25 Temmuz 2010 Pazar

Turkey's Role in the Organization of Islamic Conference, JDP Government and the Greater Middle East Project

ABSRACT SUMMARY: Turkey’s role in the Organization of the Islamic Conference has been increasing consistently after the take-over of Justice and Development Party (JDP) in 2002. Simultaneously with Turkey’s increasing role in the organization, OIC, which has functioned as a non-influential international actor until recent years, has now an important agenda due to the problems of the Islamic world and USA’s “Greater Middle East Project”.

KEYWORDS: Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), Justice and Development Party (JDP), Turkish Foreign Policy, Greater Middle East Project.


It cannot be denied that the Middle East has been one of the most problematic regions of the world, especially after the fall of the Ottoman Empire. Starting from the early 20th century, Middle East has often been a place of warfare, Islamic extremism, terrorism and tears. Many of the problems in the region seem to be caused by the backwardness of the regimes in this geography as well as oppression, terrorism, and violence generated in the name of Islam. It should also be noted that Middle Eastern countries have enormous oil resources, and developed Western countries have always shown a particular interest in exploiting their resources. It seems that Arab-Israeli conflict shall never come to an end because of the mistakes made in the past. The Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) is the sole body representing the voice of Muslims throughout the world. OIC is an inter-governmental organization of 57 states which serves the interests of the world's estimated 1.4 billion Muslims. OIC was established in Rabat, Morocco on September 25, 1969 “in reaction to a Zionist arson attack against the Al-Aqsa Mosque on August 21, 1969”[1]. Although the OIC did not play a major role in the internal politics until 21st century and was not able to defend Islamic causes successfully, its role in the global environment seems to have increased rapidly with the recent developments.[2]

Middle Eastern people, who have always been the victims of vicious wars, power struggles and authoritarian anti-democratic regimes, seem to have a last chance to break up with their unfortunate destiny and to change the course of things in their geography. However, this chance is mostly dependent on the decisions of their leaders and international powers since democracy exists only theoretically and symbolically in this part of the world. Turkey as a Western type secular country who waits for full accession to European Union, with 99 % Muslim population, could play a crucial role in harmonizing the interests of different parts in this power game and bring stability and peace to the region. This paper represents an attempt to question and analyze Turkey’s different alternatives for the role it should play in order to provide peace in the Middle Eastern geography from a historical-comparative perspective. It will be argued that a moderating and conciliator role that would be played by Turkey between the OIC and American-Israeli alliance could contribute to the world peace and democratization process. But, if Turkey avoids this major humanitarian responsibility, Middle Eastern people will inevitably face with many new cruelties and pains since USA is determined to implement the Greater Middle East Project. The author is going to begin with the history, aims and the structure of the OIC. Then, he will focus on the recent developments in the OIC together with the election of JDP government in Turkey. Thirdly, he will try to explain some characteristics of the Greater Middle East Project which can prevent peace and stability in the Middle Eastern geography for centuries to come. Lastly, the author will concentrate on the behaviors of different political actors and scenarios about the future of Middle Eastern countries.

1. Foundation of OIC

According to al Ahsan, “the international cooperation on the platform of OIC is based on the Qur’anic concept of ummat” (al Ahsan, pg 1). Although the term ummat has many different meanings, al Ahsan deals with its meaning as “a confederation round a religious nucleus” (al Ahsan, pg 2). Al Ahsan continues by stating that after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, “the abolition of the caliphate left the Muslim world in confusion” (al Ahsan, pg 11). Conferences were held in the Islamic world to discuss the issue starting from 1926 although many important countries with significant Muslim populations such as Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan and Russia did not send delegates to these early conferences. According to al Ahsan, there were several important factors that led to Muslim unity in the late 1940s. First of all, “with their newly achieved independence [after decolonization process], a number of Muslim countries put emphasis on the achievement of Muslim unity as their next target” (al Ahsan, pg 13). Secondly, the Palestinian cause and “the creation of Israel backed up by superpowers at the heart of the Muslim world” reinforced Muslim unity around the world (al Ahsan, pg 14). The first concrete effort of Muslim unification was the first Islamic Conference which held in Karachi, Pakistan in 1949. The second conference was held in Iran in 1950. In an increasingly polarized world due to the Cold War, Muslim leaders around the world felt the need to make an opening for Islamic unity. Anti-Zionism and Arab nationalism against imperialism in particular, which reached its peak during Abdul Nasir’s presidency in Egypt, fueled this idea. However, no real improvement was made until 1969. On 21 August 1969, “an extensive arson damage caused to Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem by Israel” changed the destiny which was until then characterized by subsequent failures of the Islamic unity ideals (al, Ahsan, pg 17). The first Islamic Summit Conference was held in Rabat, Morocco on 22 September 1969 with representatives from 24 countries thanks to the incredible efforts of King Faisal of Saudi Arabia.

