ANKARA, Turkey-Will the real Turkey please stand up?" If you ask that old game-show question in this Muslim land of 70 million, an entire, diverse country stands-or else everyone remains seated.
The European Union doesn't know the answer to that question. That's why its Oct. 6 decision on Turkey's request to join the 25-member economic bloc was only "a qualified yes," according to European Commission President Romano Prodi. If EU leaders in December vote for the commission's recommendation, talks between Turkey and the EU will begin, with membership for Turkey probably still at least a decade off.
The recommendation includes multiple conditions. To join, Turkey will have to enforce statutes banning torture and improve its record on civil and religious liberty. Turkey will have to improve per capita annual income ($3,000 compared to over $20,000 in Europe) and integrate the minority Kurds into Turkish society. But behind those and many other specifics lies fear: Would Europe be ingesting an upwardly mobile country yearning for Westernization, or a poison pill that would eventually help militant Islam gain the continental prize denied it centuries ago?
Is the real Turkey best represented by Ozlem Caglar Yilmaz, a young woman who studied politics at the University of Ankara, where she was influenced by a professor who favors free markets and a free exchange of ideas? Mrs. Yilmaz, a moderate Muslim, is general coordinator of a think tank here, the Association for Liberal Thinking. She fights for responsive government and opposes the rule that women wearing Muslim headscarves cannot work in governmental offices or enter universities.
Or is the real Turkey best represented by the women who crowd into a mosque in Sanliurfa, near the Syrian border, and show their faith not by wearing headscarves but by going all the way to only-eyes-showing black chadors? The mosque (without evidence) advertises itself as Abraham's birthplace 4,000 years ago. Many men, who enter into a separate chamber to peer through a grate into a cave that purportedly marks the birth spot, also give hostile looks to visiting Americans.
Or does friendly Istanbul journalist Mustafa Akyol, 32, represent Turkey's future? Sitting across the table from the columnist in an upscale restaurant in the modern, corporate section of Istanbul (home to Domino's and 7-11 outlets along with stores advertising fitness equipment and billboards showing fashionable cleavage), it's easy to imagine yourself in New York or Austin rather than across the river from the twisting, cobblestoned alleys of an ancient city that will soon resonate with minaret calls for evening prayer.
And does Turkey have any room for Metropolitan Saliba Ozmen and other Christians? Two years ago he returned from the United States to become head of a 12th-century Syrian Orthodox monastery in Mardin, a city of 62,000 in southeastern Turkey that was once 90 percent Christian but now has only 75 Christian families left. He points out the tomb in which centuries of metropolitans have been laid to rest, one body on top of the bones of the last, and says that one day he will be in there too-but will he be able to live out his life in peace?
One place to begin learning about Turkey is where President George W. Bush started during his visit here in Ankara on June 26. Officials on that day closed ordinary traffic on all of this capital city's main streets, three of which are named after one person. Ataturk Boulevard, Mustafa Kemal Pasha Boulevard, and Gazi Mustafa Kemal Boulevard (gazi means "victor over the infidels") all honor Mustafa Kemal, the founder of modern Turkey, who died in 1938 after turning Turkey from an Ottoman Muslim state into an officially secular semi-republic, semi-dictatorship. (He added on the name Ataturk, which means "father of the Turks.")
Scrunch Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Roosevelt into one mountainous image and you begin to get a sense of Ataturk's importance in Turkey. His picture is on all denominations of bills from 1 million Turkish lira (worth, due to inflation, about 65 cents) to 50 million and beyond. President Bush during his visit squeezed in a trip of crucial symbolic importance to Anitkabir, the site where on most days adults and schoolchildren line up to walk past Ataturk's tomb. On one Saturday an old man with a cane painfully made his way up the 42 steps of the mausoleum.
The structure Mr. Bush saw is a secular shrine with towers that highlight Ataturk's statist and nationalist message. The mausoleum bows to the ancient history of this land by displaying 12 Hittite-style stone lions on each side of an entry promenade. It also bows to European influence by stationing helmeted soldiers like the British beefeaters, each not moving a muscle even when teenage girls vamp next to them. The tomb is huge and austere, but with a Turkish carpet-like design on the ceiling and latticework behind the tomb so that birds can fly in and out.
