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The Jehoshua Novels


Arabia and Persia: The Long View

Warning, this is another one of my periodic “why people should pay more attention to history posts.”

Today, after reading about recent revelations of Saudi-Israeli contacts I was reminded of Hugh Kennedy’s When Baghdad Ruled The Muslim World and a bit of ancient history.

Here’s the passage that piqued my interest:

But Riyadh really does not have a choice when attempting to counter the Iranian geopolitical invasion of what it considers its turf. Saudi Arabia is trying to contain the Iranian/Shiite threat by underscoring its leadership role in the region. The Saudis know the Iranians and Syrians are trying to emerge as a player in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. They are thus sending a message — particularly to the Palestinians — that Riyadh, rather than Tehran, can secure their interests because it has the leverage on both sides. The Saudi regime, despite its many problems, is confident that no domestic force is capable of destabilizing it, and hopes to use the international embargo on the Palestinians to wean them away from the Iranian/Syrian camp.

Couple of things jump out at me first. One, who does Saudi Arabia fear more here? Israel or the Shi’ites in its midst, along it’s border with Iraq and all of Iran? I’ll betcha the Saudi’s kinda miss old Saddam’s Baathist bulwark against the raging Shi’ite hordes about now. If they’re willing to cozy up to the Israelis, the Crusader State itself, well, you have to infer something else: they aren’t too afraid of al Qaeda inside the Kingdom. Why would they be if excess steam can be removed via Afghanistan, again.

More after the jump.

Then there is the diplomatic angle: the Saudis are trying to prove to the Palestinians that they can get things done because a.) the have the Americans in their back pocket and b.) they’ve got an under the table relationship with the Israelis too. Theoretically they should be able to play both sides of the table, pressuring the Israelis for concessions and pressuring the Americans to pressure the Israelis to make some concessions. They’ve got the best lubricant of all to do so: oil. Israel might play along to a certain extent, but until a.) an outside power comes along, the geopolitical equivalent of deus ex machina that will compel the Israelis to leave most of the West Bank there will not be any deal. I don’t see the Syrian/Iranian/Hezbollah entente as capable of doing that either, yet. Which means the US is still the one power in the world that could forge a settlement but for internal political reasons that will not happen any time soon.

But there is a more long-term, big picture development happening around us that’s hard to comprehend through all the noise out there. We all know that the Islamist/Jihadi/Salafist strain of Islam is attacking the modern secular Sunni regimes. It’s kind of like when the Jesuits launched the Counter-Reformation. (They did manage to bring Poland back into the fold.) But Sunni fundamentalism is also a reaction to something else, something more visceral. It’s not just modernity, it’s more along the lines of the Bernard Lewis thesis. A kind of rage that the world has left them behind, something much, much more complicated than Bush’s “they hate us for our freedom’s.” It’s more like they hate us because we represent modernity and in a sense modernity has taken away so much of their ability to imagine their own future. Remember, 300 years ago a man could travel from Morocco to Meerut and all was Islam, with a distincly Persian flavor most of the way. And now?

Modernity, so overwhelming and disruptive of traditional society is still transforming all societies. I think the changes it’s bringing are as massive as those of the agricultural revoltion 12,000 year ago. And, while my next comment is far from being PC, it’s got to be said: some societies might not survive modernity. History has no hard and fast rules. And I’ve yet to see a rule that says all societies have to survive. Only the distant future can answer that question and I won’t be around to see it.

The Arabs and the Persians have long competed against one another. For the Arabs and Muslims in general, no achievement will ever rival the Q’uran. It contains the Word of God, which, after all, was revealed to an Arab. After His Word had been revealed the Arabs burst forth out of the desert wastes conquering a goodly portion of the planet, wrecking the Sassanid Empire in the process. But after just a few generations power in the Muslim word shifted back to Persia, Khorasan to be exact, as the Ummayads were replaced by the Abbasids whose base of power were the merchant cities of Khorasan. It is at this point that Persian culture begins to eclipse that of the Arabs. And the enmity lives today as Saudi Arabia’s moves towards the “Zionist Entity.”