Although “the issue of Turkish participation in the proposed Rabat Summit soon became a matter of domestic controversy between the liberal Justice Party government and the left-of-center Republican People’s Party”, prime minister Süleyman Demirel made it clear that his aim was not to change Turkish foreign policy but to find allies and establish good neighbor relations among the Islamic world (Aykan, Mahmut B., pg 65). Six months after the Rabat Summit, “in March 1970, Jeddah was chosen as the permanent site of Secretary General until the liberation of Jerusalem, which would be the permanent headquarters”[3]. In February 1972, foreign ministers of member countries agreed on the charter of the organization. Minhaj A. Qidwai summarizes the main aims of the OIC as follows in his article “Organization of Islamic Conference – Vision for 2050”;

1. The organization is supposed to

a) strengthen Islamic solidarity among Member States: This has hardly been achieved. The Islamic States fought with each other for many years (i.e. Iran and Iraq), and some were occupied by foreign forces, namely Iraq and Afghanistan. There are differences between the Islamic States. Libya does not have good relations with Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Even in Algeria, the Muslims are fighting with their fellow Muslim leaders for their rights.

b) promote cooperation in the political, economic, social, cultural and scientific fields: cooperation in these fields remained sporadic. The Standing Committee for Information and Cultural Affairs (COMIAC), Standing Committee for Scientific and Technical Cooperation (COMSTECH) and Standing Committee for Economic and Trade Cooperation (COMCEC) were established, but they need to play more active roles.

c) coordinate the struggle of all Muslim people to safeguard their dignity, independence and national rights. The organization failed to address the problem of occupation of Iraq.

2. coordinate action for

a) safeguarding the Holy Sites: The holy sites of Muslims (in particular Jerusalem) are still under occupation, and the required coordination is yet to be seen for safeguarding the holy places. Even the country that took lead in establishing OIC (Morocco) has violated the charter by recognizing Israel. Countries like Turkey, Egypt, Jordan, and Qatar, have also recognized the Sionist state. The Al-Quds Committee exists on paper, and it needs to become vibrant.

b) supporting the struggle of the Palestinian people and assisting them in regaining their rights and liberating their occupied territories. The moral and financial support for the Palestinian assumes a more dismal outlook as time passes.

3. pay effort to

a) eliminate racial discrimination and all forms of neo-colonialism.

b) create a favorable atmosphere for the promotion of cooperation and understanding between Member States and other countries. OIC has provided a forum for the member states for co-operation, but this opportunity needs to be capitalized.

Within time, the number of OIC member states has risen to 57 and OIC became the second largest international body after United Nations[4]. It is also the largest Islamic organization in the world. OIC continued to hold regular summits starting from 1969 with the participation of member countries’ heads of states and foreign ministers in addition to “Muslim institutions such as the Islamic Development Bank, The Red Crescent and the Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization”[5]. However, until today OIC has failed as an important international body that would protect Muslim people’s and countries’ rights globally. OIC even has difficulties in raising money from its members regularly and did not project any considerable power in the international affairs. Moreover, things did not go well for the Islamic world since Israel expanded its borders and public support, the peace plan in Palestine failed and biased attitudes of the Western world towards Islam became even more rooted. Furthermore, Islamic countries still have serious problems related to democracy and human rights in addition to religious fundamentalism and women’s position in societal and political life. The only achievement of the organization was the management of OPEC oil crisis of 1973 after Yom Kippur war which forced Western countries to recognize Yasser Arafat and PLO as the de facto representative body of Palestinian people. After a conference held in Mexico in 1975 after OPEC oil crisis, the UN General Assembly approved the following resolution, supported by Arabic, African and Soviet bloc countries, asserting that “Zionism was racism”. Logically, this declaration nullified the UN resolutions that had brought about the creation of the State of Israel, and formally, it denied the right of self-determination to the Jewish people. However, these small achievements did not evolve into important progresses and there are still invasions, wars, democratization problems, and authoritarian regimes in the OIC member countries. In the summit of 2004, the speech delivered by the then Secretary General Dr. Abd al-Wahid Belkeziz summarized the situation very well for the Islamic world and the OIC: “The Islamic world today stands unquestionably at a crossroads where it must embark upon a civilizational self-examination. Islamic world has been degraded, our rights downtrodden, our sanctities defiled, and our just causes defeated”[6]. This is caused by the organization's passive reactions to some recent catastrophic events in the Muslim world, more particularly to the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. Other criticisms include its total negligence towards Muslim minorities in some countries. Ziauddin Serdar is another important scholar who complaints about the failures of and his frustration with the OIC[7].

