2002 November 11 Monday
Were Giscard's Comments On Turkey Badly Timed?

The conventional view in the EU chattering classes (at least those who are speaking publically) is that Giscard's comments undermined the modernizers and reformers of Turkey.

With much riding on EU-Turkey relations and the possibility of a war in Iraq, analysts said Giscard's comments were badly timed.

"It seems uncharacteristically maladroit," said Peter Ludlow, a specialist on the European Union. "It's difficult to see why he needed to say this or how this can help the work of the convention."

Heather Grabbe, an expert on the enlargement of the Union at the Center for European Reform in London, said Giscard's words made life harder for the very people in Turkey whom the European Union wanted to encourage.

"This just undermines the reformers and modernizers in Turkey," she said. "It undermines all the people who pushed through with great difficulty the legislation over the summer about human rights and minority rights."

The problem with this sort of analysis is that it basically argues that Turkey will not be able to reform, decrease corruption, develop greater protections for individual rights, and greater protection for individual religious and lifestyle choices if Turkey is not allowed to become part of the EU. Suppose that is true. If it is true then is Turkey really compatible with the EU in the first place? If the position of the liberal Westernizing parts of Turkish society is so weak that they need EU membership to buttress their positions then I fail to see how Turkey can become compatible with the EU.

The acid question should be this: if Turkey does not become part of the European Union will Turkey develop along lines that will make it culturally and politcally more compatible with Europe? It would seem unwise to admit Turkey into the EU just because EU policy makers hope that doing so will help to transform Turkey to make it more compatible. The EU is overestimating their ability to affect the internal developments in Turkey.

The position of secular reformers in Turkey has been greatly weakened by the fact that Turkish secular parties have been discredited by their own corruption and mismanagement. At the same time, the Turkish military (which is the traditional bulwark of protection of the secular nature of the Turkish government) has had its authority to intervene diminished by constitutional changes that were passed in large part to make Turkey more compatible with the EU. What is especially worrisome about this is that the most Islamic of the Turkish politicians have only been prevented from Islamicising Turkey by occasional interventions by the Turkish military to force Islamists from elected office.

Martin Sieff thinks the results of the recent elections in Turkey do not bode well for Turkey's continued development in a European direction.

Neo-conservative intellectuals now openly write and dream about replacing their increasingly fractious and critical allies in Western Europe with nations such as Israel, Turkey, India and even Russia. But the breakthrough triumph of the Turkish Islamists suggests that their dreams may be built on shifting sands.

Giscard D'Estaing chose the days after the Turkish Islamists won that triumph to make his undiplomatic but hardly unpremeditated remarks. They suggest that French leaders too may be tiring of the cat and mouse delaying game they have been playing with the Turks.

But if the Turks turn away from Europe, the Islamist victory suggests they may not turn to the United States, but to the Muslim East instead, and provide a very different kind of example to the region than the one Pentagon policymakers hope and expect from them.

The recent Turkish elections that brought the more Islamic party to power occurred before Giscard's comments. That Giscard's comments followed within a few days of those elections is probably not a coincidence. If the only reforming force in Turkey that still has any energy is a religious party then its hard to see how secular government has a bright future there. If Turkey is going to become less secular and more Islamic in its goverment then that makes it less compatible with a very secular EU what is culturally mildly Christian but in which religion greatly diminished as a force in politics.

The EU has already extended itself too far into historically culturally Christian (ie countries that used to be Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant Christian before the Iron Curtain came down) countries that are incredibly corrupt. The EU has already bitten off more than it can chew. It is hubris and folly on the part of the EU leaders that they have gone as far as they have as fast as they have.

To get an idea of just how deep the problems in Turkey extend its important to understand the relationships between the cultural, family, and religious elements of these problems. This previous post has a link to an excellent article by Stanley Kurtz entitled Veil Of Fears which I strongly advise reading if you haven't already. Will the new Turkish government try to lift the headscarf ban? Looks like they are going to try.

