Tag Archives: Turkey

A Middle Eastern possible integration in the post-Syrian and Iraqi wars?

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The catastrophic human suffering in Syria and Iraq, with more than six million refugees only from Syria, will be remembered as one of the biggest failure of the international community to defend civilians, since the Balkans and Rwanda more than twenty years ago. Even if territorial ISIS has just been defeated and the Iraqi Kurdistan is bidding on its independence we don’t know when the Syrian and Iraqi internal conflicts will finally end. But when they will that area will not be the same. And the entire region of Middle East (or more precisely South West Asia, as cardinal directions on a globe are relative) could not be the same if this time the regional powers, and not the world ones, will decide to build a new process for a regional integration.

Since 9/11, the US and his allies’ intervention in Iraq, that facilitated the birth of ISIS, and in Afghanistan, that didn’t stop the Salafi terrorism, and later the non-direct-proxy intervention of many world and regional powers in Syria, that created the humanitarian catastrophe, the Middle East and specifically the Arab world has been in disarray (adding also the failure of the Arab Spring). There is no comparison between the situation of today and the one of the second half of 20th century, when stable countries and strong leaders (like Nasser in Egypt) could give some form of stability to the region. The US President Donald Trump declared since the beginning of its mandate that he will “fix the mess he inherited” but even if some analysts at the beginning thought that he “will design a new Middle East” it is clear now that he has a flawed Middle East policy with no real plan for Syria or Iraq after Isis is defeated. Actually, he needs to concentrate on East Asia mostly, putting in practice the pivot that Obama already declared. But this is not a bad thing, at the end of the day, as there is no design or fixing of the Middle East with external interventions, we saw that repeatedly since at least one century, since the end of the Ottoman Empire, and probably even before since the Napoleon campaign in Ottoman Egypt and Syria: only regional empires really created stability in the past and only regional powers will create it in the future.

The leaders of Middle East are today facing a fundamental decision: to choose between the old-style balance of power, with the consequent instability when the balance becomes unbalanced, or a gradual future regional integration. The second choice is the only one that could guarantee some stability for the region, as Europe showed in the last 70 years after centuries of conflict because of balance of powers’ failures. Would this be possible also for the Middle East or is this just a utopian and naïf idea? Political will for transformational changes is never an easy thing, in particular in a region like this one, but also for Europe during WWII it seemed impossible to arrive to what we arrived today. After the destructions of the Syrian and Iraqi wars a long political vision has to come from the region, not from outside, and it is never too early to start to plan, at least if we have constantly in mind the civilian victims that suffer in the region every single day. But how to think about such a visionary plan?

To bet on a future economic and political integration in a region like Middle East the local powers will need not only to negotiate political settlements after stopping the fight but to reach a compromise on regional institutions to foster cooperation. This is the grand bargain that the regional powers need to achieve. To do this the regional countries with vocation of global actors, first of all Turkey and Iran, but also Egypt and Saudi Arabia, will have to understand that together they will be able to play a stronger role in the future complex and globalized world. As it has been for Europe last century, also the Middle East, if it wants to definitely abandon the past of violence and underdevelopment, will have to search for a gradual integration: an economic, political and also security integration, like it has been for the CEE and NATO, as development and security go hand in hand.

But the question that rise for Middle Eastern future in comparison to the European past is: could the regional powers of the area have the vision and determination of their European counterparts? And specifically could Iran learn to be what Germany (until 1990 only the West part) has been for Europe, the engine, Turkey what France has been, the torch, and Saudi Arabia what Italy has been, the bridge? Comparison are always a risk, as every region is by itself, and there are never models to apply, but lesson learned and best practices can be useful, if adapted to new times and different spaces. And we need to look at longer terms, all this century more than the next few years of decade (as China does at economic level with the new Silk Road initiative). Because longer time spans allow us to really see the long trends for the future, and try to impact them, more than to identify countries with their current leaders or administrations. So, let’s see one by one these regional leaders.

