The fall of the Turkish model: Book review

Ece Temelkuran reviews book in New Left Review

Fall of the Turkish model, by Cihan Tuğal, Verso books, 2016

If Cihan Tuğal’s book was filmed as a political thriller, the pre-credit sequence would go something like this: George Bush, against the backdrop of the Bosphorus Bridge, delivers a speech announcing the discovery of a cure for radical Islamism to the 2004 NATO summit in Istanbul. [1] Fall of the Turkish modelAs Commander-in-Chief of the ‘war on terror’, Bush has a flattering message for his Turkish hosts: ‘Your country stands as a model to others, and as Europe’s bridge to the wider world. Your success is vital to a future of progress and peace in Europe and in the broader Middle East.’ The ‘Turkish model’, showing the perfect match of moderate Islam with American-style democracy, would prevent a dangerous fundamentalism from taking hold. The camera would pan back to show the audience of Western leaders eagerly applauding Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan, whose government epitomized the NATO-friendly Islamic liberalism which they hoped would take root in the Middle East. At this point, the screen would darken and the words, ‘Twelve Years Later . . .’ would appear. In the next scene, the same world leaders would be seen sneaking into a monstrously flamboyant palace to beg an autocratic President Erdoğan to block the wave of Syrian refugees fleeing the war that the ‘democratic face of Islam’ had been stoking, with Western collusion, for the past five years. The screen darkens again and the movie’s title is emblazoned across it: ‘Falling Bridge, Rising Wall’.

The Fall of the Turkish Model offers a forensic analysis of the AKP-Erdoğan phenomenon. For over ten years, Western mainstream intellectuals, media and politicians were so dazzled by this image of the perfect blend of East and West that objective thinking and critical stances were set aside. The Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its leader were praised for creating a bon pour l’orient democracy—that is, good enough for the Middle East; clearly not up to Western standards, but acceptable. Abroad, critics of Erdoğan were labelled as self-hating Muslims, unable to cope with their identity. At home, they were at first stigmatized as alienated intellectuals, or cheerleaders for the Turkish Army’s role in politics; later they were simply branded ‘infidels’ or agents of foreign influence. The claim that a majority vote was the same thing as democracy created an atmosphere in which critics of the AKP would automatically be defined as enemies of the people, to be subjected to constant online defamation by the AKP’s trolls.

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