Sunday July 1, 2018
Few phobias run deeper in Europe than the fear and hatred of Turks. For at least six hundred years, Europe was locked in innumerable wars with first Seljuk, then Ottoman Turks. My big St Bernard is a descendant of dogs bred to attack Arab and Turkish raiders coming over Switzerland’s St Bernard Pass.
Today, by contrast, there are some 10 million ethnic Turks in Europe, most of whom came in past decades as guest laborers, prized for their hard work, honesty and reliability.
Turkey joined NATO in 1952 at a time when the US dominated the continent and Mideast. The Turkish armed forces were the second largest in NATO after the US. Joined at the hip with the US military, the Turkish generals ran the government in Ankara behind a screen of squabbling politicians. The US gave Turkey its marching orders. Turkey’s small but powerful westernized elite was delighted to follow Washington and keep Islam in Turkey handcuffed or exiled to rural areas.
This all changed in 1994 when a young, 40-year old nationalist, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, became a reformist mayor of Istanbul and began cleaning up and modernizing the decrepit metropolis. After a brief jail term for reading an ancient Islamic poem, he was released and formed the Justice and Development Party (AK) which is an Islamist Lite party dedicated to democracy guided by Muslims principals of national pride, welfare for the poor and elderly, sharing wealth, supporting fellow Muslims and urging followers to lead lives of moderation.
There was no stopping the dynamic Erdogan, who was a semi-pro footballer before his full-time political career. By 2003, he was elected prime minister by Turkey’s 81 million people and ever since has proved wildly popular with the majority of Turks. The big city westernized elites in Turkey, who deny their Muslim culture and try to pass for Europeans, bitterly oppose Erdogan and his Islamic allies.