Turkey attacks put world on edge

Crossroads nation targeted for its diversity, dynamism

- Lionel Beehner Lionel Beehner, director of research of the Modern War Institute at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, is a member of USA TODAY’s Board of Contributo­rs. These views are his own and not those of West Point.

What a week. Within a span of a few days, one European country, Great Britain, voted to opt out of the European Union. Days later, Turkey, which has been clamoring to join the European Union for decades, suffered one of the worst terrorist attacks in its recent history.

Some commentato­rs suggested that the attacks in Istanbul’s Ataturk airport were a sign of Turkey’s slipping back into the cauldron of chaos emblematic of its wider Middle Eastern neighborho­od. I would disagree. Instead, the attacks symbolize Turkey’s and especially Istanbul’s embrace of cosmopolit­an multicultu­ral values and economic dynamism (despite backslidin­g on human rights).

IN-YOUR-FACE GLOBALISM Anybody who’s been to Ataturk Airport will be wowed by the inyour-face internatio­nalism. The place feels like the crossroads of the world. The victims of the attacks confirm its multicultu­ralism: Saudi, Iraqi, Chinese, Iranian, Ukrainian, among other nationalit­ies. That makes it an attractive hub but also an attractive target, an affront to a certain set of values.

The price of becoming “part of the West,” at least in the short term, is the occurrence of such attacks, which have the explicit aim to unravel efforts at greater cultural inclusion. Conversely, one of the stated benefits for “Brexiteers” is the supposed aim to eradicate such Islamist-inspired attacks. We are seeing Turkey enter the modern age — a membership that comes with privileges but also a steep price, as we saw in Istanbul.

Britain, meanwhile, is moving backwards toward a fantasy world where nativist politician­s claim they can wall their countries off from the world’s barbarous outsiders. Make no mistake: a go-it-alone Britain is just as vulnerable as it was as an EU member (the culprits of attacks tend not to be immigrants but rather nationals). Turkey knows this from first-hand experience.

Yet, Turkey is partly victim of its own political ambiguity. The cliché has always been that it straddles two continents (Europe and Asia), two cultures (Western and Eastern) but also two styles of government (civilian/ liberal and military/authoritar­ian). This schizophre­nia has kept it at arm’s length from Christian Europe, despite what The Economist calls its recent “charm offensive.”

But some of Turkey’s recent terrorist attacks can be traced to its own duplicitou­s foreign policy of “zero problems” beyond its immediate borders but also “zero” independen­ce for its millions of Kurdish minorities. Turkey also turned a blind eye to militants using its border with Syria as a revolving door. Turkey cannot have it both ways. Its embrace of European values will require it to provide greater freedom of movement and minority rights, which may open the door to more terrorism attacks. This provides grist to right-wingers, whether in London or Ankara, to clamp down and turn inward.

Moreover, its frayed relations with countries like Israel and Russia have also slowed its economic growth. Tourism along its Aegean coastline, especially among Russian jet-setters, has tanked in recent years. And trade with Israel was crippled after a spat several years back over the killing of Turkish activists.

BOUNCING BACK So far, Turkey has responded admirably. It reopened its airport the following day (Brussels kept its airport closed for 12 days after a recent terrorist attack there). Turkey is not a newcomer to such attacks, albeit typically the culprits have been Kurdish groups, not Islamic militants.

But Turkey is a newcomer to its role as a global powerbroke­r, apologizin­g to Russia for shooting down one of its planes one day while mending relations with Is- rael the next. If Turkey responds by clamping down on minorities, opposition and independen­t media, then it will go the way of Great Britain and effectivel­y wall itself from the rest of Europe. This would be a symbolic victory for not just right-wing nativism in Ankara, but even here in the United States.

Social scientists describe postconfli­ct settings as one of “ugly stability.” In today’s world, that is an accurate descriptio­n not just of war-torn countries like Colombia or Sri Lanka but also describes the new normal in cities like Paris, Brussels, and Istanbul. The response is not to wall oneself off the rest of the world, which is impossible anyway. Neither is it to blindly abandon common-sense policies aimed at smarter policing, intelligen­cesharing and making cities more resilient. Turkey has played a vital role in containing Bashar Assad, absorbing refugee flows — the country hosts more than two million Syrian refugees — and providing U.S. forces access to nearby airbases. We cannot afford a Turkey at war with itself.

It is frequently said that Turkey is a bridge. But the larger takeaway from these attacks is: Welcome to Europe. We in the West should respond by drawing Turkey closer. It should respond by embracing Europe’s values of inclusiven­ess and liberalism, not retreat to its authoritar­ian history of militarism and human rights abuses.

 ?? OZAN KOSE AFP/GETTY IMAGES ?? Relatives of suicide attack victim Mohammad Eymen Demirci mourn during his funeral in Istanbul on June 29, 2016.
OZAN KOSE AFP/GETTY IMAGES Relatives of suicide attack victim Mohammad Eymen Demirci mourn during his funeral in Istanbul on June 29, 2016.

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