Iran is back in the international community since the nuclear deal was signed and it has all the potential to become the economic cornerstone of a future “Middle Eastern Economic Community”. It should nevertheless understand that its role is not the one of regional hegemony, either economically or ideologically, but the one of a shared leadership. Iran should work for Shia minorities in the future Middle East to be included in new democratic and inclusive governments, and not attempt to weaken the domestic politics of these governments to destabilize them and enter as a regional leader. This is something that the Ayatollah regime may not be ready to do it now, but regimes, as everything in human societies, are not eternals. So, let’s see what will be the future for Iranian democracy, as it is one of the countries that experienced the earlier democratic development in the Middle East, one century ago with the Persian Constitutional Revolution, unfortunately put down by the Russians.

Turkey today is not in a good situation, struggling between its internal democratic regression, the forgotten European membership and the external and internal threats of terrorism. But Turkey, besides being the connector between the EU and the Middle East, has the potential also to be the “light on the hill” for the Middle East, with its history of multiculturalism in the Ottoman times and democratic values in the Republican ones, and even earlier at the same time of the Iranian democratic development with the Young Turk revolution in 1908. Turkey represents one of the most trusted countries in all the Muslim world (that we don’t have to forget live mostly in Asia) and if it will rediscover the good elements of both the Ottoman times, with its history of cohabitation, and the Republican history, with roots in secular democracy, could become one of the political leaders of the future regional integration.

Finally Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf countries. The Arabic Peninsula represents the bridge between the Maghreb and the Southwest Asia: like Turkey also Saudi Arabia controls two seas that separate her from these areas, the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea. The region to which the Arabic peninsula belong historically, geographically and ontologically is a bridging space between the Levant, the North Africa and the Indian Ocean. It is therefore with their Arab brothers that they must find a new Renaissance, starting with a more united and expanded GCC, after the conflict with Qatar will be solved, and following with a renovated Arab League. Will Al Saud family be able to do it when old king Salman will die, and the young Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman will become the new King? Will Al Saud family, with gradual reforms towards a more democratic monarchy, be able to represent a more enlightened Arab leadership that Gaddafi, Saddam, Hafez al-Assad and others could not do? Future will say but unfortunately it seems that Mohammed bin Salman wants to escalate the cold war with Iran and might risk a hot battle with unimaginable consequences.  The problem is that Al Saud family, even if will be able to reinforce its power with the recent purges of bin Salman, will not be able to lead the country eternally as its own property. And mostly the Al Saud family needs a new approach to the relationship between religion and politics, as this will help to facilitate in the long future a Shia-Sunni rapprochement, instead of keep trying to fight an impossible battle with the millenary Shia communities in the region. Iran and Saudi Arabia sectarian division at the end of the day is not so different from the Catholic-Protestant division we had in Europe for centuries, before France and Germany finally agreed to integrate in an economic union, even if after two world wars. If Europe could do it Middle East can do it. Hopefully avoiding a similar bloodbath.

So, to avoid a major armed conflict, or keep going with proxy local wars, regional powers in Middle East will have to be enough visionary to understand that they can have more benefit if they collaborate than if they compete, especially in the future globalized times. If Iran, S. Arabia and Turkey will understand that supporting each other for economic development and security will be more beneficial than competing for sphere of influences, as Germany, Italy and France did after two world wars, this will create the leadership that the Middle East desperately need since at least one century. And most importantly, the Muslim world will have the leadership needed to live in peace with Jews and Christian, creating for the first time on that land a religious harmony of faiths that recognize Abraham as their common prophet. Actually, the integration of the Middle East cannot happen without also the participation of Israel. Israel could represents the compass of the region, as it is the state that can share a history of stable democracy in the Middle East and is the country that can bring the concept of inclusion of diversity in the new regional order. There will not be integration of the Middle East without the inclusion of Israel, and this means also a stable peace process between Israel and Palestine, and with that process Israel will finally get the legitimacy to be recognized and respected as a partner by the leaders of the Middle Eastern Muslim world.

