Matt Duss did a post back in May about conservative hysteria over “Islamist” Turkey that’s important to read now that the flotilla incident has elevated this talking point to a new level. The Duss bottom line:
Much like the United States, Turkey is a fairly religious society. It makes perfect sense, then, that as Turkey has become more democratic, and political participation has expanded beyond an elite, Euro-centric core, that religious conservatives have become more visible, and issues relating to Turkey’s Islamic identity have come to the fore. There’s nothing necessarily to be feared about this — a similar debate is a central feature of American politics, too (or didn’t you notice our presidential candidates meeting with one of our most prominent clerics on television?) I’d argue that Turkey is currently engaged in the most interesting, dynamic and potentially consequential democratic experiment in the world, seeking to define a pluralist politics in a strongly Islamic society. The only people who will likely be “discomfited” by this process are those who equate “democracy” and “modernity” with “agreeing with the U.S. on everything.”
What gets awkward about this is that the nature of ignorance and nationalism on the American right-wing leaves American liberals as the ones who need to explain that religious-inspired politics is part and parcel of mass democracy. This can get a bit awkward, since here in the U.S. the role we liberals play is typically to disapprove of the way conservative politicians mobilize Christian identity for political purposes. But the fact of the matter is that this kind of thing happens all the time. Most European parties calling themselves “Christian Democrats” aren’t very Christian these days since there are relatively few observant Christians in Europe, but obviously the name points to a historical tradition of mobilizing religious identity. Israel has Shas and other parties that mobilize Orthodox Judaism. The most recent Dutch coalition included a small party called Christians United that tried to mobilize traditionalist Protestant sentiment.
That’s how politics works. I’m not personally a fan of religious-inflected politics, but it’s very common and not something to freak out over.