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The Tentacle


August 17, 2006

Turkey: No Typical Muslim Nation

Roy Meachum

Izmir, Turkey - This ancient port witnessed, early in the 20th century, what amounted to a massive "racial" purging, involving thousands of men, women and children.

Virtually all Greeks were forcibly ejected from communities many families had called home for more than a thousand years. There was at the time a mighty uproar from Europe and America, which finally faced reality: so soon after the Great War (1914-1918) there was literally nothing they could do but protest.

In this time when there shapes up a long struggle between the mostly Christian west and the overwhelmingly Muslim east, the world now has reason to be grateful for what many Greeks still consider their own "trail of tears." And certainly there was a lot of wailing at the time from not only women and their children. Men were grief stricken to watch personal fortunes go down the drain as they locked business doors never to return. And that was the point.

At a single stroke Turkey's revolutionary government cut ties that bound the society to recent corruption and a genuine sense of hopelessness in most of the people. It made possible what sets this nation apart from all other Muslim states: a genuine middle class, which is capable of electing a truly representative government.

Here can be found a genuine Islamic democracy, the only one I know, having spent years wrestling with the question, even at a Frederick wedding between two Pakistanis. In what was then the Sheraton, located behind the Francis Scott Key Mall, I turned to the table of my fellow men: women and children sat apart. My question: How can such nice people as Muslims have such lousy governments?

My fellow hyphenated Americans, for the most part, agreed their former homelands were, without exception, ruled by men with personal agendas that had little to do with the great freedoms they enjoyed under the U.S. Constitution. In fact, the conversation that followed could have resulted in arrest and imprisonment in more than several countries.

But there were no answers.

Among my fellow table mates that night, there was not a single Turk; had there been he might have complained about how the military really pull the strings in this nation. But that position could have been chiefly because of a need to point out: no true democracy exists here. And he would have been right.

But visitors can find little evidence. Observers are frequently struck by the degree of free speech and action enjoyed here. Newspapers feel no constraints on criticizing politicians. Most media reflect their owners' view, as in America. The big difference is that most newspapers, television and radio are owned by companies that make no secret of their political affiliations.

And there are very good papers here.

Since arriving from Maryland, I have found in the media no scarcity of outspokenness against the White House's laissez faire attitude towards the death of civilians during the Israeli incursion into Lebanon. On the other hand, nothing printed here can hope to match the ferocity adopted by most European newspapers. Commenting on America's role in the entire Middle East, they depict George W. Bush wearing cowboy regalia, including boots.

If only by indirection, American recalcitrance over the cease fire increased Turkey's standing among Arabs. They had long seen Ankara as not a lap dog - that role belongs to the British prime minister - but characterized by policies that favored Washington. It had lost the traction needed to be an honest broker, not to mention a bridge between their Muslim neighbors and the West.

Local statements questioning and condemning Mr. Bush granting a virtual blank check to the Israelis turned the trick. Now it must be seen how Washington might accept the opening and allow Ankara to move into painful chaos that is the state of U.S.-Arab relations. I belong to the crowd that has little hope. Instead I expect the administration's bully boys to try to get even for what they must perceive as betrayal. We'll see.



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