On the finish of August, Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan celebrated the Islamic New Yr with aplomb. Recent off his conversion of the monumental Haghia Sophia to a mosque, he transformed one other former Byzantine church, the fourth-century Chora church, one among Istanbul’s oldest Byzantine buildings. The day after that he introduced the most important ever pure fuel depository within the Black Sea. This adopted one other current discovery of pure fuel fields within the japanese Mediterranean. Each of those areas are hotly contested zones of worldwide competitors between the powers round these seas. Later that week he welcomed a delegation of Hamas to Ankara, the place he expressed assist for Palestinians within the wake of the current announcement of an settlement between Israel and the UAE.
All of those strikes undertaking Erdogan’s imaginative and prescient of Islamist energy into the world. Standing up for Islam at house goes hand in hand with securing pure assets and imposing Turkey’s energy overseas. It additionally goes hand in hand with home repression. The Islamic New Yr noticed Erdogan additional tighten his grip on social media freedom and think about pulling Turkey out of what’s recognized, now farcically, because the 2011 Istanbul Conference, a treaty of the Council of Europe that commits nations to defending girls from home violence. Democratic peoples in Turkey, the Center East, and world wide ought to fear.
A lot has been written about Erdogan’s makes an attempt to “resurrect” the Ottoman Empire or to type himself a sultan. There’s fact right here. However to know Erdogan’s political agenda and horizon we should be particular about which Ottoman sultan Erdogan strives to be. It’s the empire’s ninth sultan, Selim I.
Selim died 500 years in the past in 1520. It was throughout his lifetime that the Ottoman Empire grew from a robust regional energy to a gargantuan world empire. For Erdogan, this sultan from half a millennium in the past serves his modern wants. Selim in some ways features as Erdogan’s Andrew Jackson, a determine from the previous of symbolic use within the current. Selim affords a template for Turkey to change into a world political and financial energy, with affect from Washington to Beijing, crushing international and home challengers alike. He helps Erdogan too to make his case for Islam as a cultural and political reservoir of energy, an important part of the glories of the Ottoman previous, which he seeks to emulate in modern Turkey towards the dominant elite secularism that has reigned since its founding.
We ought to be cautious of Erdogan’s embrace of Selim’s exclusionary imaginative and prescient of Turkish political energy. It represents a historic instance of strongman politics that led to regional wars, the tried annihilation of spiritual minorities, and the monopolization of world financial assets. Along with his makes an attempt to monopolize pure fuel reserves round Turkey, right this moment this takes the type of Erdogan’s international army ventures in Libya, Syria, and Yemen. At house, he has gone after Turkey’s Shiite neighborhood, Kurds, intellectuals, Christians, journalists, girls, and leftists. Erdogan cultivates his personal Sunni religiosity to place Islam on the middle of Turkey’s home agenda, with the church conversions probably the most potent current symbols of this. Erdogan’s represents a political logic of zero-sum competitors that pits Turkey towards Saudi Arabia and Iran for management of the area and over claims of world Islamic management.
Erdogan likes Selim as a result of he made Turkish world political energy potential. From 1517 by way of the top of World Conflict I, the Ottoman Empire maintained the geographic form Selim gained for it, dominating the Center East and the japanese Mediterranean. In 1517, the Ottomans defeated their main rival within the area, the Mamluk Empire based mostly in Cairo, capturing all of its territory within the Center East and North Africa. This greater than doubled the empire’s dimension. This explosion of the Ottoman Empire into the Center East turned it into the area’s foremost army and political energy and one of many world’s largest states. The Ottomans now managed your entire japanese half of the Mediterranean and thus dominated the globe’s most vital commerce routes overland between Europe and Asia and by sea by way of the Persian Gulf and Pink Sea. The Turkish Republic inherited a lot of that energy after the empire’s demise and the republic’s rise in 1923.
Whereas each fashionable Turkish ruler has distanced himself from the legacy of the Ottoman Empire, and Islam, to aim to undertaking a extra “western,” “secular,” and “fashionable” face for the republic, Erdogan is the primary who has actively embraced the Ottoman previous and the empire’s Islamic heritage. Right here too Selim proves key to Erdogan’s picture of his rule. Selim’s defeat of the Mamluks made the Ottoman Empire a majority Muslim state for the primary time in its historical past, after over 2 hundred years of being a state whose inhabitants was principally Greek Orthodox. With this victory, Selim turned the primary Ottoman sultan to rule Mecca and Medina, Islam’s holiest cities, thus incomes the title of caliph and cementing the empire’s world Islamic credentials. If Selim was the primary Ottoman to be each sultan and caliph, Erdogan is the primary republican chief to profess to possessing each titles.
Like President Donald Trump’s purposeful deployment of the symbols of Andrew Jackson—prominently displaying his portrait within the Oval Workplace and defending his statues—Erdogan has trafficked publicly and particularly within the symbolic politics of Selim in Turkey. His most placing act was to call the not too long ago constructed third bridge over the well-known Bosphorus Strait after Selim. Erdogan has additionally lavished huge assets on Selim’s tomb and different memorials to his rule. After successful a 2017 constitutional referendum that vastly expanded his powers—a course of marred by irregularities—Erdogan made his first public look at Selim’s tomb. Staged as a sort of pilgrimage, there Erdogan returned to the long-dead sovereign his kaftan and turban that had been stolen years earlier than. This far-from-subtle first act after successful a referendum that gave him near-limitless energy made clear who Erdogan’s function mannequin is.
Erdogan and his Islamist occasion colleagues recurrently describe themselves because the “grandchildren” of the Ottomans. On this very pointed family tree, Erdogan purposefully skips a era—that of Turkey’s republican fathers since 1923—to leapfrog again in time to when the Ottomans dominated the globe with their specific model of Turkish Sunni politics, to Selim’s day when wars and home repression led to wealth and territorial energy. Recreating a political program akin to Selim’s is a harmful prospect for Turkey and the Center East and certainly the world. To make Turkey Ottoman once more requires the sort of violence, censorship, and vitriol that Erdogan has certainly proven himself prepared to make use of. The common lesson right here is that requires returns to perceived greatness, whether or not in Turkey or in United States, selectively embrace controversial historic figures, mangle their historical past, and elevate hatred and division.