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Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Turkey’s leaders plan Muslim Europe

For the AKP, democracy is merely a means to a higher Islamic goal, says edward luttwak

If you thought Turkey was no threat to the West, think again. A new generation of politicians is aiming to Islamise the state by stealth. The AKP - Adalet ve Kalkinma Partisi, or Justice and Development Party - has a stranglehold on Turkey for the foreseeable future.

The AKP was founded to replace a previous Islamic party banned for extremism. It benefited hugely from the corruption scandals that dragged down the previous government, taking two-thirds of parliament in the 2002 general election (on a third of the vote).

On Friday, its ex-foreign secretary Abdullah Gul narrowly failed to win a victory in the first round of presidential elections. The result was close enough to prompt public demonstrations by secularists ahead of the second round voting on May 2, and a statement from the military - long the

guardians of Turkey's secular traditions - warning against a pro-Islam political agenda.

Since coming to power, the AKP has done nothing revolutionary, but it does have a revolutionary agenda. For all their suavity, its leaders seek to transform the country into a Sunni Muslim republic. This collides with institutions and laws strictly limiting Islam's role in public life, and with a long-standing security alliance with Israel.

It also collides with democracy itself, for no Koranic state can have a sovereign parliament free to legalise such abominations as equal rights for women and homosexuals or the drinking of alcohol.

A sinister slogan attributed to the AKP is that democracy is 'a bus we can ride until we reach our station'. Under Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his foreign secretary Abdullah Gul, the party has been cautious until now.

But abroad the AKP has been more strident. Turkey has stepped up relations with Muslim countries and cooled them with Israel. They have capitalised on public suspicion of the Western war on terror and yet have pursued Turkey's application to join the EU.

There is no inconsistency. The AKP's apparent ambitions in Europe are its most strategic deceptions. Ostensibly, the aim is simply to accelerate Turkey's climb to prosperity.

However, a key condition imposed by the EU is the army's abrogation of political authority - which suits the AKP just fine, for the military is the greatest barrier to Islamisation. Moreover, the party shares the Islamist belief that Europe will inevitably be conquered by the high birthrates of its Muslim inhabitants - and Turkey's entry would immediately add some 70 million.

Then there's the media. There are three major groups in Turkey, compared to which any Islamist operations are small. However, the government now has a hold over all of them because of contested tax liabilities, and because the government-controlled Savings Deposits Insurance Fund can seize their associated banks at any time without even having to go to court.

The results are manifest in coverage that mostly reflects the AKP agenda - and duly affects public opinion. Why else would Valley of the Wolves, whose cast includes US actors Billy Zane and Gary Busey, become the most successful Turkish film ever? The story includes American army officers selling body parts from captured Iraqis - with Jewish surgeons removing them! No wonder the AKP cabinet took their wives to the opening gala.

The party has also done its best to Islamise the bureaucracy. Even in Istanbul, post-office employees now stop work for Friday prayers, and civil servants are no longer expected to work a full day during Ramadan.

And just to make sure, the AKP has literally bought public opinion in poor urban areas by distributing food packages, paid for by contributions from big business.

Although the wind is blowing their way, I doubt if more than 15 per cent of the population really want a full-blown Sunni republic. But the AKP is being patient. Gul and Erdogan are clearly willing to defer Turkey's Islamisation if they can advance Europe's

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