My point here is this: there is an old, visceral battle going on between Arabia and Persia. It’s something that transcends Sunni and Shi’a as well. It’s about the direction Islam will take in the future. The Arabs have one view, and it’s not particularly appealing: economic autarky, strong man rule and violent suppression of dissent. The Persians (and the Turks, Kurds and Azeris) on the other hand have another view and that’s pluralistic and democratic in an Islamic context, with natural law derived from the tenets of Islam, not Christianity. (This will no doubt cause problems–sometimes violent–as Islamic values don’t always align directly with those of the West.) Yes, Iran has a lot of problems, especially when it comes to freedom of speech and human rights. But Iran and Turkey have much more vibrant civil societies than do Saudi Arabia, or Yemen. Iran has a long way to go, but comparatively speaking, they are a lot further along than the Arabs.


Suggestions for further reading:

The Persians, by Aeschylus.
Histories, by Herodotus.
Anabasis
by Xenophon.
Persian Fire,
The Persian Puzzle
The Shahnameh,
The Rise and Rule of Tamerlane,
In Search of Zarathustra,
Shah of Shahs
and many others.

8 comments to Arabia and Persia: The Long View

  • Don

    lost on the bush administration before invading Iraq. And yes, some were saying that then, but bushco wasn’t listening.

    I did inhale.

  • HongPong

    I would say that the direction of Arab political elites in the 1800s and early 1900s would give them a little more credit. Egypt and Iraq were on their way to constitutional parliaments until the British decided this was far too nettlesome a problem. Hell, even Syria was holding elections just after Israel was created. They wanted a nationalist strongman guy, the U.S. manipulated the election to get an oil pipeline through the (then-Syrian) Golan Heights, then there was a counter-coup and its been a hard reactionary dictatorship ever since.

    In the 100 years prior to, say, 1955, the natural tendency of these Arab societies wasn’t turning inwards and imploding from the pressure of modernity. Long before eastern Europe had free elections and constitutional executive governments, many of the Arabs were going that way until their colonial masters thought better of it.

    We could expect that more fervent religious minorities are going to try to suppress secularists these days, but that is happening everywhere from Kansas to Tel Aviv to Basra. Whenever the sane people between these points can form an alliance against the Bad Three – the Muslim Brotherhood, the Southern Baptists and the neo-Kahanists – I think we’d find there’s a lot more breathing room for modernity.

    Hongpong.com

  • Anonymous

    The anger against the progress of West has come out repeatedly. Yes, some cultures may not survive, which is something we should strongly consider right here at home. The economies of the West are very much wrapped up in so many daily events taking place on time, in an assembly line manner, including our food distribution. The e coli scare has created economic chaos for some spinach farmers here in California, and that’s just one small element of the larger picture.

    The more complex the economics of a society, the less ability there is for individuals to independently survive if it all breaks down, unless they’re gentleman farmers with substantial solar and personal agricultural facilities, except they won’t last long if there is a general cultural breakdown. Do the Mormons still require everyone to store one year’s food for each family?

    Tom Friedman has a similar analysis of the Muslim world as being mainly characterized by a series of family feuds and we have blundered in due to our ignorant leadership. It’s like the well meaning friend, with some background and success in counseling, who interposes between a couple who are always bickering, only to find that the couple is playing him as leverage and he is becoming part of the bickering. We’re been played by Osama. He suckered us in.

    Right after 9/11, on another list that I have long since abandoned, there was someone who seemed to have extensive knowledge of Osama. He would repeatedly respond to the active discussion with, “Oh, yes, Osama knows.” This was at the time the US was deciding, under the leadership of GW, how to respond to the destruction of the WTC. To what extent is Osama a brilliant strategist, and to what extent just a very wealthy and lucky one? And as we move forward, the message coming through suggests that 9/11 wasn’t really about the US at all, except to the extent that the US is wrapped up in relationships with the various players in the Muslim world, and that this is really about their ongoing family feuds.

