Even for a television talk show, it was an extraordinary claim.
During his January 1, 2000, end-of-the-millennium broadcast, "McLaughlin Group" host John McLaughlin declared that his award for "the Person of the Full Millennium" went to the founder of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, a "Muslim visionary who ... abolished the Ottoman sultanate ... emancipated women ... the only leader in history to successfully turn a Muslim nation into a Western parliamentary democracy and secular state.
Quite a claim, but fact supports it. Ataturk's pragmatic approach to modernizing a nation devastated by World War I and subsequent regional violence has real resonance for Arab Spring 2011's continuing drama. Ataturk left Turkey with a democratic political structure, and Turkey's democracy is his still evolving legacy. This "Turkish Model" influences contemporary Arab modernizers.
However, last month's resignation of Turkey's most senior military officers is indicative of Turkey's domestic political struggles, as well as its internal battles over what Ataturk's vision means in the 21st century. From the staunch Turkish secularist point of view, the resignations marked the bitter end of Ataturk's separation of mosque and state and the stealthy return of Islamist tyranny.
Ataturk used the Turkish military as an instrument for modernizing the nation; the Turkish military committed itself to protecting republican Turkey's secular political system. The leaders of the Justice and Development Party (AKP, Turkey's governing moderate Islamist political organization) claim the resignations demonstrate that they are solidifying civilian control over the military -- that's how democracies do it -- and therefore forwarding Ataturk's visionary goals.
Princeton foreign affairs professor Sukru Hanioglu's new book, "Ataturk: An Intellectual Biography" (Princeton University Press, 2011), provides clarifying insight in this unsettled moment.
Hanioglu explores the ideas that stimulated Ataturk's mind and political imagination and influenced the modernization program he pursued in Turkey after 1923.
Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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