Visitors on that Saturday came clothed in traditional Muslim dress; as one guide put it, "Headscarves here would be like blasphemy. This is a temple to the religion of secularism." It's because of Ataturk that Turkish kids can get an education not constrained by Muslim theology. It's also because of Ataturk that one tasteless woman could walk around in a "Latin Lover" T-shirt, and that Turkey has only recently moved away from socialist policies that held it back economically.
Mustafa Kemal Ataturk set up a one-party system so that "Kemalists," as his followers are called, could always be on top. Kemalists from the 1920s through the 1940s were less vicious than the Stalinists to their north, but they also tried to create a new human nature by kicking aside religion and demanding state education and media monopolies. Kemalists banned institutions of civil society that were or could be autonomous from the state: Governmental edict dissolved whirling dervish lodges in 1925, Turkish Hearths Clubs in 1931, and the Turkish Association of Women in 1935.
Turkey, worried about the Soviet Union (Russia is Turkey's traditional enemy No. 1), lobbied successfully after World War II to join NATO, and in return agreed to have its first elections in 1950. The Turkish government allowed the formation of a second party, called the Democrat Party, which shocked the Kemalists by sweeping to victory in that first election and ruling for a decade.
During the 1950s, though, when the popularly elected government backed Muslim exercise of civil rights, Kemalists accused it of "reactionism," which meant "endangering secularism" or allowing the development of an "uprising against the Republic." Kemalists led a military coup d'etat in 1960 that was widely supported by bureaucrats and intellectuals. Another army smackdown came in 1980, and in 1997 the military forced the government to resign.
These coups were designed to force political pauses-but as quarterbacks who call timeouts amid hostile crowd noise often learn, the furor soon returns. Each time Kemalist military leaders, backed up by judges, have banned particular parties and leaders, a similar party has soon emerged under a different name and new leadership.
When the military banned the Democrat Party in 1960 (and took the timeout to an extreme by hanging three of its leaders), the Justice Party took its place, and with the help of two smaller parties led a new ruling coalition. When the military knocked out the Justice Party in 1980, the Motherland Party-supported by two new creations, the True Path Party and the Welfare Party-took over.
By the late 1990s those two new parties led a dominant coalition that again threatened Kemalism, so the military stepped in again. This time the Justice and Development party emerged as No. 1, and "rules" today under Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. "Rules" is in quotation marks, because if the government pushes measures perceived as threatening Kemalism, military leaders pressure it to pull back.
This year, for example, the government (pushed by its strong Islamist supporters) began talking about state funding for some Islamic schools and about legislation that would allow the wearing of headscarves in state offices or university classrooms. That is illegal now, which means Muslim women who believe heads need covering cannot be government workers or university students.
On both issues the moderate Islamic government pushed for changes, generated opposition from generals and other leaders, and backed off. This has become a repetitious political dance: Mr. Erdogan, who may be to hard-line Islamic politics what Britain's Tony Blair is to old-line Labor Party interests, says (in essence) I did my best, and keeps many radical Islamists in the fold.
Here's the bottom line: Turkish generals could sing, The eyes of Ataturk are upon you. (Some Turks still say about Ataturk, "His blue eyes see everything.") U.S. generals are trained to stay out of politics, but in Turkey the military is the preserver of Kemalism, which the Turkish Constitution enshrines as the country's official ideology. As the U.S. Supreme Court has become the defender of liberalism, so Turkish generals function like our nine justices in black robes-except that the Turkish soldiers can knock off an entire government rather than specific laws.
This leads to an ironic situation: Many leftists in Turkey are pro-military when push comes to shove, because officers are seen as protection against Islam. Left-of-center Turks, like their American counterparts, are all hat and no cattle: They talk a lot about democracy but know that conservatives have more popular support, so they are ready to have decision making on some issues (Islamic ones in Turkey, social issues involving abortion and homosexuality in the United States) taken out of the hands of the people and put into the hands of those deemed politically correct.
