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The Turks Today
by Andrew Mango

Most people who have rubbed elbows with Turks might suggest that they are experiencing an identity crisis, torn between the East and the West. In contrast, Mango, who was born in Istanbul, says the Turks have a strong sense of national identity. The Turks are "a distinct people with a Muslim background," he writes, who think like the West more so "than do their Muslim neighbors to the east and south." In the post-Sept. 11 world, Turkey indeed stands out. To what does the country owe its uniqueness?

Turkey's position between Europe and the Middle East is a major factor. However, Kemal Ataturk's legacy of secular democracy in a Muslim society is even more important.

Clearly, Ataturk was a visionary politician, but why has Turkey managed to remain a secular democracy more than 60 years after his death? Why has it not fallen like Iran's pro-Western regime, which collapsed like a house of cards in 1979, or declined like Egypt, an intellectual powerhouse in the 1930s that is now a crumbling edifice? Well, Ataturk got it right. He made Turkey a secular republic in the 1920s, long before it became a democracy in 1950.

While planting the seeds of secular democracy, Ataturk found inspiration in 19th-century French and European sociology. Therefore, contemporary Turkey shares many similarities with France, including administrative practices and legal structures. Along the same line, secularism in Turkey, like the French concept of laicité, provides freedom from religion.

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