by Omer Taspinar
September 2, 2016
Western media has an understandable tendency to see Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan as an incurable Islamist who is determined to overhaul the secularist legacy of Ataturk. Many Western policymakers, analysts, and scholars equate the notion of a Turkish divergence from the West -- or the fear of "losing Turkey" -- with the idea of an Islamic revival. This is an understandable fallacy. After all, a political party with Islamic roots has won five consecutive elections in a country where the population is 99 percent Muslim.
Moreover, until recently this secularist-Islamist dichotomy played an important role in the societal polarization of the country. Yet, since 2013, the power struggle between the AKP and followers of Fetullah Gulen, culminating with the failed coup this summer, has changed the picture. Secularism had nothing to do with this Islamic fratricide. Similarly, secularism versus Islam has no relevance for the bloody confrontation between Kurdish and Turkish nationalism, the most existential of problems facing the future of the nation-state in Turkey. It is time to admit that what we are witnessing in Erdogan’s “New” Turkey is the rise not of political Islam but of a much more powerful and potentially more lethal force: nationalism.