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The Turkish danger

Turkey aims to become a pattern country in the EU, but that does not help. For the Turks, Muslims are not true.


[essay] In December 2004, the Contemporary Art Museum opened Istanbul Modern. At the opening exhibition, visitors could see the short film Road to Tate Modern, which portrays two Kurds in the roles of Don Quijote and his faithful servant, Sancho Panza. For 40 days and nights, they travel on horseback and donkey through inaccessible mountain passages in southeastern Turkey in search of modernity. They ask a local farmer about the road, and he points and replies that yes, the West is there somewhere, higher up in the mountains, far, far away. All the dialogue takes place in Kurdish, while the subtitles are in English. The Turkish language is absent. So you wouldn't think the movie is about Turkey, but it does. Quijote and Sancho Panza are dressed in suits and ties and are supposed to represent Turkish businessmen. The duo is confused and does not know which way to choose. They just know that they want the most modern of modern Europe in the 2000st century: Tate Modern in London.

Ambivalence and revolution. Kurdish Sener Ozmen and Erkan Ozgen's short film is an irony of the Turks', especially the elite's, longing for European warmth, at the same time as this irony itself is based on classical European novel art. However, the subject matter of the film knows no bounds – conversations about life's goals and meaning are a widespread occupation where there are people, and strikingly often people find that they have to hunt in pairs as something that is completely irrational. For example, modernity. Not that we know what it consists of, but we hate the idea that the horse and donkey can come without us.

The film is an example of how drastically Turkey has changed over the last fifteen years. When Mustafa "Ataturk" Kemal (1881-1938) founded the modern Turkish republic in 1923, there was no room for divergent ethnicities. Until 1991 it was forbidden to speak Kurdish. Today, it is allowed to speak Kurdish on television and radio, albeit to a limited extent. Even schooling can take place in Kurdish. And, thus, artistic ironization of Turkish capitalists. It is reminiscent of a revolution. Former BBC correspondent in Turkey, Chris Morris, has called him the exact same change. A revolution we have to go all the way back to Ataturk's days to find his way, he writes in The New Turkey. The Quiet Revolution on the Edge of Europe (2006).

An announced betrayal? There are thus revolutions that there is reason to support wholeheartedly. Human rights, freedom of expression, gender equality, the law in general – everything (except corruption) has been strengthened in Turkey over the last 10-15 years. It is admittedly a long way ahead, but it is a long way back. But after the polls this summer, which revealed that most Europeans do not want Turkey to join the EU, even though the official negotiations started in November last year, more and more Turks are wondering if they are being deceived. The father of the European Constitution and former president of France, Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, said in November 2002 that Turkish membership would mean the end of the EU, because Turkey «has a different culture, a different approach and a different lifestyle… The country's capital is not in Europe; 95 percent of the population lives outside Europe; it is not a European country ».

With such a mentality, it does not help that Turkey wins the European Butchery Festival or it becomes boring to be dissident in the country. Turkey does not belong to Europe, and they never did. This is a serious misconception that in the long run can cost the world community dearly. Admittedly, there are strong internal forces pushing for democratic change in Turkey, but the hesitant pace is largely due to the prospect of EU membership. If the end of the visa is that Turkey is still not allowed to join because the culture is different, well, then you ask for rubbish, bombs and burkhas. At that time, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, current Pope Benedict XVI, said in 2004 that "Turkey has always represented another continent throughout history, in contrast to Europe ... Maybe Turkey should create cultural ties to some Arab countries instead?" largest military forces will ally with Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad instead of the EU.

If the outcome of the membership negotiations is to be successful, Turkey will have to memorize 80.000 pages of laws and regulations, while EU citizens will have to sit on the school bench again. Chris Morris is convinced that the great aversion to Turkey in the EU, especially from countries such as Austria, is due to questions of culture, religion and identity. There are many indications that he is right. According to the European Commission's own surveys this summer, as many as 48 percent of the union's citizens are against Turkish membership – even though Turkey meets all the conditions. Only 38 percent are in favor. The same applies to another Muslim country, Albania (44 against). Catholic Croatia, on the other hand, which started negotiations at the same time as Turkey, is welcomed by EU citizens (56 per cent in favor), as are countries such as Serbia and Macedonia (50 per cent in favor). The Austrians are most skeptical, as if they were all walking around resentful of the Ottoman conquest of Vienna in 1683. At the same time, the survey shows that people generally believe that enlargement increases Europe's cultural diversity, promotes democracy and ensures peace and stability. Why they are against Turkey then is a mystery. Someone must have spread false historical information.