2. Structure of OIC

Abdullah al Ahsan begins his analysis by stating that the OIC is an “international organization based on the idea of member-state sovereignty” (al Ahsan, pg 23). Thus, we can claim that the OIC is not a supranational organization like European Union, but rather an international organization that aims to “consolidate co-operation among member-states in economic, social, cultural, scientific and other vital fields of activities, and facilitate consultation among member-states in international organizations” as it was stated in the Article II of the Charter (al Ahsan, pg 23-24). Al Ahsan mentions four major components of the OIC: The Conference of Kings and Heads of State and Government, The Conference of Foreign Ministers, The Secretariat General and the subsidiary organs and The International Islamic Court of Justice. Abdullah al Ahsan states that although there are many other institutions established within the framework of the OIC, these four organizations are the fundamental and important units of the OIC. The Conference of Kings and Heads of State and Government which is known also as the Islamic Summit Conference, “is the highest authoritative institution within the OIC” (al Ahsan, pg 25). The Conference of Kings and Heads of State and Government is held once in every three years but it may also be held upon the recommendation of the Islamic Foreign Ministers Conference, which is the main decision-making body in the OIC. Although it is normally held once a year, with the request of any member state of the Secretary General, it can be convened anytime. “Although the Summit Conference is more powerful than the Foreign Ministers Conference, most decisions are made by the Foreign Ministers Conference, since it meets more frequently than the Summit Conference” (al Ahsan, pg 49). The General Secretariat “is the executive organ of the OIC, created on the pattern of the General Secretariat of the United Nations” (al Ahsan, pg 26). The Secretary General of the OIC is assisted by four Assistant Secretaries General who are nominated by member states and elected by the Foreign Ministers Conference for four year terms. The Secretary General is responsible for the Department of Legal Affairs, the OIC office at the UN and other subsidiary organs. There are more than one hundred officials at the Secretariat General who are responsible for preparing papers and documents and keeping the records of the summits. They also “perform all the household functions and prepare budget proposals and other similar administrative actions” (al Ahsan, pg 27). Islamic Court of Justice is the highest judicial organ of the OIC which was created in 1981.

There are also many other special committees, commissions, subsidiary organs (Islamic Solidarity Fund, Al-Quds Fund, Statistical, Economic and Social Research and Training Center for the Islamic Countries, Research Center for Islamic History, Art, and Culture, Islamic Foundation for Science, Technology and Development, Islamic Center for the Development of Trade, Islamic Commission for the International Crescent, Islamic Jurisprudence Academy, The International Islamic Law Commission, Islamic Civil Aviation Council) and affiliated organs (Islamic Development Bank, International Islamic News Agency, Islamic States Broadcasting Organization, Islamic Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Commodity, Islamic Shipowners Association, Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, Organization of Islamic Capitals) which is beyond the scope of this paper. Another important issue about the structure of the OIC is membership and decision making. OIC was founded with only 24 members but reached 46 members in 1986. Today, OIC has 57 member states from different continents of the world including Africa, Asia and Europe (Turkey). Article VIII of the Charter defines the conditions of membership: “The Organization of Islamic Conference is composed of the states which participated in the Conference of the Kings and Heads of State and Government held in Rabat and in the Foreign Ministers Conference held in Jeddah, Karachi and which are signatories of this Charter. Every Muslim state is eligible to join the Islamic Conference on submitting application expressing its desire and preparedness to adopt this Charter. The application shall be deposited with the General Secretariat, to be brought before the Foreign Minister Conference at its first meeting after the submission of the application. Membership shall take effect as of the time of approval of the Conference by a two-third majority of the Conference members” (al Ahsan, pg 45). The Charter does not explain what is meant by the term “Muslim state” but it can be thought that these are countries with dominant Muslim population. However, although Muslims are minority in India, this country was accepted as a member to OIC. Abdullah al Ahsan claims that in practice the OIC had not followed any consistent policy concerning the term “Muslim state” (al Ahsan, pg 46). Uganda is another country which became a member of the OIC with a Muslim minority.

Decision-making in the OIC is similar to the procedure of other international organizations. All member states have the right to introduce a resolution. “OIC resolutions are generally accepted by a two-thirds majority vote of the participating members, but the OIC prefers to work on the basis of consensus” (al Ahsan, pg 49).

