Plato defined man as "animal bipes implume" (a "two-legged animal without feathers"). While a rather sardonic definition, given our species’ performance currently, I think Plato’s definition is more fitting than the rather self-admiring title of Homo sapiens ("wise man"). Almost any news story that has appeared in the past few years would support my argument; I think you might agree.
But I have in mind this week two barely reported events that have every potential to induce havoc in the most volatile region of the world. Need I say I am referring to the land of political madness that is encompassed by the geography from Turkey to Pakistan? In fact, I refer precisely to Turkey and Pakistan.
Let’s talk Turkey first. The Turkish high court (known as the Constitutional Court) announced Monday that they have decided to take a case on closing Turkey’s governing party, the Justice and Development Party, and banning its top political leaders — its current vastly popular prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and his ally, President Abdullah Gul.
If I might add en passant, I had dinner last year at the Willard Hotel in Washington with Abdullah Gul. And a more charming and civilized chap one would be hard-pressed to find. But he, as his prime minister and party, are what one might call soft Islamists: very far from the bomb-throwing, throat-cutting lunatics but supportive of head scarves for Muslim women and dedicated to a gentle rollback of Kemal Atatürk’s (Turkey’s founder) indomitable secularism. (Praised be he.)
Eight of the 11 members of the Constitutional Court — along with most of the military, the government bureaucracy and much of the business community — are staunchly secular. By this decision, the secular establishment has decided to challenge the popular government — confirmed by the public in a big electoral victory last July — in what may well be a fateful decision.
If they outlaw Erdogan, Gul and the Justice and Development Party, they will act in defiance of the popular Turkish will about as dramatically as would have been the case if Franklin Roosevelt’s government had been outlawed in the fall of 1933 by Herbert Hoover’s Supreme Court.
While my sympathies are with the secularists, I dread the consequences of an undemocratic court outlawing a popularly elected government, particularly as the government denies being Islamist and is treading very carefully down the path back to Turkish Islam in government. If the court tries to turn out the government, we are likely to see a more radical reformation of Turkish government and culture. And with that, the last hope will expire of a major Muslim country committed to genuine integration into Western civilization.
On the other end of the land of lunacy lies Pakistan, our until-now more-or-less stalwart ally in the war against al-Qaida. Also on Monday, the leader of Pakistan’s new government condemned the president of Pakistan — our maximum ally, former Gen. Pervez Musharraf — for "strong-arm tactics against Islamist militants (aka the Taliban)."
In his inaugural speech, new Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, a loyalist of assassinated opposition leader Benazir Bhutto, rebuked Musharraf’s military tactics in the western provinces abutting Afghanistan where al-Qaida and Taliban forces operate.
Gilani is generally seen as a place holder for the real emerging leader, Asif Ali Zardari, the widower of former Prime Minister Bhutto, the recent martyr to the secular cause. As soon as Zardari is elected to parliament in a by-election, he presumably will be the prime minister.
Gilani said combating terrorism is his first priority, but he also said he is willing to talk to militants who are ready to lay down their arms and "join the path of peace." Translated into English, that means he intends to distinguish between Taliban (potentially good) and al-Qaida (probably bad). However, it has been our government’s view that the Taliban support al-Qaida and that both are bad.
Thus, we are likely to face a new Pakistani government that rejects Musharraf’s strategic alliance with the United States vis-à-vis Afghanistan. They will cut a deal with the Taliban in Waziristan (a region in west Pakistan on the border with Afghanistan) and begin the strategic argument that there is no mere Afghan solution to the danger. Rather, they will argue that a much broader regional peace process is required.
Our next president — Obama, Clinton or McCain — will face the likely prospect that in Pakistan and Afghanistan — the cockpit of world terrorism — we will have no regional ally.
Thus, the potentially emerging new Pakistani government would appear to be rejecting Musharraf’s and our theory of the war in Afghanistan: that the Taliban are the enemy, along with al-Qaida, and must be defeated.
It is a measure of our unfeathered bipedalism that with these potentially dangerous events in train, the stories of the week in the media remain Hillary’s stupid lies and Obama’s clever tactics.