The Myth of the Turks. Historian Karsten Alnæs reiterated the old myths in a chronicle in the Aftenposten (August 21) that Europe's identity was created when the Muslim Ottomans conquered the Greek Orthodox Constantinople in 1453, as he does in the first volume of the History of Europe (2003). In both places he refers to the bishop of Siena (1405-1464), the later Pope Pius II, who described the Muslims as the scum of civilization and was obsessed with conquering Constantinople back. But what Alnæs does not say is that both France and Germany refused to contribute weapons or money when the pope invited to a conference in 1459. Possibly because France at that time waged war with Spain in southern Italy, and that they had just finished 100- the annual war against England. European collection? Pope Pius II called for a crusade against the Muslims, but no one joined. It ended with Pius II arranging his own private crusade, and died en route in 1464.

Meanwhile, Sultan Mehmet II worked to rebuild the ruined city. People of all religious backgrounds flocked there, writes historian Caroline Finkel in Osman's Dream. The History of the Ottoman Empire (2005). Entire communities – Muslim, Jewish, Armenian, Greek and (Catholic) Christians – were transported to the city, and they were allowed to practice their religion freely. Mehmet II lured with low taxes, newly built universities and prospects for prosperity. When things went awry, he offered former Greek residents of the Byzantine Empire free houses and land to return. Mehmet gathered Greek and Latin scholars at court, and created his own library with the ancient classics. From 1453 to 1481, when Mehmet died, the city had grown to 75.000 inhabitants and Constantinople was again Europe's largest city. A few years later, Constantinople emerged as the outpost of tolerance, compared to other European cities. In Constantinople (1997), author Philip Mansel quotes a letter from Rabbi Isaac Tzarfati, who fled Germany to Constantinople in the mid-1400th century, writing to the Jews of Europe: “Here, in the land of the Turks, we have nothing to complain about. It is prosperity, and we have a lot of gold and silver in our possession. We are not burdened with heavy taxes, and our trade can take place freely and unhindered… Here Jews do not have to go with yellow stars, as a mark of shame, as is the case in Germany… Travel, my friends, pack your things and come to us."

Pope Pius II had some allies in Venice and Genoa, but many, like the Jews, quickly realized that the rumor of the barbarism in the east was greatly exaggerated. Therefore, they also flowed to Constantinople, not least after 150.000 Jews were expelled from Spain in 1492. Sultan Bayazid II sent its own fleet to pick up refugee Jews. In the men of terror. About the radical loser (2006) Hans Magnus Enzensberger reiterates the myth that the Islamic world opposed the European print art for centuries. Gutenberg "invented" printmaking in 1445, a few hundred years after the Chinese, and in Constantinople, the first printing press was created just under Bayazid II, in 1493, by the Jews David and Samuel Ibn Nahmias. The Jewish family Soncino later created several printing works in the Ottoman Empire throughout the 1500th century, including in Egypt in 1557. Norway got its first printing press in 1643. Chris Morris also describes several alliances between Protestant countries and the Ottoman Empire in the 1500th century to stave off the dominant Catholic powers, such as Spain. "The Turks," wrote enlightenment thinker Voltaire (1694-1778), "have taught Christians how to be moderate in peacetime and careful in war." In short: History can be used to confirm Turkey's differentness, but it can also be used to emphasize the country's natural and central role in European history.

Convulsive modernism. Turkey is part of the Mediterranean culture, like Greece, Italy, Algeria, Syria, and so on. Look at the map: Is it natural for Spain to trade more with Sweden than with Morocco? Has Greece not historically more in common with Turkey than with Iceland? Cyprus and Lebanon? Italy and Tunisia?

Turkey belongs as much in Europe as Norway does. Since 1923, the country has spasmodically turned its face to the West. Atatürk wanted to create a modern, secular and homogeneous nation state and introduced a number of laws to encourage Westernization, including a ban on Arabic characters and headscarves for women. One of the consequences was that in 1930 Turkey introduced the right to vote for women 14 years before France, and in 1990 got its first female prime minister, the year before France got its first female head of state. (By the way, the French woman's name was Edith Cresson. She believed that homosexuality was a British and American "problem", and that the Japanese were "ants who wanted to take over the world".) But as I said – modernists can sometimes be convulsive. As recently as 2004, a journalist was sentenced to prison for violating Law No. 5816, "Crimes against Atatürk", a law that has often been used against forces in society that have wanted to turn their faces to the east. The country's three military coups have also been able to get Turkey back on track, ie to the west.

