My friend, Neil Remington Abramson, made a comment in relation to my thoughts on political change in Libya. He talked about the “election of the Turks”. I assumed he meant Tunisia, and so edited his comment, and added a link. It turns out that he intended to comment about Turkey. Here is an extract of the e-mail exchange on October 25 and 26 (reproduced with permission):
Bruce: The comment is up. I thought you must mean Tunisians rather than Turks, and so made the change; hope I am right.
Neil: It was the Turks. The country is split between the more secular, around Istanbul/Ankara, and the more evangelical everywhere else. The Ataturk revolution, back after WW1, was secular. His constitution guarantees a secular state, the army guarantees the constitution and the people keep electing a fundamentalist Prime Minister. If latter moves too close to Sharia, the army deposes of him, and then runs another election. The current PM is another fundamentalist, proceeding cautiously, due to the army “threat”.
The Turks seem to have given up hoping to be seen as moderate, in order to to get into EU. The government seems to be trying to establish greater influence in the old empire area, which means cozying up to Islam and anti-Israelists and others hostile to Israel.
It’s an example of how we want them to be democratic, but they keep picking the “wrong” side.
Bruce: I would like to put up this exchange, if OK.
Neil: It’s OK by me, but the irony should be made more explicit. We in the West want others (like Turks, Gazans and Libyans) to adopt Western democratic principles, but we don’t want that to result in institutions or outcomes that run counter to what we would do, if we were in their place, but remained ourselves.
We end up disappointed, because when we insist that their government reflect their people’s will, it turns out they will other than what we would hope they would will. So then, what? In the case of Gaza, we retaliate. In the case of Turkey, we disapprove and deny them EU membership, in part because their non-Christian values are so different (and other reasons). In the case of Libya, we bring political pressure, and remind them of their debt to us.
We complain about our own governments, that even though they fight to bring democratic principles to other countries, they and business deal comfortably with dictatorships. But dictatorships are more easily influenced, because authority is less diffused, so pressure easier to apply, and the uncertainties of the people’s will are less manifest.
It reminds me of something Kissinger said in his On Diplomacy book, that Americans tend to believe that everyone in the world would make the same decisions as Americans, if they were freed from all repression. In the heart of humans, and American heart beats.
It just isn’t true; that is Kissinger’s point. It’s naive. We just helped free the Libyans, and what do they want – Sharia! We are horrified, but that’s their ideal culture. We should just let them be themselves, and let them be responsible for their own decisions.
Isn’t that what co-existence really comes down to? It makes us angry when foreigners try to interfere with our own democratically-inspired inclinations. In that way, we are the same. We should just let them be themselves. They will be, anyway.