    I would like to see “modernity” replaced as a term with a more focused discussion of techonological cultural paradigm shift. The balance of power shifts as we transition through the advancing technologies discussed by McLuhan in UNDERSTANDING MEDIA, THE MEDIUM IS THE MASSAGE, WAR AND PEACE IN THE GLOBAL VILLAGE and in Toffler’s THE THIRD WAVE. The rise of city states, which were still strong at the time of the rise of the Ottoman Empire, resulted from the centuries-long transition from the hunter-gather to the agrarian technological cultures.

    The division of the region into hastily formed nations in the WW I era is the mark of industrial technological culture which emerged over centuries as assembly-line culture grew after the invention of interchangeable parts for cathedral clocks, then interchangeable type in printing, and the assembly-lining of everything possible with gigantic bureaucracies to manage them.

    Finally there was transcontinental, transoceanic assembly line warfare, a grossly outdated concept of how to get things done that is today being employed by GW, Cheney and Rummy. The imposition of industrial technological culture national bureaucracies on the Muslim world failed to grasp their essential tribal (hunter-gather) and city-state (agrarian) natures and imposed the nation-state (industrial) structure that the tribes have not fully embraced even today. Only Iran, as you note (Persia) has a true national identity. Syria, Lebanon and Palestine are struggling. Turkey has the Kurds wanting to secede. Iraq is a chaos of tribal conflict that will thwart any attempt to form a nation, which is why Saddam became who he was, just to keep order. It’s all about an industrial technological cultural model imposed by outsiders on people who weren’t ready for it. This is a good thing to ponder while crossing the Allenby Bridge.

    Today, the dominant technological culture that is oversweeping everything is electromagnetic, characterized by networking and collaboration, the rise of the network state, and nations becoming marginalized. The US must transition to embrace the new imperative and the Neocons are working so very hard to preserve industrial, pyramidal power structure, bureaucratic culture, top-down management, maintenance of secrecy at the top, all of the stuff that the leading management gurus have, since the 1940s, insisted just don’t work anymore, and never did work very well. Osama attacked us using a network, we responded by sending an industrial, transcontinental, transoceanic assembly line military force to conquer nations. It was never about nations. It was about the Al Qaeda network that exists with little regard for national borders.

    Closing down our borders, boosting security, breaking the bank mounting extensive warfare without really understanding the cultures we’re engaging, first GW and then most members of Congress failed to adequately seek out and actually listen to the experts. The Islamists are adapting better than we are. We introduced cell phones into Baghdad and they have become a major detonation device for IEDs. We attempt to conquer and hold areas under a nation-state mind set and the insurgents act as if borders of any kind simply don’t exist. GW is keeping all kinds of secrets while the city-state culture insurgents have embraced network-state technology to connect to each other and fully inform and propagandize the Muslim populations through the use of all sorts of personal communications devices and the mass media.

    If “Osama knows,” then it is clear that most of the US leadership doesn’t, and that GW was precisely the wrong person to have in the Presidency at this time — which may have been one of the important things that Osama knew.

    Channing
    Ventura CA USA

  • chrisz

    “I think the changes it’s bringing are as massive as those of the agricultural revoltion 12,000 year ago. And, while my next comment is far from being PC, it’s got to be said: some societies might not survive modernity. History has no hard and fast rules. And I’ve yet to see a rule that says all societies have to survive. Only the distant future can answer that question and I won’t be around to see it.”

    My rather brilliant college professor from some time ago would agree with your thinking here.

    http://editcopy.blogspot.com

  • janus

    You’re close to the thing. Geographical regards do matter. What I don’t condone is the assumption that only Arabs and Persians are eligible for leadership within Islam.

