Monday, July 08, 2013

An Excellent Article On Turkey

 Anti-Erdogan demonstrators have come from all walks of life. What started as a...

As I've said before, some of the best mainstream media reporting on the Middle East comes from Germany's Der Spiegel.

It's not making the news much, but there is still a major pushback against Tayyip Erdogan and the Islamist AKP Party rule in Turkey, especially in the cities. It is a divided country.  Here, Der Spiegel's Daniel Steinvorth and Bernhard Zand examine where Turkey is now and where it might go in the future - recommended:

The first thing a visitor sees after passing through passport control in Istanbul is a monument to cosmopolitanism, consumption and the pleasures of drinking: a giant display shelf, 25 meters (80 feet) long, containing gin, vodka and whiskey, as well as wines from France, Italy and the US. Sales at the duty-free mall in Istanbul's Atatürk Airport are among the highest in Europe.

This would have pleased the man for whom the airport was named. Mustafa Kemal Pasha, known as Atatürk, the founder of modern Turkey, liked to drink Raki, the Turkish anise-flavored brandy, even on Muslim holidays.

Turkey's current prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, believes drinking alcohol is a sin. Even as mayor of Istanbul, he bullied bar owners and banned the serving of alcohol on government-owned property. Four weeks ago, he pushed through a new alcohol law that prohibits both the selling of alcoholic beverages after 10 p.m. and advertising for beer and wine. "The old alcohol law," he told the parliament, "was passed by two drunkards. Shouldn't we prefer the law of God instead?" One of the drunkards he was referring to was Atatürk, and the other was apparently Atatürk's successor, Ismet Inönü.

The Turks don't have a particular problem with alcoholism. But the seemingly minor change to the country's alcohol laws touches on a fundamental issue nonetheless. The country's very identity is at stake -- just as it is when it comes to social norms on clothing, beard styles and family planning.

The protests that began four weeks ago over a controversial construction project at Istanbul's Gezi Park revealed to the astonished leadership in Ankara and a surprised global public how open the identity of modern Turkey remains. It is a country that has always had its sights set firmly on the West, ever since its founding 90 years ago, its accession to NATO more than 60 years ago and its application for admission to the European Union 25 years ago. This country, which has experienced a remarkable economic boom for the last decade, is now confronted with the same question it faced 90 years ago: Who do we want to be? Where does Turkey want to go?

Provincial Simpletons?

The recent demonstrations and counter-demonstrations have served to highlight the two fundamental currents that drive Turkish society. There is the progressive, urban, Europe-oriented current on the one hand. And the conservative, rural movement that is deeply influenced by Islam, on the other.

They couldn't stand it anymore, say Turkish activists, that their prime minister and his fellow Islamists were trying to dictate to them how they should dress, how many children they should have and whether they could engage in public displays of affection. They are tired, say the supporters of Erdogan's conservative Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP), of being patronized by a westernized elite and being berated as provincial simpletons.

Both sides claim to be speaking for the majority of Turks. This is possible because Turkey today is a far more complex entity than the backward country of soldiers and farmers that Atatürk encountered beneath the ruins of the defunct Ottoman Empire.

The urbanization of the 20th century and the economic boom of the early 21st century have blurred and even confused traditional divides. During Erdogan's first term, in which he was supported by an overwhelming pro-European majority, it seemed as if a pluralistic democracy were developing. In 2005, the European Union embarked on accession talks with Turkey.

The altercations of recent weeks seem to belie the confidence of those years. The conflict shows that political differences in Turkey have actually intensified under the cover of the economic boom. The sense of outrage has increased and the divide running through Turkish society has deepened.

There are two social groups: the urban "white Turks" (beyaz türkler), who look down on the rural "black Turks" (kara türkler). Both groups have expanded their influence in the last 10 years. While Turkey's real per capita income has increased by a factor of one-and-a-half, Turkey has become both more cosmopolitan and more religious, more progressive and more conservative, more urban and more provincial.

Read the rest here

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