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Debating Turkey and the EU 12 décembre 2007

Posted by Acturca in France, Turkey / Turquie, Turkey-EU / Turquie-UE, USA / Etats-Unis.
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Washington Times (USA), Dec 4 2007

Tulin Daloglu, Ankara

In the past two years, the suburbs of Paris have twice witnessed violent clashes between non-native French citizens and the police. Whether religious and cultural differences or poverty, unemployment and racial discrimination are the root causes of these incidents is open to debate. But what’s interesting is that in September 2006, before he was elected president, Nicolas Sarkozy visited Washington and argued that then the first French riot stood as one of the reasons he opposes Turkey’s European Union membership.

« [I] have often been asked about the place of Muslims in France, because of concern in the United States, » Mr. Sarkozy said at an event organized by the French-American Foundation. « My dear friends, let’s be consistent. What’s the point of worrying about our ability to integrate Muslims in France or in Europe if at the same time, and just as forcefully, the United States asks us to accept Turkey in Europe? Even if you consider that we have a problem with Islam, in which case, you have to give us time to find the ways and means to create a European Islam and reject an Islam in Europe. But don’t then give equal support to the integration of a country like Turkey, with 75 million inhabitants. Consistency is part of the relations between Europe and the United States. » Indeed, Mr. Sarkozy’s point of view is shared by many Europeans.

It’s true that Turkey is becoming more Muslim than European – particularly since the Islamic-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP) took power in 2002. Since then, 2006 the Pew Global Attitudes poll found out that 51 percent of Turks define themselves first as Muslim. Being religious is not the problem, but there is a lack of sincere debate about what exactly scares people when they are faced with Islamic practices taking a role in governmental life. If freedom of religion is measured by allowing headscarves in governmental buildings, would it also consider new interpretations of those practices by others? Or whether AKP’s understanding of secular government is consistent with European secular rule?

Mr. Sarkozy is right to say that he needs time to « find the ways and means to create a European Islam. » But it is also a fact that Europeans allowed political Islam in Turkey to make headscarves the one and only problem with freedom of religion; now, it’s time they look deeper into the issue. Turkey’s most trusted public opinion survey group, KONDA, led by Tarhan Erdem, yesterday announced the results of a new survey that shows a significant rise in numbers of covered women. According to this survey, in the last four years, there are a million more Turkish women wearing headscarfwhile the ones with turban, which is a sign of political Islam has quadrupled.

Unfortunately, Turkey’s secular and liberal elites have denied the role of religion in public life in such a way that they have created a huge mess by not investing in theological education to allow an open-minded approach to matters – understanding what Islam means in the modern world, rather than a strictly literal interpretation.

There are a limited number of those theologians, but they are not enough to change a traditionalist mindset.

AKP’s insistence on traditionalist practices like the headscarf stands as proof that it refuses to allow open debate on religious interpretations. Mr. Sarkozy may have strange bedfellows with respect to his concerns about Turkey’s EU membership; secular Turks may also be worried about their future.

If the AKP is proud that Turkey has opened accession talks with EU on its watch, it is now disinterested in moving forward with reforms of governmental institutions. The European Commission reported « limited progress » in Turkey’s political reform process.

According to the Pew Global Attitudes poll, the EU’s favorability rating in Turkey dropped from 58 percent in 2004 to 27 percent in 2007. There are a number of thorny issues in Turkey’s relations with the EU – including Cyprus, the Armenian genocide allegations and the Kurdish dilemma. Yet not all of the EU’s issues are related to those matters. And while the AKP is determined to keep Turkey on track to join the EU, it is sending a number of paradoxical signals. These raise concerns, as the AKP is a relatively new party and it is almost impossible to judge how its rule will affect Turkey. The Turkish scenery, however, looks in absolute chaos for the time being.

Against all the odds it seems that Mr. Sarkozy understands that Turkey’s Westernization process is not only limited to its borders and its politicians’ responses; it is very much a European project.

Yet he may take a more constructive approach in dealing with Turkey.

Still, although Mr. Sarkozy said he would end Turkey’s accession talks with the EU when he was elected, he has done no such thing. Yet he continues to express his opposition loud and clear, which is only fair it represents the sincere opinion of some of the European
population. But the outgoing and the incoming EU presidents, Portugal and Slovenia, continue to express full support to Turkey’s membership.

Tulin Daloglu is a freelance writer.


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