3. Turkey’s Increasing Role in the OIC

The 2002 general elections in Turkey brought about a landslide victory for the newly established Justice and Development Party (JDP). JDP was formed as a center conservative party with liberal economic priorities in addition to an Islamic appeal and discourse. JDP’s founding members were mostly former National View[8] members including the Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Foreign Minister Abdullah Gül. National View is the term defended by Necmettin Erbakan who has been in the last three decades the natural, unquestionable leader of the Islamic movement in Turkey and many Islamic parties (National Order Party, National Salvation Party, Welfare Party, Virtue Party) later banned by the Constitutional Court. “The Islamist Welfare Party secured 21 percent of seats in the 1995 Turkish parliamentary elections, and its leader, Professor Necmettin Erbakan, became modern Turkey’s first Islamist Prime Minister”[9]. Welfare Party’s Islamism was highly questionable[10] but there is no doubt that Erbakan’s tenure in office led to serious political crises and social divisions in the country because of growing Islamic fundamentalism and Kemalist sensitiveness for secularism. “In the year Erbakan spent as Prime Minister, the government made several distinctly Islamic reforms, including reinstating religious academies and strengthening ties with other Islamic nations”[11]. Erbakan’s policies began to take severe reactions from state institutions, media and civil societal organizations. Especially Erbakan’s visit to Libya[12] and the headscarf issue increased tensions in the country. This was followed by the “post-modern coup” of the Turkish Armed Forces which can be considered as one of the most experienced armies in the area of military interventions; it already had exerted three military coups in 1960, 1971 and 1980. “A démarche issued on February 28 at the meeting of the National Security Council, a joint civilian-military body, demanded that Prime Minister Erbakan take steps to protect the secular nature of the state, including changing the education laws to force the closure of religious imam-hatip schools” (Salt, Jeremy, pg 74). Although during the 28 February crisis, nearly all important social actors and the media defended Turkish Armed Forces, today 28 February is heavily criticized by most intellectuals in the country. 28 February process was followed by three government changes until 2002 and increasing importance of European Union membership agenda in the country.

JDP was formed in this context by the young reformist wing within the Welfare Party. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, former mayor of Istanbul who later went into prison for reading a poem having Islamic leanings in public, has always been considered as one of the most radicals within the young generation Islamists. However, Erdoğan’s charisma and “mistreated image” because of his imprisonment in addition to his success as Istanbul mayor made him the most appropriate person for leadership position. Many experienced politicians from different political parties and ideologies joined JDP quickly and the party gained the support of the media. JDP made many important reforms for realizing EU membership ideal including the broadcasting in different languages from state television channel, and the release of “four Kurdish politicians -including the Nobel Peace Prize nominee Leyla Zana- after 10 years in prison for alleged links to the separatist Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK)”[13]. Another important political development was the rejection of the memorandum for opening Turkish territory to American soldiers for the invasion of Iraq on 1 March 2003. With strong opposition coming from Republican People’s Party and civil society organizations, some of the JDP deputies had to reject the memorandum bill although Tayyip Erdoğan and other important members of the party believed in the necessity of approving this bill. The rejection of the memorandum led to worsening of tensions between USA and Turkey but also to the rising sympathy towards Turkey especially in the Islamic world and in some European countries. Erdoğan’s another important deed was his harsh and open criticism towards Israeli agression[14].

Erdoğan’s shocking speeches led to harsh reactions against him and Turkey in the American press especially in the media organs which have a Zionist ideology. For instance, Frank J. Gaffney Jr. in Washington Times wrote an article called “No To Islamist Turkey” in which he became really disturbing for the JDP government and Prime Minister Erdoğan. Gaffney Jr. claimed that Prime Minister Erdogan was systematically turning his country from a Muslim secular democracy into an Islamo-fascist state governed by an ideology anathema to European values and freedoms”[15]. Although Erdoğan’s critical attitude towards USA and Israel created this kind of problems in Turco-American relations, this was welcomed by the Islamic world and also by some European countries. Turkey’s rejection of 1 March memorandum and critical approach to Israel were supported by some European countries and increased the prestige of the country which had been waiting at the door of the European Union since long time ago.

These developments were followed by the election of Prof. Dr. Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu as the Secretary General of the OIC. Prof. Dr. İhsanoğlu was elected Secretary-General at the 31st session of the Islamic Conference of Foreign Ministers in İstanbul, July 15, 2004. İhsanoğlu was born in 1943 in Cairo. He is married and has three children. He is a professor of “history of science with a special focus on history of science, culture and scholarship in the Islamic world”[16]. İhsanoğlu seems to be the perfect man for this position since “for the past 25 years, he has directed the International Research Centre for Islamic History, Art and Culture, an OIC subsidiary that is regarded as one of the organization’s few success stories”[17]. İhsanoğlu’s candidacy was strongly supported by Iran, Egypt, Pakistan and Malaysia. İhsanoğlu speaks English and Arabic fluently and has a working knowledge of French and Persian languages. Ziauddin Serdar also thinks that İhsanoğlu and Turkey’s increasing role in the OIC is the only chance of the organization to improve the international image of Muslims[18].