 

But what are the concrete steps with short-term goals that the regional powers should take to start a similar integration? First of all, like the Treaty of Rome followed the Ventotene Manifesto on Europe, also the Middle East will need some type of “Manifesto” to mark the road and explain the necessity of such future. The intellectual and political figures of the Middle East need to come out and take the lead to trace the road. The Islamic intelligentsia for example should start to debate about the future regional order, and international organizations like the Organization of Islamic Cooperation could play a role in this. Concepts like the Islamic banking and finance, based on specific political or economic values, could be an important starting point to make the regional powers see that they share more than what they differ. Secondly, conferences on economic and security cooperation should be held. These conferences could address the preliminary steps for a common market and common resources (first oil and gas) as it is through economy that the interest of cooperation comes out first. Then security conferences could be done, on the example of the Helsinki Conference in the 1970s, that created the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), in order to accompany the birth of an “Organization for security and cooperation in Middle East”. International preparatory conferences will not be easy as these countries meet among many others at the UN or G20 but never met for such process of integration, so they will need a political leadership with enough vision and boldness to propose these actions. But the task will not be possible without some external supporters, to facilitate the diplomatic efforts for an economic and political integration (like the US has been for Europe). So the third element could be the support of external powers as mediators and guarantors and the first of these powers could be the European Union (EU). As the EU helped the US and Russia to come to an agreement with Iran, it could also help in future the Middle Eastern regional powers to take the lead for a regional integration. The EU could give to a Middle Eastern integration process what the US gave for the birth of the EU, which is economic and political support. This would represent an occasion also for the EU in the next decades to recover from its economic, political and cultural crisis that is living now. The EU seems the most legitimate and balanced international actor to take such role, as the US and Russia would keep fighting for sphere of influences and this would not help the future integration. For the same reason security should be kept in the hands of regional powers, as if external actors like NATO for example would enter in the protection of local partners this could create frictions between again the two world superpowers. This doesn’t meant that partnerships and dialogues like the NATO Mediterranean dialogue with Maghreb and NATO Istanbul Cooperation Initiative with Gulf countries should not continue though.

Diplomacy requires time and patience, and ability to find a balance among the parts. It is not an easy game and as the recent US rapprochement with Cuba and Iran demonstrates, and it has to be constantly nurtured, as the more recent Trump hostile actions show. So the international community and the regional powers need to extend the “shadow of the future”, think about longer terms in order to open prospective for convergence of interests and cooperation. It seems a far stretch right now to think about a Middle Eastern integration but the European Economic Community also seemed impossible in the past but it born with the Treaty of Rome 60 years ago, in order, as Schuman had said, “to make war not only unthinkable but materially impossible” in the future in Europe. The same could happen in the ME in the long run and the regional powers, supported by the EU, will have to take the lead during this century if they want an enduring stability with a regional order.

It is in time of chaos that we need clear ideas and long visions, it is in time of war that we need strong political will, and it is in time of major human sufferings that we need to search for long term solutions. We owe it first to the people of Syria, Iraq, Kurdistan and all the other areas of Middle East in constant suffering.

 

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Why I decided to sign the petition of “Academics for peace” in Turkey

