Wednesday, April 29, 2009
Watch on the Bosphorus
Halki Seminary on Heybeliada
I am currently reading George Friedman's The Next 100 Years: A Forecast for the 21st Century. His is an interesting take on what this century may hold for us. I appreciate the fact that he is a clear-eyed realist who takes a really long view of things, seemingly little concerned with any ideological presuppositions.
In short, he sees the 21st Century, not the one just past, as the "American Century." His forecasts run counter to today's conventional wisdom. Friedman does not see turmoil within the Islamic world as an existential threat to the West, nor does he believe our present contretemps to be of any great duration. Western Europe will fade, with or without Muslim immigration. He sees China's influence as limited, and ultimately waning. Russia will undergo a brief resurgence before collapsing once more. Nor does he see much influence arising out of India. I find him irritatingly matter-of-fact about the transformation of the traditional family, but even this is part and parcel of his dispassionate analytical style. Friedman attributes our continued dominance not to any sort of American exceptionalism, but rather to simple geographic, demographic, cultural and military factors. In other words, America will prevail not because we are right, or better than others, but simply because we are fortunate enough to be in the right place at the right time with enough resources and a navy that controls the sea lanes. I do take issue with some bothersome sloppiness in the book. A map of the Muslim world should not include Serbia, Armenia, Ethiopia, the Philippines (as a whole) and this howler--Sri Lanka.
As they say, only time will tell. Personally, I am not at all assured that America will stride through the century as others nations stumble; nor am I convinced that it would be a particularly good thing if we did. And yet, for the most part, Friedman does not engage in wild speculations, but forecasts based on the long history of how particular nations and peoples are prone to act. Of particular interest is his prediction of the rise of new powers in this century. That Japan makes this short list is not surprising, but one does not expect the inclusion of Mexico, Turkey and Poland.
Of course, my interest lies with Turkey, and I find Friedman's prognostications to be eminently realistic. Basically, he sees Turkey resuming the role it has traditionally played in the region. The Turks will fill the gaping leadership void in the Muslim world, and act as a counterweight to Russian revanchism in the Caucusus region and the Balkans.
With this in mind, I was interested to read a recent post by Mustafa Akyol, here, on the Orthodox seminary at Halki. Akyol writes for the Hurriyat Daily News, a major Turkish newspaper, where this article first appeared. There are no breaking developments on the reopening of the seminary, though Akyol does present a good synopsis of the who and why of the Halki closure. What is of note, however, is that the issue is being publicly discussed at all. The fact that a noted Muslim writer would address the issue, and call for the reopening of this Orthodox institution, in an editorial of a major Turkish newspaper (and even quoting St. Augustine to boot) is of no little significance. He notes that "the Turkish citizens of the Greek Orthodox persuasion are our citizens, for God's sake, not the fifth column of someone else." This hearkens back to the old Ottoman approach, and not the secular Kemalist view. So maybe Friedman is onto something. At the very least, it speaks to the rapid transformation underway within this nation. Unlike Friedman, I am making no predictions here, but as my old dad used to say, "it'll do to watch" this Turkish transition into the big leagues.