While most of the Western media has been focused on one political battle on the other side of the Atlantic - that being France's - another is shaping up to be much more interesting and with far greater implications.
In Turkey, a power struggle has been gaining strength after Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan tried to install fellow islamist Abdullah Gul as the country's President. To be fair, in Turkey, government islamists are kind of islamist-light, not yet the virulent strain of murderous islam found in, for instance, the halls of power in neighbouring Iran. However, these things have a habit of gaining strength and if islamists - even less strident ones - beging occupying the major seats of government, it will only lead to further pressures to become more conservative until the country enters a death spiral of talibanization.
Turkey is an interesting country - somewhat westernized and secular, somewhat islamic and backwards. Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, who brought modern Turkey into being, was an ardent opponent of islamic culture and forced much of it out of the nation. He is still revered today by millions of Turks, even though the nation is without question Muslim. And, among those who revere him the most are members of the military who basically threatened to stage a coup if Erdogan got his way and Gul was installed.
To get an understanding of just how deep this rift runs, a lot of the controversy has centred on Gul's wife because she wears a headscarf and sometimes a veil. My guess is it would be a non-issue in non-Muslim democracies, including Canada, if someone running for office had a spouse who wore a head covering (be they Muslim, Jewish or of another faith where orthodox or semi-orthodox adherents wear coverings). Here, for instance, Sikhs often run for office, often win and many of them wear turbans. In Turkey, the idea was enough to bring people out in the streets demonstrating.
That is, of course, an indicator of just how wary many Turks are of islamist movements. They can look at Iran, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan and other such nations, some of which they border, and see how backwards they are compared to their own country which has enjoyed rapid progress, a growing economy and decent relationships with western nations up to and including Israel. They are smart enough to not want to go back to a barbaric way of governance.
One problem the secular Turks face is the waffling from Europe about whether it can join the EU. The Europeans have been sending mixed signals on this for years, demanding certain concessions from Turkey that have nothing to do with EU membership such as admitting the genocide of Armenians in the earlier parts of the 20th century.
True, there was such a genocide and the Turks refuse to call it that, but it seems rather counterproductive to perhaps send that nation, its 70 million inhabitants and its second-largest standing army in the western world, into the arms of islamists over the issue (though, Armenians might well see it differently, to be sure).
European nations happily slaughtered one another's citizens in one war after another for centuries and I don't know if any others were asked to admit to it before joining the EU. What Europe is really afraid of is admitting 70 million Muslims into its membership - unless, those 70 million come from a country that used to be called France, I suppose - and so it has continuously come up with obstacles to prevent membership while trying to cultivate Turkey's cooperation and friendship.
Turkey, for better or worse, is a key NATO ally and a reasonably dependable one. It is also a bridge between the western world and the islamic one that could play an important role in the future of relationships between the two. Better that we keep them on our side then send them reeling to the other. The Turkish people and military seem to realize that, let's hope our governments do, too.