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The online declaration of Academics for peace — which has been already hacked and blocked in Turkey — calling for peace in Kurdistan region and accusing the government of a “deliberate and planned massacre in serious violation of Turkey’s own laws and international treaties to which Turkey is a party”, was signed by more than 1,000 Academics, not only in Turkey, including the American philosopher Noam Chomsky and the Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek. Turkish police until now detained 21 academics over “terrorist propaganda” and is investigating others for allegedly violating Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code, which criminalizes “insulting Turkishness”. Sedat Peker, a notorious figure convicted on organized charges, already said that the blood of those academics will be spilled in case the Muslim Turks’ state will fail. As the US ambassador to Turkey, John Bass, recently declared: “While we may not agree with the opinions expressed by those academics, we are nevertheless concerned about this pressure having a chilling effect on legitimate political discourse across Turkish society regarding the sources of and solutions to the ongoing violence.” The Middle East Studies Association (MESA) of North America and its Committee on Academic Freedom expressed in a letter its serious concern over this situation and British academics also started a petition to support Turkish colleagues. Among American academics there have been different opinions on the declaration because of being very critical of the government without calling for the responsibility also of the PKK in creating the conflict.
I finally decided to send my email in order to sign the petition (but I didn’t receive any confirmation yet, probably even the email of person in charge has been blocked) even if I would have like a more balanced declaration, in order to support targeted academicians for a simple reason: in my country of origins, Italy, Fascism became really Fascism when started to imprison academics and intellectuals criticizing the government. Today Turkey is on a dangerous path, but I believe that with “carrots and sticks” from intellectuals and international community the Turkish state can improve on its path of democratization. I believe in Turkey because I know its people and its institutions and I want a more democratic, not a more autocratic, Turkey because a more democratic Turkey will help not only itself but also the region. This is the path that another academic, today Prime Minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, should push for, trying to control the excesses of President Erdogan. Also the Deputy Prime Minister, Mehmet Simsek, is an ex academic (and he is Kurd) believing that Turkey has still things to do to complete its democratization process. With their more moderate, tolerant and diplomatic approach, these important figures in future Turkish politics can help Erdogan to slow down in his authoritarian desires.
The problem is that today is still very difficult to treat the Kurdish issue in Turkey in a constructive and legitimate way or at least in an academically impartial way. This for many reasons, among which: the Sevres syndrome of Turkey – the idea that some outside Western forces, allied with internal opposition, conspire to weaken and destroy Turkey – constantly reinforced by the government narrative; the low ontological security of Turkey – in particular given the recent Kurdish autonomy in Syria and Iraq; the terrorist label used to delegitimize an ideological guerrilla of self-liberation and everyone who doesn’t stay with the government; the lack of impartial and non-embedded media coverage – and so who knows who kill who, when and where exactly, who broke the truce first, and so on; the definition of minorities – between the “Turks of the mountains” assimilated in once century and who define him/herself as Kurd and not Turk there is an abyss; the gigantic polarization in Turkey between Islamist and secular, right and left, one language and multiculturalism (similar in the past to my country, Italy); and finally the fight for power interests: at the end of the day this is the real struggle as usual among different armed or political actors and the people are in the middle as always.
Therefore all us academics, instead of increasing the politicization and polarization of an issue and a society that is already targeted by opposed propaganda, we should stick to our academic goals: analyze facts and theories to understand the past and interpret the present, try to predict the possible scenarios and help to transform conflicts. And when intellectual feel the need to make a petition for some civilians killed or trapped, they should calibrate the text, appealing to international norms and with the most impartial view, but at the same time they should not been targeted as anti-country supporting terrorism because they are intellectual and scholars, the searchers of truth, the last resorts in every case, either in democracy or autocracy. In particular I repeat in a country like Turkey, where to criticize governments is already difficult because governments are identified with the nation (using the flag of the country during the rally the ruling party make clear that there is no distinction) and where a PhD candidate like me, in visit to do his research, cannot present a scientific paper in a University treating the “securitization of Kurdish region”, without being interrupted by nationalist views that attack the “colonialist academics that try to dismember our dear country” or by Kurdish protesters that believe there is no securitization but civil war caused only by the government. This is the situation today for Turkey, a country that should enter soon in the EU (if France and Germany will overcome the Islamophobia and the ‘Powerphobia’, and Turkey its Sevres syndrome) or is destined to suffer for long time still, after more than 30 years of regional war.
The Middle East is starting now a new generation of conflicts and if Turkey could resolve its internal issues of integration and respect of Kurdish minority of the Eastern region, could really play the role of the pivotal country in the area. Turkey is the bridge not only between East and West, religiousness and secularism or among cultures and religions, but is the bridge between the past and the future, between the Christian, Islamic, nationalist and communist ideologies of the past and the post-ideological future, where all views could cohabit because it is the “citizenship”, in a country or in a continent, the glue of the community, not the sense of belonging to a group or another with the political construction of sectarian cleavages. And we, academics and intellectuals, should work for that, not for building new line ups of white and black between who is with me and who is against me, but for moderation and agreement, investigation of facts and search for peace. The Manichean view is not helpful but destructive, and in our times of destructive cults we need abstract destruction but concrete constructions, as Gramsci would say.

The US and Iran: a peace to end all wars?

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The next few years will be of fundamental importance to the future of the Middle East, the ‘pivotal region’ for the US and world order in the XXI century, but this month could be the turning point. At the beginning of XX century nobody would have thought that Europe was going to have the worst first half century of its history, even if followed by probably the best second half century. Today it is difficult to imagine how will be the XXI century for the Middle East: could be catastrophic or surprisingly idyllic, but probably will be neither of one. Both historian and political scientists have difficulty to predict the future everywhere and in the Middle East even more: while the firsts today need to avoid easy analogies the latters need to build a new paradigm for understanding the current international system. In our era of globalization, complexity and constant mutation of the international system it is difficult to reach the goal of reducing the uncertainty of the future, and the Middle East is one of the most difficult regions for such objective.

