The Myths of the “Turkish Model”

The Muslim world stands at a critical juncture brought about by its ability to overcome natural and psychological barriers of ‘fear’ created by the Authoritarian and robust regimes that had dominated over it for decades. A desire for an alternative model that satisfies the Islamic sentiments of the revolting populations has put to the surface a so-called “Turkish Model” represented by the charismatic Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the AKP. The Islamic overtones and economic success story of Erdoğan have led many to think that the Turkish Model serves as the ideal trajectory for the “Post-Arab Spring”.  This optimism is shared both by ‘intellectuals’ like Tariq Ramadan as well as Western-policy makers who, as a policy brief entitled; Muslim Politics without an “Islamic State”: Can Turkey’s Justice and Development Party Be a Model for Arab Islamists?[1];“The AKP’s success in practicing “Muslim politics” without seeking the establishment of an Islamic state – a state whose constitution declares sharia to be the source of law – makes it an appropriate and worthy example for Arab Islamists.”. A critical examination of the AKP, the Turkish State and the discourse and policies of Erdoğan will be examined in more detail in later essays and for now we will suffice with dealing with some of the dominant myths that have left many Muslims unable to look beyond the rhetoric and illusions of the ‘Turkish Model’ and assess the model on Islamic grounds.

Myth #1: The ‘Turkish Model’ is an Islamic Model and/or an alternative to secularism

Historically there have been a variety of secularisms, namely those which accommodate religion in the public-space and those which seek the exclusion of religion from the public space. The latter is represented by the French model and the Kemalist model whereas the United States and the United Kingdom represent a ‘soft’ form of Secularism. Obama explaining this form of soft secularism in “Call to Renewal” Keynote Address of June 28, 2006 explained, “Democracy demands that the religiously motivated translate their concerns into universal, rather than religion-specific, values. It requires that their proposals be subject to argument, and amenable to reason. I may be opposed to abortion for religious reasons, but if I seek to pass a law banning the practice, I cannot simply point to the teachings of my church or evoke God’s will. I have to explain why abortion violates some principle that is accessible to people of all faiths, including those with no faith at all.” Those principles he refers to are liberal secular principles, hence ones moral views may have some motivation from religion but the articulation of policies must be based upon a liberal secular worldview.

Contrasting Erdogan’s model to the Kemalist mode-of-secularism creates the illusion that the Turkish Model is an alternative to secularism when in fact it is an explicit manifestation of a domesticated ‘Soft’ form of secularism. Erdoğan himself articulated this notion (of secularism) aptly when he called upon the Muslim Brotherhood to adopt a Secular constitution and stated that Do not be wary of secularism. I hope there will be a secular state in Egypt, Similar models i.e. domesticated ‘soft’ secular states can be found in states like India and Lebanon. More specifically, the ideological foundations of the “Turkish Model” as articulated by the AKP are; secular national conservatism (in politics) and neo-liberalism (in economics). Therefore, the Turkish Model ought-not to be understood as an alternative to Secularism but rather a far more benign and insidious manifestation of secularism that incorporates Islamic values into its discourse by virtue of ‘Islam’ being part of Turkey’s national-identity.

Myth #2: The ‘Turkish Model’ represents a regional power that can deter aggression against Muslims

Policies are the products of a set of conceptual assumptions and frameworks. Meaning that, if we want to understand the policies of the Turkish State we must examine the conceptual foundations that inform the States decisions. Those foundations being; national-identity and therefore decisions taken out of national-interests and not the interest of the Ummah.

A cursory glance at the policies (versus the rhetoric) of the Turkish State since the AKP assumed power proves just that. More recently, Syrian jets were shot down by the Turkish air force for violating Turkish airspace (and thus Turkey’s sovereignty) whereas the Syrian regimes barbaric campaign against Muslims in Syria has been only met with threat and rhetoric. Far from being a promising model, the nation-state is an exclusionary model which takes up their interest of artificial national identities as opposed to the interests of those who associate with the universal Islamic identity.

