Tuesday, July 20, 2004

THE TURKEY PARADOX

Informative article by Chris Caldwell.

Europe's leaders and Europe's public don't see eye to eye on Turkey. Germany's foreign minister Joschka Fischer is now finishing a brief for Turkish E.U. membership, in which he will argue that globalization will foster jihad unless moderate alternatives can be found. Turkish admission has become one of the rare issues on which French president Jacques Chirac is unwilling to compromise: He wants Turkey in. And Tony Blair wants Turkey in, too, largely for reasons of human rights and ecumenism (although Blair's continental foes smell an English plan to dilute the E.U.'s cultural pretensions). Washington has been slow, even after Turkey's dramatic refusal to host the U.S. 4th Infantry Division in the run-up to the Iraq war, to accept just how deeply Turkish public opinion has turned against the United States since the Cold War. (Opposition to the Iraq war ran well over 90 percent.) At the Istanbul summit, George W. Bush even goaded the Europeans to admit Turkey--prompting Chirac to tell him to butt out. Among Western politicians, only two have taken an unambiguous stand against membership: former French president Valéry Giscard d'Estaing and Germany's Christian Democrat leader Angela Merkel, who made her case forcefully during a week-long tour of Turkey in February.

Majorities of the public in all E.U. states oppose Turkish entry into the union. Their reasons are numerous and considerably more specific than those of Europe's political leaders. There are four main ones:

...There is, finally, the question of Islam. Turkish Islam is indeed in many ways the moderate construction that people say it is. Not until the 1980s did a Turkish president--Turgut Özal--make the hajj to Mecca (although after Erdogan the hajj may become a requirement for national politicians). Only about one of every 30 Turkish Muslims supports a radical agenda (sharia law, Koranic punishment, and so on), according to the Istanbul think tank TESEV, and even extremely conservative politicians will shake hands with female foreign correspondents. Matters are made more confusing by the fact that one of the most dangerous Islamist groups--Turkish Hezbollah--was consolidated by the secularist state as a paramilitary force useful against the Kurdish nationalist PKK movement. Sunni Islam is the official creed of the national religious authorities, but Turkey's Islam is also marked by "alevi" currents of Central Asian shamanism and by the so-called fethullahci. Their modern, communitarian Islam, with its emphasis on education and citizenship, is present in the AK party's stated goal that it seeks "not an Islamic state but a state run by Islamic people," or Erdogan's avowal, "In the office I'm a democrat; at home I'm a Muslim."


George W. Bush could learn a little from Erdogan, I think.

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