Admittedly, the Middle East has always been one of the world’s crucial regions and, for the past several decades, for the United States as well. Notwithstanding a reported US “pivot” to Asia, the Obama administration has recently been pulled back into the Middle Eastern quagmire. This was already true after the dramatic events of 9/11 and the subsequent Iraq war; but it is even clearer today, in the context of the civil wars and the new terrorist groups that have been born since the Arab Spring. Faced with lesser domestic and political pressures during the last two years of his second administration, Obama is at a crossroad: will he end his mandate with some positive achievement that would confirm he deserved the Nobel peace prize and that his new approach to American foreign policy, based on dialogue and non-intervention, was real and not a rhetoric proposition? Will the Middle East be the region where he will show his skills of a transformational leader?

I think that even in a so called ‘post-American/post-Western’ world, the United States will still play a fundamental role as the ‘international leader’ in the Middle East. The future of the Middle East (as the future of the world) may well be post-American and post-Western but it will not become non-American and non-Western as the United States remains a crucial actor. But I also think that the US will not be able to play their role effectively without the support of new regional powers. This means that Israel and Saudi Arabia cannot remain the only countries that the US feel comfortable to cooperate with, and more partners and allies will be needed for the United States to recuperate the efficacy and legitimacy lost in Iraq, to help solve the Middle Eastern conflicts. More specifically, two other regional powers should be included by the US in the Middle East chessboard, in order to build in the future a ‘peace to end all wars’, to paraphrase the sentence of Wilson one century ago — two non-Arab Muslim countries that have millenary civilizations and recently re-emerged as significant regional powers: Iran and Turkey.

While the US and Iran have been bitter rivals in the Middle East for 34 years, their conflictual relationship is increasingly difficult to sustain. A possible rapprochement, announced with the recently-launched nuclear talks will not be easy, but will be possible. It will require, among other things, also to convince Israel that a deal will be sooner or later make, and that the case of a future nuclear Iran would be manageable, allowing Iran’s return to the international community but at the same time guaranteeing the protection of Israel. In order to reach this goal the US might need the support of other regional powers, including one – Turkey – that is a NATO ally and could become the second stronger US ally in the Middle East after Israel. Six years after Obama entered the White House he does not seem to have a clear strategy yet, not only because of the chaos in the Middle East but because the US finds it difficult to deal with a multipolar world, being much more at ease with the bipolar world of the Cold War. But if the US wants to retain its leadership and ‘soft power’ in the world needs to have a clear strategy and efficacy in implementing it, and the last two years of the Obama administration (with a majority of the Congress in the hand of Republican opposition) could force the President to take bold actions in this direction. The first of this bold actions should be a nuclear deal with Iran at the end of this month.

The nuclear issue is first, to be sure, but there are other issues too, related to stability and peace in the Middle East, which cannot be postponed much longer as time is running out, from the ISIS war to the Arab-Israeli conflict. The factors of mistrust have not changed between the US and Iran for 34 years, but Obama seemed to wish to abandon this road to nowhere. From his speeches in Cairo and Oslo (where he received the Nobel Peace Prize) in 2009 it took 5 years to arrive to the ‘Geneva interim agreement on the Iranian nuclear program’ in 2013, the first treaty between US and Iran in 34 years. But diplomacy needs time and patience. Will Obama be able to become the transformational leader that he wanted to be with the Iranian détente? Or will he fail to bend Iran allowing the crossing of the red line? This is the test for America in the nuclear deal with Iran. That is why a deal at the end of November is a must, as it could really start a positive rapprochement with spillover effects for the stability of the region, in the long term, that we cannot even imagine right now.

How two important Muslim countries, Turkey and Indonesia, can contribute for more peace, tolerance and economic growth in post-Western world?