Sahar El-Bahr in his article titled “Reforming the OIC” which was published in the “Al-Ahram Weekly” analyzed İhsanoğlu’s ideas on the reforms that should be made to prevent the organization from becoming outdated. The first necessary reform according to İhsanoğlu is to update the Charter of the organization since “the charter tackled issues like apartheid and colonialism”, which are outmoded today. Secondly, the name of the organization should be changed in order to ensure that the organization turns “from an organizational body into an active, international one, though the term Islamic would remain a part of the organization’s title”. Thirdly, İhsanoğlu believes that the OIC should make optimal use of its capabilities and transform itself into an active and prestigious international organization which would voice out the Islamic world’s opinions. Fourthly, “the organization is to devote special attention to dialogue between the Muslim world and other international and regional organizations”. Fifthly, İhsanoğlu expressed total solidarity with the Palestinian people and asserted that the Palestinian cause should remain as a top priority for the organization. Sixthly, he underlined the importance of solving socio-economic problems of the Muslim world. Lastly, İhsanoğlu stressed the necessity to “defend Muslim minorities and societies outside the OIC member states”[19]. Dr. Minhaj A. Qidwai also thinks in the same way as Prof. İhsanoğlu. In his article titled “Organization of Islamic Conference – Vision For 2050”, he argued that the Muslim world has basically four main problems today. First of all, the poverty is the most important problem of Muslims around the world which should be solved first. Secondly, although Muslim world has been the subject of colossal injustices, Muslims and countries of the Islamic world should get rid of the “scapegoat-seeking” psychology in order to solve their problems. Thirdly, the OIC should assume a more active role in safeguarding holy sites and liberating Jerusalem on the diplomatic level. Lastly, Qidwai believes that the OIC should develop a strategy against American aggression and for the future of invaded Iraq. He concludes “an Islamic Union similar to the structure of European Union should be the vision 2050 for OIC”.

4. The Greater Middle East Project

Before analyzing Turkey’s alternatives in reforming the OIC, it would be beneficial to discuss the Greater Middle East Project in brief. In his article “The Greater Middle East Project”, Cüneyt Ülsever tries to outline the aims of this project. Ülsever claims that the project’s aims are highly questionable and he is against this project if USA does not try to implement it for the sake of world peace and democratization. According to Ülsever, the project has one open and two hidden objectives;

The open objective of the U.S. with the project is “to wipe out terror and the elements feeding it in the Middle East”; the hidden objectives are (i) to legitimize their settlement in the Middle East, and (ii) to control the supply of oil[20].

The vice-President of Bush administration, Dick Cheney, explained this project as an effort to solve democratization and human rights problems in many countries with undemocratic, backward. Cheney asserted that “the culture and the beliefs of the Islamic people were somehow incompatible with the values and the aspirations of freedom and democracy. These claims are condescending - and they are false”[21]. He points out Turkey as the prime example of “Islamic democracy” which is the reason why Turkey is very important both for the Islamic and the Western world. Cheney talks about the problems in various regimes on matters like women rights, human rights, democratic deficits, hatred and prejudices against the West and the Israeli-Palestine problem. What is important in this article is that while talking about “Islamic democracy” Cheney points out Turkey as its best example, a comment that is highly disturbing for a country having a secure, albeit a little problematic, secular rule more than 80 years. It is not surprising to see that JDP government’s success and the rise of moderate Islam in Turkey coincide with USA’s plans to reshape not only the Middle East but also Caucasia, Northern Africa and Asia. In his book titled “Büyük Orta Doğu Projesi (Greater Middle East Project)” Mahir Kaynak deals with this issue and explains this project as an American effort to preserve and maintain its hegemony both politically and economically by controlling these regions at gunpoint and preventing Russia, China and European Union from strengthening their positions in the markets of these regions. Although the American government and its supporters focus solely on the democratization plans of USA for the countries of these regions, it is clear that today economics is generally the driving force behind political decisions. For instance, think of the invasion of Iraq. Although so called “Operation Iraqi Freedom” costs millions of dollars for USA, today the restructuring of Iraq is undertaken by American and European firms, and especially by countries that supported invasion of Iraq. Also USA now has a chance to gain direct control over Iraqi oil resources. Moreover, today USA has an important strategic advantage by having extensive military force near Syria, Iran and Turkey. As we know, the Greater Middle East Project coincides with President George W. Bush’s declaration indicating Iran and Syria as “rough states” and enemies of the world peace and democracy. Although conspiracy theories do not have academic validity, the historical evidence and current developments show us one thing for clear: USA and Israel want to change the regimes of many regions especially Middle Eastern countries by using all means. Its invasion of Iraq against the decisions of United Nations by using so-called biological weapon pretext can be a good example for this. USA at the same time tries to consolidate its hegemony by projects like “Star Wars” and doctrines like “homeland security” and “preemptive strike”.

