Hanioglu's Ataturk is not a "sagelike dispenser of wisdom" (the Ataturk cult-of-personality narrative) but a very "down-to-earth leader who strove to realize a vision not depending on any one ideology but by utilizing a range of sources."
Ataturk's hometown, Salonika (Greek Thessalonica), was a cultural amalgam -- a seaport with Greek, Slavic, Turkish and Jewish communities mixing and clashing. The city was as eclectic as Ataturk's intellectual influences, which included H. G. Wells, Thomas Henry Huzley and Gustave Le Bon. Ataturk blended diverse and often contradictory influences; Hanioglu notes that Ataturk was influenced by both authoritarian doctrines and Enlightenment liberalism. The political expression of this eclecticism -- at times utilitarian, at times expedient -- was a "nationalism sanctified by science."
Ataturk built on the work of 19th-century Ottoman Empire modernizers who "embraced a modernity within the parameters of an international civilization." Hanioglu argues that Ataturk's philosophical eclecticism and his pursuit of goals advocated by previous Turkish modernizers in no way diminishes Ataturk's political achievement. Ataturk's creative genius was creative, transformative leadership.
Yet, even Ataturk never fully bridged the "tension between the traditional and the modern" that was evident in the late 19th century Ottoman Empire. The AKP's scrap with the Turkish military reflects this tension. (At one point, Hanioglu notes that Ataturk believed "the crude intervention of the military in politics" would ultimately harm the military as an institution.)
Arguably, the AKP itself -- if we can take their leaders at their word -- is an attempt to further the process of harmonizing Turkish Muslim social values and secular electoral politics. Mob confrontations between liberalizers and Muslim Brotherhood extremists in Cairo's Tahrir Square are an anarchic expression of this tension in the Arab Muslim context. Libya's chaotic civil war takes the tension further into the abyss of violence and uncertainty.
These current conflicts attest to the continuing value of Ataturk's Turkish achievement.
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).
Be the first to read Austin Bay's column. Sign up today and receive Townhall.com delivered each morning to your inbox.