MER – Turkey’s never-ending anti-Americanism

Turkey’s never-ending anti-AmericanismIn most surveys of global public opinion, Turkey maintains its status as one of the most anti-American countries in the world. This situation is quite puzzling to American officials, since Turkey is a NATO member and a strategic partner for Washington. Yet Turkey’s resentment of the United States often surpasses that of other Muslim countries like Egypt and Pakistan. Anti-Americanism used to be a global phenomenon during the years of former US President George W. Bush because of policies like the invasion of Iraq and Guantanamo, but after the arrival of US President Barack Obama, anti-Americanism lost momentum. The fact that the level of anti-Americanism did not really change in Turkey, however, shows that there is something structural about the Turkish case and it, therefore, requires some explanation.First, it is important to define what anti-Americanism really is. There are still long lines for green cards and visa applications to the United States in Turkey. Turkish people still want to send their kids to study in America, and most Turkish consumers have no problem with American products, fast food and culture. Yet, anti-Americanism is seldom about US culture or institutions. Whenever I want to explain this phenomenon to my students I show them a cartoon with a protester yelling, “Yankee go home, but take me with you!” One has to recognize that Turkish anti-Americanism, like anti-Americanism anywhere else, is primarily about US foreign policy. In the Middle East, for instance, it is America’s support of Israel that fuels resentment of Washington.However, in the context of Turkey, it is also Turkey’s identity problems that fuel anti-Americanism. The two obvious Turkish identity problems are the Kurdish question and the issue of political Islam. You can call them the two main problems of the Kemalist republic. Since its foundation, the Turkish Republic has been dealing with the Kurdish question and the difficult balance between secularism and Islam. Surprisingly, America is very relevant to both. If you have a five-minute conversation with most Turks you will get an earful about how America is responsible for nurturing the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and harboring plans to create an independent Kurdistan. The fact that Turkey now has become a strong supporter of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in Iraq is, of course, ironic. But this paradox does not seem to change such conspiratorial views of US support of Kurdish independence. Similarly, most secular Turks still accuse Washington of promoting “moderate Islam” in Turkey. In the eyes of ultranationalists and hawkish secularists, the Justice and Development Party (AKP)ouldn’t have come to power without the backing of the United States. Conspiracy theories of this sort are commonplace and were expressed in legal documents during the closure case of the AKP in 2008. One could speculate that times have changed since 2008. After all, in today’s Turkey, the AKP has consolidated its power and the threat of political Islam has been replaced by questions about authoritarianism. It is also an interesting paradox that despite fears of authoritarianism, today’s Turkey is closer than ever to solving the Kurdish problem, mainly thanks to negotiations with the PKK. In that sense, logically, the twin threats to Kemalism and the Kemalist identity — secularism and separatism — should no longer be creating anti-Americanism. Yet, anti-Americanism is alive and well in Turkey. This is mainly because the conspiratorial mindset of the country has not changed. You only have look at the way the AKP government describes the Gezi movement as “foreign instigation” in order to understand what I mean. There is a tendency to see a CIA operation behind every domestic struggle in Turkey. My favorite is the AKP’s explanation of the corruption investigation as an international plot or a “coup” attempt to destabilize the country. Similarly it is quite ironic that the AKP, which was portrayed as America’s “moderate Islam” project, is using the same discourse about the Gulen movement. It seems like there is something inherent in Turkish political culture that makes the body politic almost genetically predisposed to blame external factors for domestic issues. As long as such dynamics endure, Americans should get used to very high levels of Turkish anti-Americanism.

SOURCE: Todays Zaman

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