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Right And Left

Alex Massie says some of the things that need to be said about this Andy McCarthy post, which was a response to Amir Taheri’s op-ed, in which Taheri wrote:

Since 1960, the Turkish army has staged a coup once every 10 years, either to curb the radical left or to stop the Islamist right from seizing control of the state.

Not only could one fairly describe AKP as “socially and religiously conservative”–which they certainly are relative to the CHP or the Turkish nationalists–but in any relative positioning of the different parties on the left-right spectrum you would be compelled to describe AKP as effectively center-right relative to the secular leftists and nationalists.  It is conventional in portrayals of political party alignments to place nationalist parties on the far right, which tends to increase confusion about how religious parties can actually be, and usually are, to the right of modern nationalists, especially when it comes matters of family law and traditional morality. 

Suffice it to say, you can refer to AKP in a Turkish context as being on “the right,” provided that you do not think that this automatically means that the AKP is just Christian Democracy with a headscarf (as some EU-expanding fools would argue).  Islamists will come in different shades.  There are the hooded Hamas-style radicals, there are more austere Deobandi reactionaries of the Taliban model and there are relatively less violent conservatives, such as the AKP so far (the catch-all, rather misleading term “Islamist” only tells us so much).  In a related way, you can imagine a reformist “Christian socialism” of the left (Tolstoy) and reformist one of the right (Slavophiles, Dostoevsky, Dollfuss, etc.) and another one dedicated to violent revolutionary action (e.g., Thomas Muentzer). 

In the Turkish case, it is reasonable to define Islamists as being on “the right” of Turkish politics, since Kemalism was most definitely a left-wing revolutionary nationalist movement that was constantly working to overthrow and outlaw remnants of the old order.   Thinking of the Kemalists as the effective guardians of Turkish “conservatism,” as McCarthy’s post implies, is to identify conservatism with the defense of whichever status quo power elite currently holds the reins.  In this view, Islamists in Turkey can’t be conservative or rightist because they are against the status quo, which is, of course, arranged in such a way as to favour a secular leftist nationalist elite.  If we wanted to think of conservatism that way (I don’t care to), we would definitely have to think about “the right” as something other than conservatism. 

The relevant point to be made is not that Islamists are not conservative or on “the right” in some sense.  Relative to their competitors, they are.  The point would be that the entire nature of politics in Islamic countries is such that the largely secularised West should naturally sympathise and ally itself with the political left, because what the conservatives in the Islamic world want to have–to say nothing of radicals or reactionaries–is the preservation and building up of their traditions and religion, which may be quite antithetical to what Westerners would like to see in those countries.  

This is yet another reason why democratisation in the Islamic world is a very bad idea.  It will have the effect, as universal suffrage in Europe did, of empowering the more religious and, generally, more illiberal voters who will favour religious or religious-themed parties.  If liberalisation in the Islamic world were the ultimate goal, democratisation would be the last thing you would encourage. 

The West has also gone so far to the left, culturally and politically, relative to traditional societies elsewhere in the world that even Western reactionaries, including myself, would seem startlingly left-wing in them.  Western reactionaries tend to differentiate themselves from the other 95% of Westerners in regarding this general shift to the left as a largely bad development that has had a few positive side-effects.  Many self-styled Western conservatives tend to think things have gone along more or less all right, except perhaps for the last forty years or so, as this has been the time when there were a few undesirable changes.  Some Western liberals, at least in this country, apparently often live in fear that a homegrown Taliban is just around the corner, a Jaysh al Mahdi lurking behind every megachurch.  The odds of the latter are poor. 

Of course, a strong case could be made that Western conservatives have a certain common interest with Islamic conservatives insofar as it involves our minding our own business and leaving them to mind theirs.  The globalists are hostile to any and all settled ways of life, except for their own inherently destabilising and unsettling one, and so are the natural political opponents of cultural and religious conservatives everywhere.  That does not mean that conservatives in the West are necessarily going to like most of the things conservatives in Asia and the Near East want to protect, or that we all have, a la D’Souza, numerous overlapping interests that compel us to join forces against the godless. 

Many people in the West don’t like Turkish Islamism, and our governments find that they can usually work much better with the Kemalists.  (Turkish opposition to the war in Iraq was a bitter disappointment for Washington, but then Washington has understood nothing about Turkey’s view of its national interests for years.)  Even so, we don’t get to define political alignments based on how cooperative, effectively pro-U.S. or Westernised a group is.  Still, let’s be clear about something: it will be very bad for Turkey if AKP increases its hold on the country, and this would be true even if (or perhaps especially if) this comes about through “peaceful democratic change.”  AKP is Exhibit A for why full democratisation in the Islamic world is a bad idea both for the West and for the Islamic countries involved.

Far more bizarrely, there have been no outraged protests on behalf of the slighted Malinese, Bangladeshis and Indonesians in response to Taheri’s opening reference to this bit of Turkish chauvinism:

Talk to Turks of any political persuasion and you are sure to hear how proud they are that Turkey is “the only democracy in the Muslim world.”  

It is also worth noting that Republican critics of the antiwar movement have no problem acknowledginging that Islamists are on the political right when it helps them to highlight the reflexive anti-Western alliances of antiwar leftists.  This criticism makes a certain amount of sense, but its significance for labeling the political alignment of Islamists seems to have eluded McCarthy here.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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