    If Persian stands for most of the Muslim constituency of Indo-European stock, then one ought to speak of at least four different groups of peoples, namely, the Arabs, the Persians, the Turkic, and the Hindustanis. Of them, the Persians occupy the geographical center of Islam, dividing its lands in two halves, the Arabs being the dominant force in the western half and the Hindustanis so being in the eastern, while the Turkic peoples are stretched throughout the northern fringe of Islam from east to west and have in history provided the main connections between both halves and with the outer world – Europe in the west, Russia in the north, China and India in the east. Not only does the Turkic constituency include the Turks from Turkey, but also the Azeries, the Turkmenians, the Uzbeks, the Kazaks and the Kyrgyzs as well as the Uigurs in Sinkiang province (former Chinese Turkistan), likewise the Persian constituency includes the Tajiks and several ethnic groups in Afghanistan – but probably not the Pashtuns, who being midway from Persia to Hindustan are as independent an ethnic group as the Kurds (whose ancestry traces back as early as to ancient Hurries).

    Sectarian competition is used as a means both to rally the members of one’s own ethnic group and to divide the foe’s. Thus, Shiites of southern Iraq and northeastern Saudi Arabia are an infiltration of Persians into the Arab constituency as much as Sunni Tajiks are an infiltration of Turks into the Persian constituency. Likewise, Turkish Islamism is an infiltration of Arab and Hindustani origin into Turkic peoples, while modernity guided by Atatürk-like laicism might be deemed to be an infiltration of Turkic eclecticism into the other ethnic groups. Finally, the whole Hindustani Islam is an infiltration of Sunni into the heartland of Hindus, so firmly entrenched in Hindustan that it has become a geopolitical force of its own. (Of the problems of Islam amid a crowd of hostile Hindus, the necessity to create a new language, Urdu, tells a great deal, though.)

    Today’s competition seems polarized between Arabs and Persians – the former rallying under the banner of Sunni while the latter so doing under the banner of Shia. This picture is entirely the outcome of the last quarter of the 20th century, when fundamentalism won the upper hand in Islam. The point is that Turkic peoples have always stood for a more adaptable, eclectic approach to Islam – something which in the last century was conducive to laicism.

    The Turks’ image among westerners owes much to Colonel Lawrence’s The Seven Pillars of Wisdom and subsequent David Lean’s film Lawrence of Arabia, both romantic accounts of WWI in the Middle East that praised the Arabs’ fight against the Ottomans and leave the reader/spectator with an impression that the Turks – allegedly a declining nation in opposition to the raising Arabs – were since done. That makes little justice to the Turkish contribution to Islam and present-day potentialities.

    Al-Farabi was an early exponent of the intellectual strength of the eclectic mind prevalent among the Turkic peoples. His maxim that “religion is an imitation of philosophy” served him the purpose to adapt Plato and Aristotle to Islam. His intellectual leadership appealed to both Persian Avicenna and Arab Averroes, who together brought philosophy to an all time peak. Still, the main Turkic contribution was geopolitical. In the late 11th century a Turkic dynasty, the Ghaznavids, took power over northern Afghanistan. From there, the Ghaznavids expanded Islam southward and eastward, until they reached the Indian Ocean well into Hindustan. Thus, Pakistani and Indian Islam might said to have been, in its origin, an expansion of Muslim Turkistan.

    Until the fourth century CE, the Turkic peoples were nomadic. Their homeland was western Mongolia, but they ruled the vast steppe from the oases of Takla Makan desert to the Caspian Sea and beyond – the Huns, led by Attila, were one such people that reached much farther to the west until they were ultimately destroyed by the Romans in 451. Yet in the late fifth century, a people of Turkic stock, the Hephthalites, built a sedentary empire in Central Asia and clashed with the Persian Sassanids. As a result, a status quo was reached in 557 according to which the Persians ruled southwest of the Oxus River – present-day Amu-Darya – while the Turks so did northeast of it. The Hephthalite was the first of a series of Turkic empires: never did the western Turks became nomadic again. By the mid-eighth century an Uigur empire was established in the eastern end of Central Asia. Since then, the Silk Road revived, as a workable peace was imposed from the Oxus to the oasis of Turfan far to the east. People, goods, and ideas extensively traveled from one end to the other, and Persians as well as Turks shared with Byzantines the profits of trade from Europe to China and the other way around. Eclecticism was the natural produce of such a land open to the most diverse influences. For Byzantines and Persians the Silk Road was only a section of their lands so that they could preserve a character of their own, but for the sedentary Turks it was their whole land. The character of the land shaped the people‘s mind.