5. Turkey’s Role in the Islamic World

In this context, Turkey has three alternatives. As a member of NATO and -in Prime Minister Erdoğan’s own words- a “strategic partner” of USA, Turkey can give full support to American aggression and engage in the process of reshaping the world in order to profit more from the possible victories of USA. Turkey gave its full support to American and the Western world during Adnan Menderes’ tenure in office and may choose to do the same again. Turkey can be totally dependent on USA by opening its military bases, territory and air zone to American forces. By this way, USA and Israel would have a strong partner and have better chance to change the course of things in the Middle East in their favor. In this approach, Turkey’s role would be to behave like a “Trojan horse” and use its connections and power for the sake of American imperialism. However, it is clear that this kind of approach can only be defended by American and Israeli administrations and it is out of question for a person who is in favor of democracy and human rights. Even though a person may consider this approach as democratic, history shows us that these views and projects generally lead to the fear of Westernization and the rise of Westoxification[22]. Democracy is difficult to impose by force and to be internalized at gunpoint. Invasions and wars incite hatred towards the West and generally lead to the radicalization of invaded country’s people. In his article “Islam, Democracy, and the Constitutional Liberalism”, Fareed Zakaria claims that the majority of the Muslim people in Middle Eastern countries are very pious and they can easily be deceived by religious extremists. In Zakaria’s opinion, this is why democratic steps should be taken slowly and gradually in the Middle East. In order to show the extremism potential among Arab peoples, Zakaria gives the example of the enormous interest shown towards Al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden. In his view, Bin Laden finds huge support from Arab people because he criticizes Middle Eastern governments for not being completely Islamic and rejects Western inventions like democracy, liberalism and capitalism that do not comply with Islam in his ideology. He wants Middle Eastern countries to be ruled according to the rules of Sharia and takes former Taliban regime in Afghanistan as a model. Invasions and biased attitudes towards the Islamic world bring about the strengthening of extremists like Osama Bin Laden. That is why even though one may think that democracy by imposition can be acceptable, considering the possible consequences this first approach’s chances of success seem very limited.

Secondly, Turkey can try to play a moderating and conciliator role or the role of an “active bridge”[23] between the OIC and American-Israeli alliance. As a member of NATO, OIC and possibly - European Union in the near future Turkey can act as a window, or a channel of communication to harmonize the interests of both sides. Such moderate role of Turkey can be crucial in changing the status quo in the Middle East. Although Turkey has been mostly considered as a satellite of the West by the Islamic world, Mahmut B. Aykan discusses Turkey’s “moderating and moderate roles”. Throughout the history “in its capacity as a moderator, Turkey has tried to promote moderation in various Middle Eastern issues involving the United States - such as the Arab-Israeli conflict and the US-Iran conflict of 1985 - through carrying messages between the parties and encouraging them to adopt moderate positions” (Aykan, Mahmut B., pg 128). This role seems more realistic for Turkey since Turkey has good connections and alliances both in the West and in the Islamic world. Especially the support of Islamic countries for Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu’s candidacy and Turkey’s recent leading role in the OIC in addition to Turkey’s confident steps for full EU membership are favorable developments that can facilitate playing such a role. Contrary to popular belief, Turkey did not always act in accordance with American policies and refused USA on a number of occasions when she believed that USA was not right. “As an example of this policy, Turkey, taking careful steps to avoid being associated with the US policy in the region, terminated, in April 1984, the agreement with the United States, signed in November 1983 on the transit terminal services at the İncirlik Air Base” (Aykan, Mahmut B., pg 129). “Another revealing example of the above-mentioned policy was Turkey’s attitude with respect to the US imposition of economic sanctions against Libya in 1985 which were established as a reaction to Libya’s alleged involvement in international terrorism. On this issue, Turkey criticized the US action only as a method in fighting against international terrorism, on the grounds that it had been taken hurriedly and uselessly” (Aykan, Mahmut B., pg 130). Turkey can be said to have an energizing role in promoting political cooperation in the OIC. For instance, in 1992, Turkey assumed a leading role in the Islamic world in bringing about the meeting of the 5th Extraordinary Session of the Islamic Conference of Foreign Ministers in Turkey to examine the situation of Bosnia-Herzegovina, where Serbian forces were committing indiscriminate violence against the Muslim population. Two months after this session, Turkey appealed to the UN for the extraordinary convening of the UN General Assembly to discuss measures in order to put an end to the “ethnic cleansing”.

While criticizing Western imperialism, Turkey is also very critical about the democratic deficits of the Islamic countries. The then Turkish president, Ahmet Necdet Sezer stated in the last meeting of the OIC: “It is clear that there should be a consensus on the inevitability of reforms. This process has started and it is not possible to stop it”[24]. These examples and the rejection of 1 March memorandum show us that Turkey can act independently from USA if she really believes that America is doing wrong. Turkey also aims to take support from the OIC countries for the abolishment of economic sanctions on the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus since the peace process was prevented by Greek Cypriots, and Turkish Cypriots are economically and politically isolated. Thus, Turkey may try to follow its multi-dimensional balance policy and try to play a moderating role between two sides.

