Friday, May 09, 2008

TALKING TURKEY

Here's something to think about this weekend. Turkey. Not the bird/food/suggested national symbol, but rather the country. Have you done that lately? Well, let's try now.

Turkey has a very interesting history in that it spent the Ottoman (as opposed to Otto Mann) Era straddling Southeast Europe, North Africa, the Eastern Mediterranean, and the Arab peninsula. That means that it ran the area that is now Syria, Israel, Lebanon, Jordan, and the Occupied Territories. It was also the home of the most recent Caliph. However, Turkey is not Arab, and it is officially a secular state, although it is overwhelmingly Muslim. In other words, it is relatively well placed to mediate between the Arab Muslim world and either Israel (for peace process purposes) and western values (for modernization purposes). Two recent articles reflect this.

The Christian Science Monitor has an article discussing Turkey's efforts as a facilitator between Israel and Syria regarding the disposition of the Golan Heights. Turkey and Israel have long enjoyed good relations. Now Turkey is improving its relations with its Arab neighbors. Thus, while the major powers are all regarded with suspicion in the Arab-Israeli conflict, Turkey has a reservoir of relative trust. Of course, many Arabs still regard the Turks as colonizers and otherwise resent the Ottoman Era. However, with at least one intervening colonial master since Turkey, and Turkey's status as a Muslim country, it is still better positioned than almost any other country for this role.

The New York Times ran an interesting article on Turkish efforts to teach an Islam that can deal with the West while remaining separate from it. This is particularly important in places like Pakistan, where radical, rejectionist Islam has been gaining ground. The Times describes the schools as
prescribe a strong Western curriculum, with courses, taught in English, from math and science to English literature and Shakespeare. They do not teach religion beyond the one class in Islamic studies that is required by the state. Unlike British-style private schools, however, they encourage Islam in their dormitories, where teachers set examples in lifestyle and prayer.
The idea is that the dislocation and sense of loss that modernization and competition with the West have brought can be alleviated by preparing kids to compete with the West, but helping them have a strong Muslim identity. Of course, there are others who say the group running the school are "Muslim Jesuits" intent on power. I think they meant that negatively.

Very interesting.

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