem which compared minarets to bayonets, mosques to helmets and Muslim believers to soldiers. In 1999, this earned Mr Erdogan a brief trip to prison for “incitement to religious hatred”. But Islamists know how to re-invent themselves.
The AKP – officially at least – supports Turkey’s military alliance with the United States, not least because it needs Washington’s pressure on Brussels to allow Turkey to join the European Union. Asked if the army might simply remove the AKP from office, the patriotic Mr Erdogan cheekily responded: “What do you mean? They are my army, how would I not work with them?”
But you don’t have to look far to see other reasons for this strange if temporary religious-secular alliance. The Turkish lira has lost half its value in 12 months, the economy had declined by 10 per cent in the same year and two million people have been added to the total of unemployed. Nothing could have been more symbolic of the decline of the old nationalist parties than the decaying, shrunken figure of the Prime Minister, Bulent Ecevit, staggering towards the voting box in Sunday’s elections.
If the army wants a new EU Turkey, free of pointless disputes about headscarves in parliament and alcohol in municipal restaurants (the “secular” Mr Erdogan banned the latter during his previous incarnation as mayor of Istanbul), it also wants to wash the blood of 30,000 Turkish Kurds off its hands, the death toll in its ferocious war against the Kurdish insurrection in the south-east of the country in the 1990s.
Having been spared President Bush’s moral outrage for such an atrocity, it also needs to clean up its record after 2,000 “disappearances” of intellectuals, journalists and Kurdish politicians during the same “cleansing” operations. In an odd way, living alongside the revamped AKP – the Christian Democrats of Islam, as the party rather unconvincingly suggests it is – helps the army shrug off its dirty war against the Kurds.
But Turkey does not fit easily into Middle East patterns. Secularism really means “Kemalism”, a form of nationalist modernisation which would prefer to treat Islam as a kind of folk culture in Turkish society rather than part of the religious fabric of the country.
“Kemalism” is derived from Mustapha Kemal Ataturk, the hero of Gallipoli who became founder of the post-Ottoman Turkish state. But Kemalist Turkey never really confronted the issue of secularism. To its shame, Turkey has never admitted its genocide against the Armenians in which 1.5 million of its Christian Ottoman citizens were massacred in the First World War. Even in the Second World War, it contrived to levy massive taxes against its non-Muslim population, especially Jews. (Its Israeli ally now forgets all this, joining Turkey in its denial of the Armenian genocide.)
For the present, Mr Erdogan’s appeal to party supporters – “that absolutely no one take actions that would upset public order, endanger security or upset anyone” – will keep the army at bay, as well as the Americans, whose $31bn (£20bn) reform programme is as important to Mr Erdogan as it was to Mr Ecevit.
But any US war against Iraq could fracture these alliances and promises. Muslim Turkey will not tolerate the breakup of Iraq, and it will sympathise with the thousands of Iraqi Muslims likely to die in Washington’s invasion. President-General Pervez Musharraf’s participation in Mr Bush’s “war on terrorism” has already been hobbled by the Islamists’ victory in Pakistan – in a poll originally billed by the White House as “an important road map” on the return to Pakistani democracy. Now Turkey has produced another “wrong” result as it practises the democracy so touted by the Americans.
This adds another dangerous equation to President Bush’s forthcoming adventure in Iraq – and yet another reason why the Americans, despite their public demand for democracy in the Middle East, will secretly hope that the contagion of democracy doesn’t spread any further in the region.