At the turn of this century, Turkey was supposed to be a model for how a Muslim-majority country could become Western and democratic. Now, Turkey is illiberal, however democratic it remains: less secular, more nationalistic than before and less Western-oriented. The last hope for Turkish liberalism may have lain not with democracy but with military guardianship—a prospect to which President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has put paid. His successful fusion of assertive nationalism and religious populism bears a striking resemblance to the formula that brought Narendra Modi to power in India. Even in Israel, the present and future of politics belong not to the dead dream of Labour Zionism but to an alliance of the nationalist Right and ultra-Orthodox.
The pattern is too distinctive to miss: whether the civilization is Muslim, Hindu, Jewish or Orthodox Christian—there are even signs of it in the Buddhist world and beyond—the nation-state has been reaffirmed as the expression of distinct peoples with distinct interests and rivalrous gods, as against the universal order of rationalistic liberalism. And where America has tried to promote liberal democracy by force, the results are no better: nearly twenty years of U.S. military intervention in Afghanistan has failed to defeat the Taliban. In fact, American efforts have not so much as made a start at ending tribal customs that involve the rape of young boys. At this point, many of the Afghans who continue to fight the Americans and U.S.-backed government in Kabul were not even born when George W. Bush launched “Operation Enduring Freedom”—which has certainly been an enduring operation, if not much good for freedom.