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The so called “Alliance of Civilizations” was launched in 2005 by the Prime Minister of Turkey Tayyip Erdogan and Spain Jose Rodriguez Zapatero. The atmosphere of mutual distrust, fear and polarization prevalent in recent years in particular between the Islamic World and the West are the reason for this coalition to start reaching out and foster greater cultural tolerance and understanding. The role of Islam in the study in civilization is quite known. In fact, it was Ibn Khaldun who was established a new science on the study of civilization. This was six centuries ago. Today, the term “civilization” has become one of the most popular units of analysis in social science and media. Later on “Alliance of Civilization” became UNAOC as it was adopted by the secretary general of the United Nations to become a UN initiatives and the Alliance became the forefront in promoting dialogue and also Regional strategy in reducing extremism including interactions with civil society organizations. The recent meeting was held in Bali, Indonesia on August 29-30 with this year theme “Unity in Diversity” which is also the official National motto of Indonesia as celebrating diversities for common and shared values.
In current capacity, Indonesia and Turkey are member of G-20 and both countries are showing a tremendous economic growth for the last 10 years, regional emerging market and rapidly growing private sector plus play an important economic role in their respective region. Indonesia is also the largest Muslim country in the world and fourth most populous nation, and since the era of “reformasi” in 1998 Indonesia has moved smoothly from dictatorship and military rule to democracy, compared to many other Muslim countries in the Arab world, such as Egypt and Syria, that have failed in their post Arab spring democratic development. Today, both Turkey and Indonesia have risen economically and democratically in a similar way although they had started differently. The history of modern Turkey begins with the foundation of the Republic on October 29, 1923 after the fall of Ottoman Empire when the World War I ended. Mustafa Kemal Atatürk introduced a new Turkey as a secular western country through his massive reform movement. Going from changing Ottoman Turkish alphabet to Latin, to adopting women’s rights and the abolition of Islamic law in favor of the European legal system. The process of western secularization had brought Turkey to some extend on a par with her European neighbors.
Indonesia on the other hand, started as a Republic on August 17, 1945 driven by nationalist independence movement and anti-colonial sentiment led by Soekarno who was well known for his determination and struggle against any form of colonization in Asia. He was similar to other great Third World leaders such as Jawaharlal Nehru, and Gamal Abdel Nasser. His most known work is the establishment of nonaligned movement (since the Bandung Conference in 1955) that stated to promote Afro-Asian economic cooperation to oppose colonialism and neocolonialism by any nation. While Turkey started as a potential “imperial world power”, Indonesia embarked exactly on the opposite as an anti-colonialist and anti-imperialist.

Although both cultures are rooted in Islam they have managed to pass a period of unique secularization and democratization process that is now being known as “Turkish model” or “Indonesian model” of Islam. Albeit Indonesia has not experienced the so called “secularization enforcement” process like Turkey, Indonesia have been always secular and progressive in mobilizing the people towards education. The Islamic school in Indonesia, for example, use Islam as a foundation but mostly combined with nationalism, self-sufficient fund and support for development and progress. Indonesian strength in organizing a moderate Islamic education even before the independence has proven successful in creating many Islamic thinkers that are also accepting western education, values and ethics. Many of those visionary Islamic leaders are also anti-colonial activist and play a significant role in the movement at least in the educational sphere.
Most Turkish intellectuals at the time when new Turkey was established were the product of Ottoman madrasas and interaction with the west, rather than of the Arab world. The Ottoman Empire was the most extensive and most influential state system in the entire Muslim world during at least six centuries and quite possibly for any time since the rise of Islam itself. Therefore Turkey have more experience and education in skills such as law, writing, documenting, arithmetic, art and literature compare to Indonesia. These mountain of knowledge also have positioned Turkey differently in learning and sharing with Islamic Muslim scholars in particular from the Arab world. Turkish Islamic scholars are not eager to study from the Arabs because they consider themselves able to do it better.
On the opposite side, Indonesia struggle to search for knowledge, wisdom and spiritual influence from the Arabian Peninsula and yet still find it difficult to be part of their Arabs peer and seek recognition for their work in the Islamic world. The element of knowledge in Indonesian religiosity is always been the spiritual center as the core of the teaching. When many of religious scholars from Indonesia travel to Mecca for the first time they return home and start correcting Islam and reform them towards an “Arabization” of the Islamic belief and practice in accordance to what they witnessed in the Middle east. As many Indonesian Islamic scholars are eager to be at the same level with the Arabs, many of their teaching were also contested at home and give rise to various forms of cultural resistance. Indonesia is known for the tradition of syncretic esoteric in Islam after a long tradition of Hindu in Java, for example until today we can still see a very strong Hindu elements mixing with Islamic practices and rituals.

