The prime minister, rarely holding back on criticisms himself, has in turn lambasted Magnificent Century from the other side of aisle: his issue being not
that it is too Ottoman, but not magnificently Ottoman enough - too much soap opera, not enough might and traditional values. Such a sentiment, along with
many others like it, are consistent with his opponents' narrative of Erdogan as an archconservative who derives his motivation not from the West like
Ataturk but from the East like, well, a religious Muslim would.
Turkey's current transformation in culture and foreign policy may very well be derived from the east, but further east than some may think. The drive for
change comes not from the 16th century Middle East or even 7th century Arabia, but rather 19th century Japan.
Japan's Meiji Restoration of 1868 and Turkey's Kemalist Reforms that followed the establishment of the republic in 1923 are both models of modernization
adopted by lagging countries in the periphery of the West. Both ushered in new eras for their respective countries and both involved great risks, often
implementing drastic measures and facing hostile opposition -- the former even featured in a Hollywood blockbuster where a distinctly non-Japanese Tom
Cruise stood up for traditional Japan.
But the fundamental divergence between the two paradigms was in their disagreement over the role of culture. Adopting the slogan "Western technique,
Japanese spirit," the Meiji Restoration involved taking the technological, scientific, industrial and military advancements of the West but retaining
Japanese values. Japanese culture needed not be sacrificed in adopting modern economic and military techniques and would in fact be the glue that kept a
revolutionary society together.
The Ottoman Empire had already tried, and failed at, something similar in 1839 with the Tanzimat Reorganization, so by the time Ataturk's Kemalist Reforms
rolled around 50 years after the Meiji Restoration, modernity and tradition seemed irreconcilable: modernization could not occur without Westernization.
Almost everything was brought in line with the West; clothing was Europeanized, the alphabet was Latinized, numerals were - rather ironically - Arabized,
and women could now not only display their hair but also vote and pursue professional careers, just to name a few. Turkey was to become a European country
in mind, body and soul, preferably even more European than many countries in Europe at the time, and for the first eight decades of the republic even
suggesting otherwise was unthinkable -- which is why many in the secular establishment see the AKP's efforts to the contrary scandalous at best and
traitorous at worst.
Yet despite what critics, opponents and even outside observers might suggest, Erdoğan doesn't seek a return to pre-revolutionary Turkey. His actions aren't
those of an overzealous Ottoman romantic but rather of a Meiji restorer, re-appropriating the republican revolution by redefining its spirit and essence to
one that blends Western innovation with local culture, tradition and historic bonds -- "Western technique, Ottoman spirit" if you will.