    In that land, from Transoxus to the ridges of the Mongolian plateau and the Tibetan highland, Buddhism competed with Manichaeism – a fusion of Zoroastrianism and Christian faith – for religious dominance. The Buddhas of Bamiyan, in northern Afghanistan, were carved in the rock in the third and fifth centuries CE. In the seventh century the Muslim Arabs conquered Persia, uprooted Buddhism from northern Afghanistan y reached the shores of the Oxus, where they met the Turks; dualism took refuge in Shiite Islam. Although the Muslim armies stopped at the Oxus, the Arab and Persian merchants very soon traveled the Silk Road, and with them so did Muslim beliefs as well as the Buddhist, Nestorian, and Manichaean. Very little is known about the origin of Sufism, but not too unreasonable a hypothesis says it was born a fusion of Muslim faith and Buddhist mysticism. If so, the place where the fusion happened was, in all likelihood, the new Uigur empire, full of religious effervescence – the Khan converted into Manichaeism in 742, while the earliest news of Sufism is a little later.

    Sufism was persecuted as being a Muslim heresy until it became the prevalent sect in Sunni Islam. In becoming so it was used as an anti rationalistic tool. Accordingly, Persian Sufi al-Ghazzali headed a reaction against the Greek philosophy that was exacerbated by the Arab Salafi Ibn Taymiyya. Thus, together Persians and Arabs threw themselves into the most fundamentalist mood by rejecting philosophy to embrace blind faith, while the more pragmatic Turks rose to the political power owing to their abilities to adapt themselves to the most troubling situations. Ibn Taymiyya inspired 18th-century Ibn Wahhab to contrive modern salafi, which grew stronger in the fight against Turkic eclecticism and later on contributed to the collapse of overstretched Ottoman empire.

    A premise of the analysis above is that these four ethnic groups are somehow anchored in Islam as much as the Western World is anchored in Christianity. Deep changes in Islam are not excluded a priori that would bring in modernity and a hi-tech society; yet such changes must come from within rather than as an imposition from abroad, let alone by a military agency. Likewise the Anglo-Dutch and a section of the German peoples broke away with the mediaeval propensity to interpret the Bible as according to authority and promoted reason as a substitutive that has finally ushered the transformation of Christianity into a modern civilization, so could the most adaptable constituency in Islam – the Turkic – lead the whole Islam, or at least most of it, toward the same destination.

    On the other hand, this approach to the inner dynamics of Islam substantially concurs with Turkic eclecticism, which has always attempted to attach a relativist bridle to every fundamentalist bias of Islam. Will Turkic eclecticism ever recover from its present-day helplessness?

    After the Ottoman collapse, the Turkic capacity to adapt shone the brightest with Ataturk’s laicism in the nineteen-twenties, which strongly influenced both Arabs and Persians since through the mid-20th century until the defeat of Pan-Arab laicism by Zionism in the Six Days War. That was a turning point. Salafi, that is, fundamentalist Sunni Islam as promoted by Arab radicals, which had surreptitiously grown stronger owing to Saudi oil, then took on the lead in the west and helped deobandi, that is, fundamentalist Sunni Islam as promoted by Hindustani radicals, to take on the lead in Pakistan. That provoked the Persian reaction by revolutionist Shiite ayatollah Khomeini at the same time that the Soviets invaded Afghanistan. Both moves were eminently defensive; the Islamist revolution in Iran sought political power to help protect Persians and their friends throughout the region, while the Soviets’ occupation of Afghanistan sought to thwart fundamentalist infiltration into the Muslim-majority, Russian-controlled republics of Central Asia. The Shiites succeeded and the Russians failed, so reshaping the whole map from the Mediterranean to the Himalaya. The Russians were (almost) expelled from the region, their place being occupied by Sunni moderates permanently challenged by fundamentalists. Renewed rivalries between Arabs and Persians in the west as well as between Persians and Muslim Hindustanis in the east were brought to the foreground. As a result of the combined impetus of both Salafi and Deobandi Sunnis, on the one hand, and the pressure by radical Shiites, on the other, Central Asia, which is a natural Turkic preserve, has temporarily fallen with fundamentalist, non-eclectic Islam, while Turkey proper suffers of a crisis of identity that has propelled Muslim fundamentalism at home – though Islamism in Turkey is milder, more adaptable than elsewhere.