The winner of Turkey's election says his party, which has its roots in a banned Islamic movement, will move to lift a ban on the Muslim-style headscarf.

"We will resolve the problems through social compromise. We do not want tensions," Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the head of the Justice and Development Party (AK), told NTV television.

Wearing the Islamic-style headscarf is banned in public offices and universities in Muslim-dominated but strictly secular Turkey, where it is viewed as a declaration of religious fundamentalism.

Will the military step in and stop this?

Finally, David Remnick has an excellent article in The New Yorker which surveys the contemporary Turkish political scene and delves into the history of Ataturk and secularism versus Islam in Turkey. Recep Tayyip Erdogan is the leader of the recently victorious Justice and Development Party (AKP in its Turkish initials) who can't become prime minister because he's banned from public office for being too Islamic:

Although Erdogan was the focal point of this fall's election campaign, speaking to huge rallies around the country and appearing on posters and billboards, he is a kind of ghost. The Turkish courts banned him from higher office, precisely on account of his rhetorical excesses. "You cannot be secular and a Muslim at the same time," he once declared. "The Muslim world is waiting for the Turkish people to rise up. We will rise up! With Allah's permission, the rebellion will start." His greatest offense, which led to a charge of sedition, came in 1997, when he recited a poem with these lines: "The mosques are our barracks, / the domes our helmets, / the minarets our bayonets, / and the faithful our soldiers." The author is Ziya Gokalp, a secular nationalist from the early twentieth century.

This time around, the Party, Erdogan included, stifled any talk of religious politics, emphasizing instead an ideology of centrist populism. Many of the secular journalists and businesspeople I spoke to expressed awe at the discipline of Erdogan and his followers. They stayed on message. Opponents accused Erdogan of takkiye, or lying in the name of promoting Islam—in this case, masking a politics of Islamic revolution with the rhetoric of more earthly issues.

I tend to expect people to change their fundamental beliefs only very slowly, if they even change at all. So I suspect Erdogan and others like him haven't changed all that much.

Update: All the EU talking heads speaking in an official capacity are claiming that Turkey is still going to become a member of the EU:

EU spokesman Jean-Christophe Filori said Giscard's views were not shared by the leaders of the 15 EU nations.

``Turkey's candidacy is not being questioned by any EU head of state and government in Europe,'' Filori told reporters.

Erdogan is responding very calmly to Giscard's comments and is in a strong position domestically from which to do so:

Mr Erdogan's win of almost two-thirds of the seats in parliament also helps. AKP is likely to rule Turkey for a full five-year term, after a decade of ineffectual coalitions. This means Mr Erdogan may feel less need to respond to every slight. He has more to gain from focusing on Turkey's objective of joining the EU.

"People like Giscard are sent there to try Turkey. Erdogan's response shows he is not going to rise to every aggressively anti-Turkish opinion, especially if it comes from someone who will not take the decision as to whether Turkey joins or not," says one EU diplomat. "

Surprisingly, this Financial Times article claims that Greece is no longer opposing Turkish entry into the EU. Given the demographic threat that many Greeks feel if Turks were free to move over the border and work in Greece this is unexpected (at least by me). Can this be true?

Meanwhile the 15 EU member states are divided over what to offer Turkey at the Copenhagen summit, as much now depends on how Mr Erdogan's Islamist Justice and Development party, fresh from its election victory, performs in coming weeks.

Britain, backed by Denmark, the current EU president, and Greece want to give Turkey a "rendezvous date" - probably next year - to start accession negotiations.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2002 November 11 01:28 AM  Europe and America


Comments
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martinageo said at June 23, 2010 8:45 PM:

I appreciate the concern which is been rose. The things need to be
sorted out because it is about the individual but it can be with
everyone.The initiative taken for the concern is very serious and need an
attention of every one. This is the concern which exists in the
society and needs to be eliminated from the society as soon as
possible.This is a wonderful opinion. The things mentioned are unanimous and needs to be appreciated by everyone. I appreciate the concern which is been rose. The things need to be sorted out because it is about the individual but it can be with everyone.
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