Michael Rubin on his visit to Turkey:
"Last month, I visited Turkey for a series of meetings with Turkish government and military officials, as well as prominent journalists and public intellectuals. 'Why have you abandoned us?' one Turkish parliamentarian asked as we drank tea in his office. 'You toss aside an 80-year tradition for an experiment in political Islam,' he explained. He cited not only the president's statement, but also that of U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell. Speaking in Ankara last April, Powell called Turkey a model for Iraq, 'a Muslim democracy living in peace with its friends and neighbors.' National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice has made similar comments.
"Nice words, infused with well-meaning Washington-style political correctness, but they raised hackles in Turkey. 'We are a democracy. Islam has nothing to do with it,' one professor said. 'By calling us a Muslim democracy, Powell endorsed the [ruling] AKP [Adalet ve Kalkinma Partisi]. If I called the United States a Christian democracy, what would that say to you?' "
Interestingly enough, a few years ago I attended a panel discussion in Washington where an Israeli general called Turkey a "Muslim country" in a presentation about geopolitics. The Turkish ambassador immediately spoke up, clearly offended. He stated that Turkey was not a Muslim country, rather a secular nation with a Muslim population. Since this distinction is one other nations sometimes fail to make, it is not surprising that Powell's well-meaning comment raised some hackles in Ankara and Istanbul.