Turkey has declared rhetorical war on Israel. To err on the side of accuracy, the Islamist leaning government in Ankara has been escalating words to almost the this-means-war level over the past few days. Behind this development resides not only an ambition of regional power status but the explosive growth of a new Turkish nationalism based on the merging of ethnic and religious identities, which has substantially replaced the strongly secularist predicated sense of national self inaugurated by Kemal Attaturk.
The target of Turkey's ever more intemperate attacks has likewise reinvented its sense of national identity on the merging of religion and nationalism. When founded, Israel was both a Jewish state and an outpost of European socialist thought which centered upon secularism.
The seismic shift in Turkey's national identity came only in the past decade when the long ignored peasant population of the Anatolian highlands moved to the urban centers of Ankara and Istanbul in large enough numbers to form an effective political base for the AKP, a party whose roots ran deeply into the rich soil of political Islam. When the internal migrants, searchers for a better life, joined with the equally ignored Muslim clerical establishment, it became possible to organize the discontented and marginalized new arrivals into a potent political base. This, in turn, brought the AKP to power--a power it has developed further by defanging the military and the secular elites of the cities.
The shift of Israeli politics from the secular left to the ethno-religious right started back in 1977 when Likud tapped the pool of resentment felt within significant segments of the Israeli population. By melding a new coalition of expansive hyper-nationalists, new immigrants, and the more religiously minded, Likud was able to gain power. As the years went by, the nationalist and religiously observant right was strengthened in numbers by arrivals from the Soviet Union, and, after the collapse of that state, its ruins.
The movement to the right was accelerated by the First Intifada and the consequent bloodletting imposed by the Palestinian terrorists. This reaction on the part of the Israeli public was to be expected. Terror is normally counterproductive. With every suicide bomber, every rocket, every new outrage, the median of Israeli politics moved more and more into the right hand lane.
The external pressure joined with the Second Intifada to push Israelis even more into the harsh and uncompromising position of national identity based on the juncture of Jewishness and Israeli-ness. This dynamic was fully predictable as pressure consolidates political will long, long before it fractures it. In this context, it is easy to see why the ill-advised efforts by the Obama administration to put the screws to Israel generally and the Netanyahu government in particular were counterproductive failures.
The result is the current loggerheads relation between mirror image politicians--Erdogan and Netanyahu--along with the daggers drawn nature of Turkish-Israeli relations. A larger consequence of national identities based on the merger of ethnic and religious definitions is looming as the "Arab Spring" rolls into Fall, a Fall which will be marked with a very early freeze.
Democracy is dangerous. The power of this truth informed the thinking of the authors of the US Constitution and Bill of Rights. Democracy is nothing more or less than the popular expression of whatever fad, fancy, or fantasy can be employed effectively to move voters to mark one person's name preferentially.
Among the many fads, fancies, and fantasies which can be employed to this end, none are more powerful than nationalism and religion. The advocates of political Islam in Egypt, in Libya, in Tunisia, and elsewhere in the Arab Muslim states know this perfectly. Knowledge need only to be put into action.
In the classic treatment of revolution, Anatomy of Revolution, the author makes a key point. Although only ancient offensive insurgencies were considered in this book, the power of this one observation has been enhanced by each and every revolution which has succeeded in the post-World War II years.
Revolutions move to the extreme. That is to say, the group with the most radical agenda for change following the overthrow of the old regime will win. The reasons for this inevitable move to the extreme are few and simple. The more extreme the group, the more sweeping will be the changes contained in its agenda. In addition, the more extreme groups are tightly organized, their action plan is simple, easy to understand, and addresses fundamental fears and aspirations held by the majority of the public.
The Muslim Brotherhood, the Salifists, and others advocating political Islam are all tightly organized. All have agendas which are virtually interchangeable, making group merger thinkable. And, most importantly, all have action plans which are predicated on the strictures and requirements of Islam as well as the notions of dignity and pride resident in nationalism.
In all the countries involved in the dramatic events of the past nine months, the advocates of political Islam enjoy great advantage over their secular opponents. Not only are the assorted groups well organized and possessed of a radical agenda, all make profound appeals to both Islam and national pride. "Stand tall, you are Egyptian" is a chant virtually identical to the more recent, "Stand tall, you are Muslim."
The necessary inference from what has been observed and reported throughout the Mideast and North Africa is simply that Egypt, Libya, and perhaps others will move to the totalistic national sense of self which has been in play in Turkey and Israel. One implication of this trajectory is that Turkey will fail to reestablish the Ottoman Empire. Another, far more disturbing one considering all that has been at work in the Israeli political system is that war will become far more likely in the near to mid-term.
The next war will sneak up on the West. This is to be expected. The elites of the West generally discount nationalism as a spent force, a ancient relic which has outlived whatever usefulness it once may have possessed. At the same time, the Western elites of politics, the media, and academia pretend that religion does not exist as a real force in the lives of people and the policies of governments.
In the US, in the West, the leaders of state and molders of opinion alike will not see what is happening on the Arab streets and states alike. What will not be seen, cannot be prevented.
Pleasant thought, eh?