In the political arena, being the largest Muslim country in the world Indonesia hardly play any role in the Arab world. The answer lies not only on the geographical distance and so no direct impact is possible from Indonesia or Southeast Asia in general, but is due to the mere fact of Western intervention in the Middle East, therefore non-Arab Muslim countries have no room to pursue their interest and many of them are only becoming spectators. According to PEW Research Center in 2010 62% of world’s Muslim population lived in South and Southeast Asia. Indonesia holds the largest moderate Sunni Muslim around 205 million people and the second largest non-Arab Muslim are in India, followed by Turkey and Iran. The growing understanding in the west that Islam is identical with the Arabs has created confusion among many countries which are operating based on multi civilization such as Asia. Nevertheless, Asians in part also contributed in misunderstanding of the West about Islam. Why such reflection never appear before? Asians Islamic scholar because of their limitation in knowledge and also lack of legitimacy are not seen relevant to be involved in solving conflict in the Middle East for example, and this power notion also is nurtured by the West to maintain their strength in the region. The lack of legitimacy of Islam in Asia also shows in the exchange of learning in major universities in the West that are mostly dominated by Arab scholars. Many books from the Arab Islamic scholars are studied in France and the US and even translated into various languages such as Urdu, Malay, Hindi and Chinese. Many great Asian Islamic scholars and thinkers have not written any book that can be used as reference to understand Islam in Asia. The Indian Islamic scholars for example have a unique relation with the Arabs through trade, especially in Kerala or Tamil Nadu, who owes much to the Indian Ocean trade with merchants from Arabia, Persia and China. Islam and expansion of Islamic studies were introduced through trade, mix marriages and cultural exchanges. Many of these stories were documented by Western scholars during their travels across the Indian Ocean and until today we could find traces of this marvelous exchange. Another valid reason why there is less written Islamic studies such as books and literature in Asia is due to the nature of the scholars. They are mostly “travelers’ scholars” unlike in the Arab world where many of them are great writers, in established University, library and developed a volume of Islamic and political thought. Many of the Arab Islamic scholars found themselves as an Icon and references in Islamic teaching or movement throughout the world.

Looking back at Indonesia, it inability to play a meaningful role in the global Islamic world indeed raise a question mark, considering relevancy of education and unique cultural of tolerance in this country. Martin Van Bruinessen (Indonesia Rising, 2011) an anthropologist from the University of Utrecht wrote that the Arab world has shown a remarkable lack of interest in Asia in general, let alone in the social and cultural forms of Islam in Southeast Asia. Though more outward looking, other Muslim regions of Asia have not taken a serious interest in their Southeast Asian co-religionist either. Bruinnesen also said that the reluctance of Indonesian Muslim to seek the international limelight, their modesty (or lack of confidence?) and their conviction that they have more to learn from, than to teach to, others. Indonesia has produced many remarkable Muslim thinker such as Tan Malaka, Tjokroaminoto, Agus Salim, Nurcholis Majid and even the late former president of Indonesia Abdurrahman Wahid. But we haven’t seen any of their books and teachings are being translated into Arabic, French or even English. Indonesians Islamic scholars only talks among themselves and with less interest from the Arab world due to lack of international impact when it comes to Islamic thoughts, because many of the Muslim thinkers in Indonesia are activists. They have not been writing a great sensitizing work but rather numerous shorter pieces and it seems to be inherently local not something that the International Muslim scholars can learn. Therefore this lack of confidence of Muslim in Southeast Asia, in particular in Indonesia, to share their ideas and values, has also resulted in a huge impact in Western understanding about Islam.