    But the wave will recede. American presence in the heartland of the Arabs (in Saudi Arabia since 1990, in Iraq since 2003) has caused the same effect as the Russian in Afghanistan; in other words, such presence is perceived by sections of all the Muslim constituencies as unwarranted interference into the domestic affairs of Islam. A two-step rearrangement of forces is being carried on. As an outcome of the first step, a split into Salafi Arabs is evident, which is be interpreted as a serious divergence as to which strategy is more appropriate for Arabs to retake the lead of Islam. Deobandi Hindustanis, which so far had been a safe ally to Americans – due to both their active stance against the Russians in Afghanistan – risk a major split, too. As a result of the second step, general disarray of Sunni fundamentalism has offered an opportunity to Shia – that is, Persian – fundamentalism to take the lead. That is what together Iran’s nuclear program and Hizbullah’s uprising in Lebanon account for.

    Iran’s bid for the nuclear weapon poses a global challenge, yet altogether discloses a geopolitical weakness. Shiites are too concentrated in Iran and its surroundings while too disperse elsewhere. If they are to control Islam at large, or at least western Islam, they deadly need such an overwhelming weapon. Also they need to make theirs the common foe of western Islam – Zionism – though this poses no real danger for either the Shiites or Iran. Actually, the boot is on the other foot: Zionism has been an enemy of the Persians’ enemy and is accordingly a potential ally to them. Therefore, the reason why Iran overstates antagonism to Israel is the Persians’ ambition to lead Islam by and large, which ambition effects antagonism to the Arabs rather than the other way around.

    Hizbullah’s war, on the other hand, evidences the Persian agenda to remap Islam: the Shiite unrest in Lebanon precedes the partition of Iraq – which will produce a new Shiite, oil-rich republic. Sooner or later Syria, which for the time being is Iran’s satellite, will be subverted and turned into a full-fledged Islamic republic. Thus, a Shiite confederation will stretch from the Mediterranean coast to the Iranian Plateau. This plan poses a real danger to the Arabs, the Salafi Islamists in particular. In face of such a new danger, previously exaggerated danger as allegedly posed by Zionism is downsized to its real dimension. While Jews worldwide amount to some fifteen million, of which a third already live in Israel, so that in no event could they ever menace Saudi Arabia, Shiite unrest in a southern-Iraqi republic could easily wreak havoc on northeastern Saudi province. The moderate branch of Salafi Islam may tip the scale and find that Zionism is a potential ally to help defeat too aggressive Shiites rather than the other way around.

    Thus, Islam is on the brink of a second divide to compound the first one. After a split between pro-Americans and anti-Americans, pro-Zionists and anti-Zionists will face off, with Saudi Arabia leading the former while Iran leading the latter. Now, the unstable balance between pro-Americanism and anti-Zionism – the official stance of Deobandi Hindustanis – is untenable, which will destabilize Pakistan in the medium-long term. All this will not fail to effect a weakening of fundamentalism Sunni in Central Asia, so offering the eclectic, non-fundamentalist Turkic approach to Islam a new opportunity to recover its historic heartland. The problem for the West will then be how to make good ongoing mistakes and help the better.

    References

    The basic reference is Owen Lattimore (1900-1989), a distinguished American scholar that criticized U.S. foreign policy in Asia, and was charged by Sen. McCarthy of spying in the service of the Soviet Union. (This, however, today seems to price Lattimore’s work at premium rather than at discount.) He published a long series of articles and seven books, ranging from travel diaries to fine scholarship, in which he worked out the idea that nomadic peoples, namely, Turkic and Mongols, helped shape Central Eurasian cultures no less than sedentary ones. An indispensable reading.

