Anti-Chinese attack shows Turkey’s struggle

By Ding Gang Source:Global Times Published: 2015-7-8 22:08:11

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Last week, some South Korean tourists were attacked in Istanbul. According to Hurriyet Daily News, Turkey's English language daily, the attackers were a group of extremists that support Xinjiang independence who mistook Koreans as Chinese.

In recent days, some Chinese restaurants in Turkey were also reportedly smashed by protesters. The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs has issued a warning to Chinese citizens who plan to travel to Turkey.

The development of forces advocating "Xinjiang independence" in Turkey is nothing new. Not long ago, it was reported that 173 Uyghurs from Xinjiang illegally fled to Turkey via Thailand. But such brazen attacks are rare.

The rampant Islamic extreme forces in Turkey have something to do with the political and economic situation in the Middle East. Some observers believe this is an inevitable outcome of Turkey's ambition to seek great power status in the region.

But judging from Turkey's domestic political and economic development in recent years, this reveals a dilemma of Turkey that is struggling to deal with the rivalry of the Middle East's political and religious forces.

Among Muslim countries, Turkey enjoys the highest extent of secularization. From the era of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, there has been nearly 100 years of history. But till now, Turkey still cannot fully shed the influence of religion and even has to rely on religious forces to keep political balance.

Turkey has been trying to cut itself away from the Middle East countries which have powerful religious forces. But people doubt that in an era when the extreme Muslim forces in the Middle East are rising and traditional conservative forces have to show disapproval to the secularization process, Turkey has no choice but to look back.

This can explain why the West shows less and less confidence toward Turkey led by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. If we believe in Samuel Huntington's theory of a Clash of Civilizations, then Turkey is trapped in a permanent dilemma.

Turkey does not have the strength to become a great power that is immune from the conflicts between two different cultures. It is likely to be ended up swaying between the two sides.

Take the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, made a museum in the 1930s after being converted to use as a mosque in the 15th century from its original status as one of the great cathedrals of Orthodoxy. There are Islamic radicals clamoring for it to be used as a mosque again. This shows the resurgence of religious conflicts.

The predicament of Turkey comes from not only the rise of extreme forces in the Middle East, but also the mounting pressure of economic competition brought by globalization.

Within the country, Erdogan needs support from conservative powers so as to maintain his steady control over the country and society and avoid the color revolutions that have swept many parts of the Middle East. But on the other hand, despite a rapid development, Turkey has been affected by the gloomy economic prospects due to the downward global economy. When the entire Middle East was subjected to the unemployment wave, Turkey cannot be an exception.

The unemployment rate in Turkey has jumped to 11 percent, the highest in five years. Turkey has gradually been squeezed out of the global value chain.

When globalization has crimped room for Turkey's development, economic problems will evolve into the hotbed for extreme religious thoughts, like what has happened in some Muslim countries in the Middle East.

The protests in Gezi Park two years ago show that the secularization process is irreversible in Turkey. Of course, this contributes to the reason why the older generation disapproves. Religious forces will not easily secede from Turkish society. When they meet with more shocks and have nothing to lose, they may strike back more fiercely.

What has been happening in Turkey is an epitome of the Middle East that is experiencing radical changes. Giving tacit consent to the development of forces that support "Xinjiang independence" does not prove the power of Turkey. Rather, it shows its helplessness.

The author is a senior editor with People's Daily. He is now stationed in Brazil. Follow him on Twitter at @dinggangchina

Posted in: Ding Gang, Viewpoint

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