The recent and tragic freedom flotilla massacre has been viewed by many analysts as a turning point both in Israeli-Turkish relations and Turkish-Arab ties. Although it cannot be denied that the Turks are furious at how Israel has treated their countrymen, talks of severing ties with Israel seem premature. The Arabs as usual have gone euphoric, chanting slogans of the return of former glory at the hands of the returning Ottoman Sultan Erdogan The Great who has now become an Arab hero (this young chap here likens Erdogan to Ottoman Sultan Mehmed Al Fatih), interestingly. This is an all-telling quote from the same article:
The Turkish President or the “Ottoman Sultan” Recep Tayyip Erdogan is like the famous Turkish sweet, Turkish Delight. For the first time, the nations of the Islamic world tasted the special and unique taste of the Turkish confectionery and wished these kinds of sweets would spread all over the Islamic and Arab world.
So the Arab streets are buzzing with fervent admiration for this leader who has had the guts to stand up to Israel even with words that no Arab leader has managed to do with quite the same media impact. After all, Erdogan resolutely refused to accept that Hamas is a terrorist organization as it is perceived in the West, he has openly declared his support for the Palestinian cause and has proven it with taking action and his government’s stance with respect to the Iranian question is not exactly to the West’s liking. Turkey’s ties with Israel are explained away by the fact that the Islamist ruling party in Turkey isn’t responsible for having established these ties but it was rather the (nasty) legacy of secularist Ataturk.
The West on the other hand is voicing intensifying concerns about the outward signs of Turkey’s reinvention of itself as a Muslim (Islamist even) leader which redefines its historical role as a bridge between Islam and the West. As Turkey (apparently) moves away from the Kemalist legacy of the Westernized political model, whose loss is it? The West’s, Israel’s or Turkey’s itself? Evidently, the beacon of the Middle East (that is Israel) is one step ahead of everybody as it has worked out that ‘Iran and Turkey understand that attacking the Jewish state is the fastest route to the top of the Muslim world‘ as captain Glick informs us in this piece which transforms the freedom flotilla Turkish activists into ‘a murderous mob‘ (but it is they who have ended up being murdered, however, that is an insignificant detail), Iran into ‘a carrot‘ inticing the Arabs to side with Hizbullah and Hamas and the AKP into a ‘radical Islamist party‘.
I am not sure if Turkey will continue being the Arab champion, but at least, unlike Shia-dominated Iran, Turkey is predominantly Sunni which is a factor which will play to its advantage with respect to its legitimacy or suitability as a Muslim leader. Historically however, there has been no love lost between the Turks and the Arabs nor the Persians and this will be exploited not only by the West and Israel but by anti-Islamist, secularist and liberal Arabs in order to discourage any unity between the Muslim countries constituting the Middle East. I think that any unity on that front will spell doom for Israel. I also think that there are many potentially divisive forces between the people of the Middle East for any alliance to emerge in the near future, divisive forces of such a nature that not even Islam could overcome them (in fact one major source of this schism is the Shia/ Sunni split which many Arab governments are using to attenuate the popular support for resistance movements such as Hizbullah). There will never be any hope for unity within the Ummah as long as the Sunni and Shia Muslims are at war against each other whether culturally, ethnically, politically or even ideologically. And this state of affairs will continue because it is encouraged by current Arab regimes and wealthy and influential elites (especially Saudi Arabia which regards itself as the bastion of orthodox Islam), to the extent that there was a time when Shia bashing became a favorite friday sermon topic in Algerian mosques (a trend which has now subsided thankfully) and satellite religious preaching channels (most of which sponsored by the Saudi Arabia). In addition, secular nationalist and pan-Arabist ideologies still have a significant psychological hold over the Arab minset, a hold that is not strong enough not to be overcome by religious allegiance however but the danger there is that the seeds for sectarian divisions over futile identity questions are already sown in a very fertile land (poverty, unemployment and dire socio-economic circumstances), any disruption of the power balance between nationalist currents and religious ones will result in civil unrest (and this has happened in many cases within the last decade, for example in Lebanon, Iraq and Algeria).
I would like to end this piece with a happy note, if only to prove to MnarviDZ that I am not under the captivity of my negativity. And so I will say that we live in interesting and exciting times, the winds of change are blowing on the Middle East in particular and the Muslim world in general. My own crazy idea is that globalization will unexpectedly bring Muslims together eventually, it will be a painful and messy process, but the Ummah will get there in the end (insha’Allah).