    Of the French School René Grousset’s The Empire of the Steppes: A History of Central Asia is worth while mentioning.

  • pembeci

    janus for this great analysis and SPK for pointing this. I have a question about this:

    All this will not fail to effect a weakening of fundamentalism Sunni in Central Asia, so offering the eclectic, non-fundamentalist Turkic approach to Islam a new opportunity to recover its historic heartland.

    What will be the source for such a change in your opinion? If you think it will be Turkey, I doubt it for the near future. Turkey has its own ongoing internal struggle about Islam and laicism. It is a highly emotional and political debate which I don’t see a resolution in a decade or so. Until then I don’t think Turkey can inspire or lead such a change.

    If the source will be the Central Asian countries themselves then we have to consider the impact of the Soviet regime. It is true that Islam lived during the Russian colonial times at these lands but it was mainly ritually, without the religion’s connection to other aspects of life. So now there is a void about how Islam fits into the picture of politics, economy, philosophy and it is being filled with outside interpretations of Islam because this evolving was interrupted for almost two or three generations. We also have to consider that most of these countries are currently ruled by iron fist dictators who are trying to control everything and won’t go away soon. This also makes a natural rediscovery of the eclectic not-fundamentalist Islam of these regions much more difficult. The other intepretations and their discourse has an advantage in such political climates and economical conditions.

  • janus

    Thank you very much, pembeci, for kind opinion. There is point I’d like to highlight in answering your questions.

    It is very odd that the European leaders have not yet fully understood that present-day Islamism in Turkey is a preemptive stance just in case the European Union finally refuses to grant her a peer status. (Much of present-day Islamism has arisen out of such a sense of offended dignity.) I am convinced that on the very day that Turkey be given leave to join the EU the Turkish Islamist party, which already is fairly moderate, will become a party that in no significant way will depart from the Christian democracy – a party much like the British tories and the German CDU/CSU. In other words, Turkey upon accession to the EU will normalize entirely.

    Now, one may think that Spain and Portugal’s case in the EU is a good precedent to predict what the Turkish accession may bring about. Both the Turkish economy in terms of GDP and the Turks’ standard of living will improve dramatically. If so, the perception of the Middle East and the Turkistans, together, about the benefits of a modern economy and an open society will change for good. This will take decades, no fewer than two or three, to happen, yet it will happen indefectibly. There will still be sizeable resistance, even violent resistance to modernization in many Muslim countries; that is for sure. Things will never be the same, though. I would even say that Turkey in the EU will be a turning point in the 21st-century history.

    If you are not yet convinced, look at Latin America. I am ready to grant that Chavez in Venezuela and Morales in Bolivia are kind of a problem, but a tiny one as compared with the problems Latin America posed to the US in the nineteen-sixties and seventies. Then, the Department of State was supportive of gorilla regimes in Brazil, Uruguay, – remember Costa Gavras’ Etage de siege? – Bolivia, – the place where Che Guevara met his death – Pinochet’s Chile, and Videla’s Argentina. Thousands and thousands of youngsters slaughtered in the most awful ways. What has substantially changed?

    I would venture the following hypothesis – which of course is not exclusive of other conjectures. In the early-to-mid nineteen-eighties several key countries changed their perceptions as to the benefits of economic integration. Thus, Mexico’s joining NAFTA with the US and Canada, Chile’s tracking the same path, Brazil and Argentina’s rather trying to replicate the European template in MERCOSUR. And all this enthusiasm for economic integration, why? My hypothesis is, because they saw how Spain was taking profit from accession to the European Economic Community – now, European Union.

    Well, I simply expect a like global effect from Turkey’s accession to-day. While Spain and Portugal’s example was a valid one for peoples of either Spanish or Portuguese stock, Turkey’s so will be for peoples of Turkic stock and – perhaps – other Muslim nations.

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