The Department of Government
The Department of Government

Ataturk 2.0

Ataturk 2.0: A Model for 2011 Arab Modernizers

Wed, October 26, 2011 | BAT 5.108

2:00 PM

Austin Bay is author, nationally syndicated columnist, IC2 Institute Fellow and adjunct professor at the University of Texas at Austin, principal in Prophion LLC and retired USAR Colonel.

2011’s “Arab Spring” modernizers need a pragmatic vision to compete with the utopian clericalism of the Muslim Brotherhood’s militant factions, Al Qaeda, and –yes-- Iranian propagandists. In contrast to Iran’s clerical dystopia, contemporary Turkey provides a concrete, palpable example of a modernized, culturally-Islamic society. Academics and pundits tend to go way overboard with the narrative counter-narrative discussion, eg., Ataturk as a counter-narrative to Al Qaeda. These academic frames often obscure the fact that we are talking about choices—significant choices that impact subsequent centuries. Yet human beings communicate in stories, that’s reality. The reality of Turkey 2011 is very different from the reality of Iran 2011—that’s a story, it is also empirical fact. Khomeini failed to produce material wealth, Ataturk did. A story, but also backed by fact. Ataturk’s modernization process required discipline and flexible leadership backed by soldiers committed to defending pluralism --soldiers, not cable television talk show hosts. Would 2011's Arab revolutions benefit from “internationalist Kemalism,” to manufacture a phrase? Is “internationalist Kemalism” what Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was suggesting when he visited Egypt scant days after the militant Islamist-inspired assault on Israel’s Cairo embassy? Erdogan urged Arab Spring Egyptians to establish a secular state and discreetly encouraged fractious revolutionary leaders to remain “united for Egypt” in their pursuit of a better political future. “Do not be wary of secularism,” he said. “I hope there will be a secular state in Egypt." And this from the man who many Turks believe pursues anti-secularist policies that challenge Ataturk’s legacy. Has Arab Spring 2011 educated Mr. Erdogan?

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