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Turkey's Modern, Muslim Face

Recently, Turkey assumed from Britain command of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan. Typically, hardly anyone noticed. Turkey's troubles -- be they financial crises or the current illness of Primer Minister Bulent Ecevit -- grab headlines. Its successes and contributions get buried in the back pages of the world's newspapers, when they are reported on at all.

But in the world forged by the terrorist attacks on America last September, the identity, and the choices and alliances that Turkey made in its historical quest to become modern, have acquired greater significance than ever before. Turkey's leadership of the peacekeeping forces in Afghanistan, something hugely popular among Turks, highlights once more the fact that Turkey is the only Muslim nation that is a member of NATO.

Turkey's straddling of Islam and the West makes the country's domestic and international politics intriguing. Indeed, many Turks view their country's development as a compelling rejoinder to any idea of an inevitable "clash of civilizations" between Islam and the West.

The logic of Turkish support for America's war against terrorism was quick to appear. In the terrorist attacks against the US, many Turks found vindication of their decades-long effort to draw the world's attention - and in particular European attention - to the scourge of terror. By both supporting America's operation in Afghanistan and at the same time speaking out against efforts to vilify Islam, the government managed to reconcile Turkey's strategic interests and its religious sensitivities.