Since the time of independence, Turkey and Indonesia faces many challenges upon their journey towards democracy and development, from secessionist movement to economic crisis but they have been showing gradual improvement by also actively solving their own internal conflict through peace dialogue, economic development through decentralization and free and fair elections. Mediation and inter-cultural, inter-faith dialogue are the most important agenda besides showing legitimacy and existence through trade in their region by also asserting and increasing their diplomatic capacity through softer approach such as cultural power, historical appreciation and education. In the realm of religion, though Indonesia face a difficult journey to rise and play a role in the global Islamic world, now it seems changing, opportunities are coming, more possibility are clear, there are crucial demands from Muslim across the globe and also Western countries for Indonesia to mediate in conflict areas especially when the conflict relats to ethnic and religious tensions. The United States for example sees Indonesia as a true partner in countering extremism and bridging the differences between Islam and the West.
Indonesian Islam is characterized by a vibrant intellectual discourse, a remarkable openness to alternative views and broad acceptance of religious pluralism. On the other side liberal and progressive trends, like the Indonesia’s Muslim feminist movement, are the most dynamics and diverse. It is also been admired elsewhere in the Muslim world for its work on building a loose coalition of women’s groups and individual activist taking up various gender related and women’s issues from grass roots to the legislative level. Unlike than in most Muslim majority countries where the Muslim feminist movement are “elite” oriented.

Turkey on the other side, seems to reduce its ties with the West as it is no longer concentrating too much to be included in the European Union, instead spreading her wings towards Asia. Some political analyst might see this as a result of a “look east” policy of Recep Tayyip Erdogan but many also believe that Turkey will never be accepted to be part of the European Union. As Angela Merkel stated Turkey is “unfit” to join the EU for many reasons. Some of the debated issues are Turkey’s failure to recognized Armenian genocide, repression of the Kurdish minority, invasion and occupation in North Cyprus back in 1974 and in general Turkey’s poor human rights record. Turkish also admitted that Turkey will never be part of the European Union because of stiff opinion and “prejudices” among the EU member states. There are many arguments over the inclusion of Turkey in the European Union including the most controversial one that came from the Dean of Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy Kishore Mahbubani. He stated that EU can’t be a role model of regional integration. The first fundamental weakness of EU is a mono-civilization entity that it has failed to extend the region to a single non-Christian country like Turkey. Mahbubani noted that model of regional cooperation within one civilization creates a huge defect in the multi civilization world. Compare to Asia for example, a regional body such as ASEAN is consisting of 10 diverse countries with different cultural, ethnic and religious background. Despite many weaknesses in Asia, its capacity to cooperate across civilization boundaries is a huge strength. Looking at this development Turkey realized her role in Asia would be more relevant rather than being part of EU. Economically while many European countries are struggling with financial crisis, Turkey is experiencing a tremendous growth of almost 8% since 2011 with unemployment rate in 2014 around 10.15%. If she keeps growing like this Turkey soon will be no longer known as a “sick man of Europe” but instead a “China of Europe”.

The idea of creation the Alliance of Civilization is again to form a path of modern Islamic civilization, embracing development and technology, increase in economic middle class among Muslim countries in Asia to be actively play a meaningful role in the global world. Turkey and Indonesia are not only counting at the measurement of economic growth and prosperity but also seeking to play role in the region as one of the most dynamic and active country. Few of many that has been pioneered through the member states of the Alliance of Civilization are the promotion of inter-cultural dialogue, peace and mediation, defusing tension between the west and the Islamic world and counter extremism and radicalization.
Hopes are high, as both countries will see a better future through emerging economics but also will face many great challenges ahead in democracy and Islam as a whole. Turkey and Indonesia realized that to develop their role in their regions they need strong alliance, unity and more cooperation with the Western world, also by creating and showing a different face of Islam. Both acknowledge that this effort is not to compete with the West but instead will create a fair balance between Islam and the West for a better future.
Chitra Ananda

References
Indonesia Rising, The Repositioning of Asia’s Third Giant (Reid, Anthony)
Imperial Legacy, The Ottoman Imprint on the Balkans and the Middle East (Brown, Carl.L)
http://www.adbi.org/event/3645.mahbubani.distinguished.speaker/
The Great Convergence, Asia, the West and the logic of one world (Mahbubani, Kishore)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ibn_Khaldun
http://www.mfa.gov.tr/the-alliance-of-civilizations-initiative.en.mfa