Myth #3: The ‘Turkish Model’ serves an alternative political project to the existing hegemonic regional and international projects.[2]

It is often posited that the ‘Turkish Model’ serves as an alternative to the ostensibly hegemonic Saudi-Iranian blocs. More importantly, it is an alternative to the existing systems and modes-of-governance in the Arab-Muslim world. This however could not be any further from the truth. From the very onset, the United States strategy of ‘inclusion’ meant that the West had to create alliances with “Moderates” in the Arab-Muslim world who would on one hand quell the Islamic sentiments of the people and on the other hand preserve U.S influence. A continuity of neoliberalism under the veneer of an Islamic conservative rhetoric would essentially make the emergence of an Islamic alternative to neoliberal hegemony difficult. Far from being an alternative political project, the Turkish Model is a continuity of existing colonial-relations. Paul Wolfowitz, a former deputy defense secretary explained the role of Turkey within the framework of the emerging Greater Middle East Initiative; “To win the war against terrorism, and, in so doing, to shape a more peaceful world, we must reach out to the hundreds of millions of moderate and tolerant people in the Muslim world. We must speak to those people around the world who aspire to enjoy the blessings of freedom and free enterprise. Turkey offers a compelling demonstration that these values are compatible with modern society — that religious beliefs need not be sacrificed to build modern democratic institutions.”[3]

This vision is shared by the leaders of the AKP, as a matter of fact the Foreign-policy strategy articulated by Ahmet Davutoglu revolves around the vision promulgated by the Greater Middle East Initiative. Prime Minister Erdogan put it aptly; “Turkey wants to see a more democratic, free, and peaceful Middle East that is well governed and has an efficiently functioning economy. This should not be mistaken as idealism. Turkey’s own interests require peaceful and stable neighbors that it can interact with positively at all levels. Turkey’s aspirations for the region, therefore, are harmonious with the positive objectives of the Broader Middle East initiative.”[4]

Myth #4: Erdogan’s economic success is unique and a testimony to his success

Economic progress, unless one is a committed Capitalist, is not a measure of legitimacy or success. Nor is rapid economic “progress” unique to Turkey, the Tiger economies of South Korea, Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Dubai and others are all examples of rapid economic progress brought about through hyper-capitalism.

The immediate results of hyper-capitalism, such as an increased quality of the standard of living, are met with a subsequent increase in the gaps of inequality between classes. This also puts Turkey in a systemic-accumulation of deficit now reaching a startling 65 billion dollars leaving it, as the International Monetary Fund’s Global Financial Stability Report notes, as one of the most vulnerable emerging economies. Hypercapitalism dictates that “Turkey’s financing is highly tilted towards shorter-term inflows as more stable sources of funding like foreign direct investment continue to look rather unimpressive,”[5] therefore an alleviation of the deficit or instability is unlikely so long as the mechanisms of Capitalism are at play.

Looking Beyond the Turkish Model[6]

If the regional support for Erdogan is drawn from Islamic sentiments then our appraisal of the Turkish Model ought-to draw on Islamic ideas. An authentic Islamic criterion and alternative model-of-governance emanating from the Islamic worldview should serve as the framework through which we deem policies legitimate or illegitimate. Accordingly, both the soft-secularism of the Turkish Model and the hard-secularism of the Kemalist model are both illegitimate modes-of-governance and economic “success” brought about by hypercapitalism does not mean that the economic experiment of the AKP is an optimal trajectory for the Arab-Muslim world. As Muslims, our criterion transcends personalities and immediate-material gains and thus providing Muslims with visionary and principled leadership that seeks to implement policies and legislation derived from the Quran and Sunnah, and it is precisely this type of leadership which the Muslim world needs for the break into a more liberating epoch.

“Is it then the judgment of (the times of) ignorance that they desire? And who is better than Allah to judge for a people who are sure?” [Quran TMQ 5:50]


[3] “U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, Remarks for the Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation,” Istanbul, 14 July 2002 (available at

[4] R. Tayyip Erdoğan, “A Broad View of the ‘Broader Middle East,’” Russia in Global Affairs, vol. 2, no. 3 (July-September 2004), p. 129. See also>.

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