Thirdly, in the recent years many intellectuals from different ideological groups (Kemalists, Islamists, Socialists etc.) believe that Turkey and other Middle Eastern countries could form an alliance against USA since their interests are almost identical in today’s world. Iraq’s situation after the invasion and the possibility of an independent Kurdish state is very dangerous for Turkey, Syria and Iran since these countries have Kurdish population and they do not want an imperialist USA to become their neighbors for a long period of time. Turkish support for Syria after President Bush’s threats and Turkish President of the Republic Ahmet Necdet Sezer’s visit to Syria, as well as Tayyip Erdoğan’s warm messages to Bashar Asad, received negative reactions from American press and diplomats. This makes it clear that USA is scared by the possibility of a united front against its policies in the Middle East especially if Turkey is involved. Although it is economically and militarily very powerful, Israel also does not feel secure in the region since it is hated by all neighboring countries. Israel refuses to withdraw from occupied lands and uses coercion against civilians. The hatred towards Israel’s policies does not exist only in the Middle Eastern countries but in all OIC member countries including Turkey. In fact, Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a very popular and well-known topic in Turkey. It can be said that this is one of the rare topics to which nearly all ideologies and groups in the country look from the same perspective. When you ask ordinary people from communist, socialist, social democrat, Kemalist, liberal, Islamist or nationalist end of the political spectrum, they all would probably state that they supported the Palestinian cause. However, there is also a small group especially in the liberal intelligentsia and in the military-bureaucratic elite who identify Turkey’s interest with USA and Israel and thus, does not defend the Palestinian cause and do propaganda for USA and Israel. Thus, Gökhan Bacık rightfully states that Turkish-Israeli rapprochement is artificial and unrealistic. It can be asserted that not only the rapprochement with Israel but also the strategic partnership with USA are seen as artificial in Turkey and do not have strong social roots. Turco-American relations are supported by some political and state elites as well as some segments in the Turkish bourgeoisie. However, there is also a strong distrust and reaction against USA in the hearts of ordinary Turkish people. Turkish and American interests conflict with each other on a number of issues. First of all, USA tries to reshape the Middle East by the Greater Middle East Project whereas Turkey is in favor of stability and peace. USA’s forced democratization policies are not in conformity with Turkey’s “peace at home, peace in the world” principle which was first stated by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the republic’s founder. Turkish people are also very suspicious of America’s hidden agenda in this project. The new Iraqi constitution is no democratic than the Saddam’s secular constitution. Secondly, although Turkey is a strongly committed secular country, the majority of Turkish population is Muslim, and although they live a kind of “modern”, “reformized” Muslim life, they are seriously disturbed of biases and humiliations against Islam especially in the last few years after 9/11 attack. Thirdly, USA takes gradual steps towards establishing an independent Kurdish state which is one of the greatest red lines of Turkish Republic. Although PKK is accepted as a terrorist organization, USA troops in Iraq did not do anything to stop them and PKK members are still active in the Northern Iraq.

On the other hand, Turkey has many common interests with neighboring countries. Iraq, Syria, Iran and Turkey have considerable Kurdish population which could cause further problems for their integrity in the future since Kurds have taken full support from USA. Moreover, in order to solve territorial and water problems, Turkey has to cooperate with Syria and Iraq and improve her relations. Thus, these countries need each other desperately and the OIC could be the common ground for these countries. Having established a strong coalition with regional powers in a very careful and gradual way, Turkey can play a major role in the elimination of American aggression in the region by using the OIC for opening new channels and improving the relations with the European Union. Although USA and Israel are militarily very powerful, using democratic ways to protest these countries’ imperialist policies and appealing to international organizations like EU, UN, and to civil societal organizations around the world, organizing conferences, demonstrations and most importantly founding real alliances and pacts against common threats could be a very influential way of preventing further American aggression against the Islamic world. At the same time, in order not to give justification for invasion to USA, Turkey has to encourage its neighboring countries to launch democratic openings. Unfortunately, the Islamic world considerably suffers from anti-democratic regimes in addition to many socioeconomic and educational problems of their people. Implementing democracy in these countries is also very risky and highly questionable. Fareed Zakaria claims that Middle Eastern governments do not have the chance of being democratic because if free elections are held in these countries, the regimes that would replace autocratic or monarchical systems would be more fundamentalist, oppressive and hostile towards West. "The Arab rulers of the Middle East are autocratic, corrupt, and heavy-handed. But they are still more liberal, tolerant and pluralistic than those who would likely replace them"[25]. He gives the example of the liberal king Abdullah of Jordan in addition to Egypt's Hosni Mubarak and clearly shows his idea that democracy cannot be used to destroy democracy.

