The first type of Arab despotism is the fundamentalist state. Regimes such as Saudi Arabia make a dangerous bargain with the radicalized religious elements of their societies. The rulers of these states allow fundamentalist Islam wide freedom within their society, and in exchange the religious leaders support the regime.
The second type of Arab despotism is the secular totalitarian state. Iraq and Syria are good examples of these. These states ensure their own survival by brutally oppressing their people and by encouraging a cult of personality around the local strongman, be it a Hussein or an Assad.
Obviously, neither of these two regime types is appealing to the United States since one encourages anti-Israeli and, by proxy, anti-American sentiment as a survival mechanism. The other is a contemporary example of the sort of totalitarianism that used chemical and biological weapons against thousands of Kurds and Iranians.
Nevertheless, we need to present an alternative to the Arab world and demonstrate that western-style secular liberal democracy is compatible with a Muslim nation. Luckily, America already has a very suitable candidate for such a role. Turkey, which borders the Arab world and has a population that is more than 90 percent Muslim, is a heartening example of a western-style democracy prospering in an Islamic environment.
America needs Turkey in the war against terrorism. As a matter of simple necessity, Turkey, as a member of NATO, supplies our military with bases and logistical support essential to keeping Iraq contained and to maintaining our presence in Afghanistan. Alongside its role as our most essential military ally in the Middle East, Turkey should become the centerpiece of a campaign to win Arabs over to an acceptance of liberal democracy. On the day that American ideals are widely known and admired in the Middle East, we will truly have won the war on terror.
America is currently telling Arabs and Muslims what is unacceptable, but not what they must do to be accepted by the West. In order to send that message we must give the Turks still more help in maintaining and extending their democracy. At the same time, we must start telling people in the Arab world about Turkey’s success and prosperity.
Though Turkey has had some shameful episodes in its history, the Turkish government is trying very hard to work out its imperfections and to improve. Turkey benefits from some very stable institutions that help it to remain vibrantly democratic against all odds. One of these institutions that can be a model for other states is a fiercely independent supreme court committed to restraining the pernicious influences of religious extremism and demagoguery.
Despite Turkey’s strengths, it would benefit immensely from more American support, particularly economic support. Over the past year, Turkey has suffered from crushing inflation of more than 65 percent. Effective direct American assistance to alleviate Turkey’s economic problems and better the lot of the average Turk would serve a dual purpose. First, it would relieve the political stress caused by inflation on a Turkish government already pressured by our campaign against terror. Second, effective American economic aid to Turkey would show Muslims throughout the Middle East that we are as kind to our friends as we are harsh towards our enemies. Aid to Turkey would also dramatically prove that America is not influenced by faith or ethnicity when we choose our friends. America should ask only that our friends be committed to shared values like tolerance, democracy, separation of religion and state.
Finally, America needs to do a much better job making the case in the Arab media to Muslims that America represents an alternative to religious extremism and despotism. Aiding Turkey would improve our argument (and serve our more immediate interests) immensely, a crucial step toward truly winning the war on terror.
Thomas M. Dougherty ’03, a Crimson editor, is a social studies concentrator in Currier House.