That doesn't give non-Kemalist political parties much running room. Secularists argue that any religion is a threat to the Kemalist constitutional structure, just as ACLU Americans argue that any religion is a threat to the U.S. Constitution. (One big difference, of course, is that aggressive secularism is written into the Turkish Constitution but not into the American one. But Mr. Akyol, the Turkish journalist, says that the moderate Islam he supports is merely asking that religious people have space in the public square so that they do not have to set aside Islam to participate in public life.)
The key question now for Turkey and the EU, and perhaps for the entire Middle East or even the whole world, is whether the Justice and Peace Party's "moderate Islam" is real, or a false hope arising from temporary tactical needs. Various pundits call the party Islamist, conservative, mildly Islamist, or post-Islamist, but it's not yet clear whether that party will work for a Turkey that respects both liberty and democracy.
Mr. Akyol, who writes for the daily newspaper Referans, says a Turkish compromise is workable, and that in the process "medieval Islamic understanding will be reformed." Moderate Muslims like himself, he says, have looked to the United States and praised America as a religious country that gives freedom to different beliefs. He argues that Turkey's entry into the EU will help moderate Muslims in their battle against radicals who would otherwise gain support from the growing Muslim populations of England, France, Germany, and other EU countries.
The Ankara think tank leader, Ozlem Caglar Yilmaz, perceives problems but fights on. She observes that "Turkey has fundamental problems in terms of responsive government and the rule of law. We have an official ideology, Kemalism, trying to promote a uniform character through education and books. Everything related to religion is seen as a big threat to the regime. We still have a collectivist economy."
But Mrs. Yilmaz also argues that Islam is not inevitably autocratic. She says Muslim states have corrupted Islam by infecting it with Western socialism. She acknowledges one basic problem-that Islam believes in complete unity of mosque and state-but hopes that Turkey will see a growth of civil society in which diverse interests can all have a role.
Mrs. Yilmaz sees the European Union membership process as helpful, because Turkish leaders will be forced to mind their manners so as to win admission to the swank Euro club with its French chefs. (The irony of France and some other countries pressing Turkey to improve its policy on religious liberty is intense, of course. France bans headscarves and is calling for an end to the EU ban on arms sales to China, despite its continuing human-rights violations.)
Metropolitan Ozmen on the Mardin frontier also says that "Turkey's entry into the EU should be supported. We will have more freedom of religion." The increased liberty required by the EU should allow Christians to open churches, schools, and seminaries. But the democratization process could cut the other way. If the 10 percent to 15 percent of Turkey's voters who are Muslim traditionalists can convince a critical mass of others to join them, and the army does not intervene, the next generation could witness the imposition of Islamic law.
Will liberty and democracy advance together in Turkey, now the great moderate Muslim hope in the Middle East? The West held up Iran in the 1970s as a moderate Muslim leader, but power in that country was still centralized and could readily be seized by the radical forces of the Ayatollah Khomeini. Turkey's moderates argue (or hope) that influence in Turkey is now spread among business executives, government bureaucrats, various factions of imams, media and academic leaders, and of course the army, so that factions have to negotiate with other factions.
That is essentially a Madisonian position. James Madison pushed for checks and balances within government and religious pluralism within society. He contended that the establishment of one religion creates tyranny and the existence of two religions leads to civil war, but the presence of three or more can create the grounds for liberty. Opposing those who thought that a country as large as the United States could not stay together, Madison in his newspaper columns that went into The Federalist Papers contended that size would help, because the conflict of powerful factions would keep any one from becoming ascendant and lording it over the others.
Now that it's common to talk about "red America" and "blue America," defined by voting patterns, maybe it's time to talk about a red and blue Turkey (or perhaps a secular gray and Islamic green one), with various shadings in between. The EU's "qualified yes" should put into sharp relief Turkey's chance not only to enter the club but to show that a Madisonian Turkey can be the hope of the Muslim world.
-For a look at the position of Christians in Turkey, see "Frontier evangelism," which was published in the Aug. 28, 2004, issue of WORLD.