2002 December 13 Friday
Barbara Lerner On Turkish Attitudes Toward America

While only 30% of Turks have a favorable attitude toward the United States (and that is down from 52% of a couple of years ago) Barbara Lerner tries to put these numbers into context.

To understand Turkish attitudes towards us, it helps to ask a question the Pew researchers failed to ask: "Compared to what?" A survey of Turkish opinion released in March did just that. This one was conducted by the Bosporus University European Studies Center, using a sample three times the size of Pew's. Instead of focusing only on the Turks' attitudes toward the U.S., they explored their attitudes to other nations generally by asking: "Which country is Turkey's friend?" Here are the results: 34 percent said Turkey has no friends; 27 percent said the United States; 9 percent said other Muslim countries; 7 percent said the European Union.

Lerner argues that Turkish attitudes toward the USA and Turkish opposition to a war against Iraq is in large part due to the expectation of its people that they will pay a large economic price for that war just as they did for Gulf War I. She doesn't think there is much in the way of cultural or religious hostility toward the US on the part of the Turkish people. She also believes Turkey deserves a lot more economic aid to cushion the blow that the Turkish economy will suffer from a war. It is worth noting in this regard that Egypt gets $3 billion dollars of US aid per year. That is almost as much as the Bush Administration has been reported as offering Turkey (reports range as high as $5 billion for US aid to Turkey). But the Turkish aid is a one-off and the Egpytian aid is yearly.

Is that aid to Egypt buying any friendly feelings toward the US among Egyptians? No, as the Pew Global Values Survey shows, only 6% of the Egyptian people have a favorable view of the United States. (it would be interesting to see how much of that support is from Egyptian Coptic Christians and how much of it is from Egyptian Muslims). The US aid is mostly paying for Egyptian acceptance of a sort of faux peace with Israel. While only 30% of Turks have a favorable view of the US the dramatic drop from 52% favorable of a couple of years previously probably reflects a response to US pressure on Turkey to support a US attack on Iraq. It will be interesting to see what happens to Turkish attitudes once Saddam Hussein's regime has been ousted. If this next war is not long and does not disrupt the Turkish economy as much it is quite possible those numbers will turn around pretty quickly.

Are the recent results in Turkish elections a sign of growing political Islam in Turkey? Well, here the Pew Global Values Survey again provides some useful insight. On page 49 of their main report Turkey is listed as one of the 4 bottom countries with least favorable views of clergy. Only 32% of the Turks think that their clergy are a good influence on the nation while 54% think their clergy are a bad influence. Clergy are ranked worse only in the Czech Republic and Japan. That is most emphatically not a sign that the Mullahs are becoming a powerful political force in Turkey. From the Pew report:

In Europe, roughly six-in-ten Germans and Czechs and nearly half of Italians (47%) say religious leaders have at least a moderately negative influence on society. Since 1991, the reputation of religious institutions has improved in the Slovak Republic and Poland, but it has fallen dramatically in the former East Germany, Bulgaria, Ukraine and the Czech Republic.

Among countries with substantial Muslim populations, attitudes toward religious leaders vary widely. Clerics are judged quite favorably in Indonesia (89%), Senegal (89%), Mali (75%) and Uzbekistan (69%). But just half of the Lebanese and Pakistanis agree. In general, the military is held in higher regard than religious leaders in most heavily Islamic nations. This is especially evident in Turkey.

More than twice as many respondents in Turkey give the military a good rating as view religious leaders in positive terms (79% vs. 32%).

Barbara Lerner's previous article The Secret of Turkish Democracy met with a very warm welcome from many Turks. The Assembly of Turkish American Associations publishes an interesting biweekly The Turkish Times. In a recent issue Mahmut Esat Ozan has praise for Barbara Lerner.

Barbara's words are not only to be regarded as encouraging pronouncements for all Turks who read her column, but they are also regarded as a bit of fresh air, amid the stagnated hypocritical pabulum generating from the member states of the said European Union. The courage of Ms. Lerner is obvious. She has what the French call that "je ne sais quoi" quality in her convictions that Turkey is equipped to meet European 'allegedly' high moral and political standards.

Its beginning to look more likely that Turkey will eventually join the EU. Turkey has has now been given a tentative date to begin EU accession talks.

Turkey will be invited to begin European Union membership talks "as soon as possible" after December 2004 if Ankara meets the bloc's stringent human rights rules, EU leaders decided early Friday at a landmark summit in Denmark.

Turkey may well be able to work out as an EU member. Still, even if there is not a political problem with Islam Turkey still poses two problems for the EU which much of Eastern Europe also poses: low living standards and political corruption. Plus, the extension of the EU's many rules into the less developed Eastern European countries poses and even bigger burden for their economies than those same rules pose for the more developed European countries. A big part of the motive for the Eastern European drive to join the EU seems to be a desire to be in an elite wealthy club. But the aid that the EU is providing to help the Eastern European economies to develop should be weighed off against the costs of EU rules. It is not clear that EU membership will be the economic bonanza that so many Eastern Europeans hope it will be.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2002 December 13 03:54 PM  Europe and America


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