Stephen Kinzer’s book rises out of his affection for Turkey, and his desire to see the people of Turkey given the freedoms that many in the West take for granted. Kinzer, the New York Times bureau chief in Istanbul for five years, clearly shows his intimate knowledge of the country’s past and conflicted present in Crescent and Star: Turkey Between Two Worlds.
Particularly important, this work chronicles Turkey’s move away from the Muslim world of the Middle East and Central Asia, and toward the European conception of a secular nation state. Kinzer explains the origins of this transformation by examining the life of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the Turkish Republic and still, despite his death in 1938, the most influential figure in Turkey’s history. Ataturk almost single-handedly established a separation of church and state, tearing down one of the central pillars of Ottoman political tradition. In order to effect these changes, however, Ataturk needed to crush any opposition, setting an unfortunate precedent that Turkey’s leaders follow to this day.
Kinzer demonstrates how the dictatorial policies of Ataturk led, in part, to the Turkish government’s brutal suppression of the Kurdish rebellion in the 1990’s, its hostile relations with Greece, and its fear of true democracy and civil rights for its citizens. Kinzer argues, however, that if the spirit of Ataturk were respected, and his desire to emulate the West were enacted completely, Turkey could become a model for the developing world.
This intimate portrait of Turkey should be required reading for anyone interested in the divide between the West and the world of Islam.