The fear was therefore great, both within the Turkish establishment and with the EU leadership, when the Turks in November 2002 elected the Islamic Party AKP to rule the country. But it is this government, under Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan's leadership, that has implemented some of the most profound political and economic reforms in Turkey's history. Human rights education is now part of the police and military schools. The death penalty has been abolished, unlike in some other Western countries. In 2004, Turkey spent more money on education for the first time than on defense. The liberal middle class in Turkey now regards a former Islamist and imam as their foremost hope for a strengthened democracy. Erdogan clearly has no previous leader clear; to have the EU set a date for membership negotiations. And a great company: He has got the Greek government to support Turkish membership in the Union, after many years of active resistance. The relationship between the old arch enemies is about to be normalized.

When Turkey suffered an extensive earthquake in 1999, Greek rescue teams were the first on the scene. The Turks retaliated a few weeks later when Athens suffered a minor earthquake. Thousands on both sides lined up to donate blood. The relationship between the governments is also more cordial than for a long time. The Greek prime minister testified when Erdogan's daughter Estra married in July 2004. The Turkish president, on the other hand, sent a letter lamenting that he could not attend. It is not appropriate for a head of a secular country to be present at a Muslim wedding. For a Greek Orthodox, however. For decades, Greeks and Turks have been holidaying in each other's lands, but from 2003 foreigners were allowed to buy property in Turkey. Who buys holiday properties crazy? The Greeks.

Economic power. Turkey belongs to Europe, and it always has. Today, there are almost as many Turks in the EU as there are Norwegians outside. Of the EU's 15 million Muslims, four million originally come from Turkey. Two million live in Germany, where integration is relatively painless. 120.000 of the German-Turks are married to non-Turks. Turkish kebab is a German national dish. If these are not convincing arguments, it may appeal to more selfish motives: the EU needs Turkey's 70 million consumers and producers. Today, 70 percent of Turkey's trade with the EU takes place. The combination of cheap labor, quality and efficiency has made the country a major exporter of electronic goods. It's not the carpets the Turks make money on anymore, but para-

primabolan teeth. Check your microwave or washing machine, it is likely to be manufactured in Turkey, even if the brand sounds German. Half of all TVs sold in Europe in 2004 were produced in Turkey. It was not German Grundig who bought up Turkish Beko Elektronik, it was the other way around.

Turkey is modernizing at an astonishing pace and is poised to become an economic powerhouse. The annual percentage growth has been 7,5 percent since 2002. The country is already a military superpower. As it looks today, only Turkish membership can realize the EU's defense plans. No one has more F-16 aircraft in the world, except the United States. Turkey has the greatest military capability in NATO, besides the United States. Only Turkey can give the EU muscle, also for use in peacekeeping work. Half a million Turkish soldiers carry weapons. Realpolitical and cynical is the choice, as seen from Europe: Either they are with us, or they look the other way in search of strategic partners: Russia, Iran and China. Or neighboring Syria and Iraq?

Intimidation propaganda is pretty bad pedagogy. It is better to appeal to the high self-esteem. We often hear that Muslims hate the West and that is why fundamentalism is growing. The problem is the opposite. Many outside Europe and the United States have too high hopes for what the West is and can do. Therefore, they are disappointed when the West acts with double standards. They do not understand why it is more legitimate to attack Iraq than an oppressive regime like Saudi Arabia, and they do not understand why Iran cannot have nuclear power when Israel does. But they understand that salutations such as democracy are hypocrisy as long as Muslims in Britain and France are considered second-class citizens. So if it turns out that Turkey is not allowed to join the EU even if it meets all the criteria – because the culture is different – then Europe confirms that the continent is no longer a role model for others, nor itself. The Pope and Giscard d'Estaing are wrong. The EU will disintegrate if Turkey does not join. Europe should not be a Don Quixote that fights imaginary Turkish enemies disguised as fundamentalist windmills. Europe is Don Quixote with Turkish Sancho Panza by its side. Together they can travel the world in search of meaning to fill modernity with.

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