6. Conclusion

Among the three alternatives which were described above, the only realistic and beneficial scenario can be provided by the second alternative, which calls for paying effort to play a moderating and conciliator role or the role of an “active bridge”[26] between the OIC and American-Israeli alliance. As a member of NATO, OIC and possibly - European Union in the near future, Turkey can act as a channel of communication for harmonizing the interests of Islamic countries, on one hand, and the USA and Israel on the other. However, it is clear that Turkey should first solve its own problems related to secularism-Islamism conflict. Turkey’s potential EU accession and European people’s sensitivity about human rights and democracy could make things easier for Turkey. Europe will be the neighbor to Islamic countries in the near future if it grants Turkey full membership; for this reason the EU can choose to produce alternative policies to American aggression. Many people dream of democratic and peaceful regimes in the Islamic world and Turkey, and the OIC and Turkey are responsible for paying effort to make real this ideal. That Turkey’s nominee, Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu, has served as the secretary general of OIC since 2004, has increased the respect for Turkey among Arab countries; it also has served to the image that Turkish identity is seen as an element of stability in the region in the region. Arab public opinion and intellectuals tend to see the recent developments as a result of the active Middle East policy of Turkey, whose historical mission and effectiveness in foreign policy in the last few years provided the model “reliable” partner in the region which peoples and politicians of the Middle East, weary of living amidst political chaos and conflicts, had longed for. Under the leadership of Turkey, OIC can function as a bridge between West and East, and negate the “clash of civilizations” discourse which claims to explain the recent developments in global politics especially after 9 / 11.


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[1] Dr. Minhaj, A. Qidwai, “Organization of Islamic Conference – Vision for 2050”

[2] Among these developments, the following can be listed: 9/11 attack, the “crusade” against terrorism (or Islamic world?) and invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan launched by the neo-conservative George W. Bush administration invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq, negative prejudices against Islam in the Western world, the Greater Middle East Project together with JDP government’s balance policy, Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s critical and suspicious attitude towards Israel and Prof. Dr. Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu’s election as the secretary general of the OIC.

[3] Dr. Minhaj, A. Qidwai, “Organization of Islamic Conference – Vision for 2050”

[4] To see member list visit http://www.oic-oci.org/ .

[5] Ziauddin, Sardar, “A Choice Between Saudi and Turkey

[6] Jonathan, Gorvett, “OIC Meeting Puts Turkey Centre Stage

[7] “But OIC failed to adjust to a new world and has achieved nothing on terrorism, human rights, environmental protection, the security of small Muslim states, and the much-vaunted Islamic common market. Its finances are totally mess; the budget is a mere $12 m and many members have not paid their dues for decades” (Ziauddin, Sardar, “A Choice Between Saudi and Turkey”.

[8] National View (Milli Görüş) represents the view of Turkish far-rightists and Islamists; their party (Welfare Party) came to power in 1996 but its policies led to the “post-modern” coup in February 28th, 1997, after when it was ousted from office. JDP was founded by those welfare party members who detached themselves from Welfare Party after its successor, Virtue Party, was closed by Constitutional Court in 2001.

[9] Morris, Melissa, “Walking The Line: Turkey’s Struggle With Islamism

[10] “Although Refah had various factions, it was probably most accurately described as party of Muslim values rather than an Islamic party. Its declared purposes were achieving social justice and a just economic order, and promoting Muslim values in Turkey through education and propaganda” (Salt, Jeremy, “Turkey’s Military Democracy”, pg 72).

[11] Morris, Melissa, “Walking The Line: Turkey’s Struggle With Islamism

[12] During Erbakan’s visit to Libya in 1996, Libyan strongman Qaddafi had emphasized the necessity of independence of Kurdistan and Libya’s discomfort with Turkey’s close relations with Israel.

[13] Gareth, Jenkins, “A Timely Shift

[14] On 19 May 2004 for instance, in his speech at the Esenboğa airport before going to Romania, Erdoğan blamed Israel for making “state terrorism”[14]. Moreover, after Erdoğan’s speech, “Turkey withdrew both its ambassador and consul-general from Israel for consultations”[14]. This was a clear message from new, popularly elected government of Turkey to Israel that their aggressive policies are not acceptable.

[15] Frank J. Gaffney Jr., “No to Islamist Turkey”, The Washington Times, http://www.washingtontimes.com/commentary/20050926-092005-9547r.htm

[16] http://www.oic-oci.org/english/main/Secretary_General.htm

[17] Ziauddin, Sardar, “A Choice Between Saudi and Turkey

[18] “If the Saudis persuade the African and Arab nations to support Chowdhury, we can say goodbye to the OIC’s chances of improving the international image of Muslims” (Ziauddin, Sardar, “A Choice Between Saudi and Turkey

[19] Sahar El-Bahr, “Reforming the OIC”, Al-Ahram Weekly

[20] Ülsever, Cüneyt, “The Greater Middle East Project”, http://www.turks.us/article.php?story=20040302235332632&mode=print

[21] Cheney, Dick, “The Greater Middle East – The Bush Administration’s Perspective”, The Globalist, http://www.theglobalist.com/dbweb/storyid.aspx?storyid=3754

[22] Zakaria, Fareed, "Islam, Democracy, and the Constitutional Liberalism", pg 9

[23] Aykan, Mahmut B., pg 128

[24] Jonathan, Gorvett, “OIC Meeting Puts Turkey Centre Stage

[25] Zakaria, Fareed, "Islam, Democracy, and the Constitutional Liberalism", pg 4

[26] Aykan, Mahmut B., pg 128

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