By Murat Yetkin
For centuries, ideologues and politicians in the West have positioned themselves regarding Islam in a defensive way.
Christian Europe always met with Islam through war. First of all it was the Umayyad reign in Iberia, also with a Jewish presence that was brutally crushed by the Catholic inquisition in the 15th century. Then, starting in the 14th century through the Balkans, the Turkish Empire under the Ottoman dynasty finished off the remnants of the Roman Empire, took Constantinople, and made Istanbul its capital, controlling major trade routes of the Old World.
The Turks were held back at the gates of Vienna by a coalition of Christian armies, and left behind the heritage of coffee and croissants. The rise of the Russian and British Empires pushed the Turkish/Islam presence back in India, the Caucasus and Europe until the First World War, in which Turks were on the losing side.
The Arabs were among those who revolted against the Caliph in Istanbul, who was also the Ottoman Sultan. The British (and the French to a lesser extent) managed to manipulate the Arab revolt against the Turks. It was the beginning of the oil age and there was a lot of oil where the Arabs have been living for centuries.
After the Turks managed to fight an Independence War against Western invaders and a civil war against the Ottoman dynasty under the leadership of Mustafa Kemal, (later, Atatürk), and transformed the sultanate into a republic, the West managed to establish control over the Arab lands, and their oil. Not all of the Arabs and Muslims across the world - from India to Indonesia and Iran - were happy about this, and since the 1920s radical movements have shown up on the political scene, as well as underground.
As radical Islamist movements started to emerge, politicians in the West - from the Nazi government in Germany to the British, the French, and later on the Americans - tried to recruit “moderates” against them.
Without realizing or bothering to understand that Islam is also a political religion, for them recruiting the “moderates” meant serving Western interests and not having a gun pointed at the West. So they armed and trained the moderates against the radicals, again without realizing or bothering to understand that they would become the new radicals in the coming decades.
This was the story in Soviet Central Asia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Egypt, and now in Iraq and Syria. Meanwhile, the Turks under Atatürk shelved the Caliphate and adopted secularism, separating the state from religion. Despite a certain radicalism in the implementation of secularism, especially in the earlier stages, (though never getting close to the bloodshed that history recorded after each and every revolution in the West), secularism provided a fertile climate for economic development and, in later stages, the fledgling of democratic life in Turkey.
It is true that this was a separating curtain between the Turks and the Islamic world, but it did also prevent Turkey from the sectarian fight within the Islamic world.
Today, Turkey is up to its neck with infections spilling over from that climate of sectarian fights and terrorism.
And the West is still in a blind search for “moderate” Islam as a cure to the “radical” version. Isn’t that enough, for God’s sake? Is it too difficult to understand that the anti-thesis of radical Islam is not “moderate Islam,” but rather separating state affairs from religion: The secular option, perhaps an updated form that does not antagonize true believers?
Is it not worth trying to update what Atatürk did almost a century ago, as main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu suggested in parliament on Jan. 13? At least, this has fewer risks than arming and training people who actually have the same ideology as those who they fight against for your money today, with no guarantee that tomorrow they won’t turn against you.