Boundaries and identity : the question of Turkeys entry into EU

Article published on June 12, 2003
community published
Article published on June 12, 2003

This article has not been vetted by an editor at Paris HQ

Faced with the impossibility to reduce cultural differences, Europe needs borders. And Turkey must be left on the outside.

The Turkish issue, I think, goes beyond the mere problem of Turkeys accession to EU: it poses the question of whether Europe really wants its identity to be defined or not. The fear that Europeans entertain about Turkeys entry into Europe has nothing much to do with Turkey itself but is due to another underlying fear : that of having to set boundaries to Europe.

This is where we must start our reflection.

Lets remember that in olden days, before the European era, the christianitas set itself no boundary but rather embraced the whole world at least theoretically. Indeed, Christianism, revealed for all men on the Earth, devoted itself to bring them all together into the same faith (see for example the beautiful text by Federico Chabot in Europes by Yves Hersant, Robert Laffont, 2002).

Contemporary Europe thinks of itself in the same way and wants to be universal, devoting itself to spread its culture all around the world. Human rights should apply to all men, it thinks. Setting up boarders between us and the others would therefore amount to legitimate other cultures and subsequently relativize ours by making it one of many others. Our values have not been achieved everywhere but we believe that their seeds are germinating everywhere. In this respect, todays Europe is indeed the heiress to the old christianitas, though the content of universal has changed from Christianism to lay human rights. Yet, Europe as a political body cant do what the christianitas was allowed to as a spiritual principle, for a political and temporal body needs borders.

Cultural diversity cant be reduced

Anyone who claims the existence of cultural boundaries is considered a disciple of Huntington, a man who is far from having a good press: people suspect him of wanting war between civilizations and being content with the mere perspective of conflicts because according to Huntington, there are distinct civilizations, without us being necessarily destined to make the whole world merge into the bosom of lay human rights. But as a matter of fact, Huntington is not more in favour of war than anybody else. All he is saying is that cultural disparities cant be reduced.

Accepting diversity means accepting a permanent threat of conflicts. This is why we have no desire to draw borders. Wed like the world to be a wide, undefined whole, except for one defining trait perhaps: that of being moulded in our own image.

Were afraid to determine our identity in the same way that were afraid to delimit the borders between us and the others. Both things go hand in hand: identities inevitably draw boundaries, and drawing boundaries requires identities. You have to know who you are before you can distinguish yourself from others. You have to distinguish yourself from others before you can say who you are. Our fear of boundaries refers to our fear of a plural world, to our secret desire for a world that wed like to be ONE. In other words, borders, identity and diversity are concepts which work together, and none can be achieved without the other two.

The panic-stricken Europeans as theyre faced with the necessity to draw their own boundaries the one that would separate them from Turkey, for instance- show us their refusal to endorse such three-dimensional equation as border-identity-diversity. We believe the universal nature of human rights is something natural in all mankind, something non exclusive and intolerant. But precisely because they define all mankind, the human rights can be no definition of our particular identity. We must leave no country outside -theoretically at least- for setting boundaries to Europe would be like endorsing and justifying disparities, reducing our universal nature to something specific.

Europe needs borders

I think were right in the middle of a totally unrealistic situation. Technically speaking, the human world wont ever be ONE, for the simple reason that various cultures means various solutions to human problems, and nobody will ever find the one and only solution that would make all people happy with it. The planet is as much varied as the creatures that live on it. Every people feels the need to identify with ever more specific values because the solutions to the problems of our existence cannot but be mediated by cultures. Boundaries represent this diversity which determines the freedom of the people to bring their own ethical, political, educational solutions to human problems. Cultures need boundaries to exist, like the river needs banks to remain so, and not turn into a swamp. Europe needs borders. Dont we be afraid to draw them. If we dont, then Europe, instead of filling up the world as it thinks it does, will turn into an empty set, for not being determined.

Assuming that boundaries are necessary to garantee both identity and diversity, then what would Europes boundaries consist of? Although I do believe it unrealistic and dangerous to impugn boundaries, I also believe that we have to discuss over how to define them. It is only normal that a debate should be set up over the question of Turkeys entry. My point here is to suggest a simple opinion to add to the debate.

Turkeys history has been closely linked with ours in the past. This is a country looking towards two opposite directions, that is East and West at the same time, as is the case with Russia (another similar issue). But the mere crossing of histories is not enough for a common identity to emerge. Rather does it allow the weaving of relations between two different cultures. It is also noteworthy that, by accepting moderate Muslim countries into its bosom, Europe may reduce Muslim fundamentalism - which might rise again in full force in case of a refusal. This last argument is a major one. Still, it remains a purely strategic and geopolitical one, whereas the Europe we want to build is not a merely strategic alliance, whose sole purpose would be to achieve peace through all kinds of compromises. In fact, Id rather define it as a crucible where a certain vision of man is at work, making it perennial.

Islam : a culture that institues two species instead of one

And this is why, in relation to boundaries, it is more relevant to focus on anthropology rather than religion. Europes distinguishing feature is not Chrisitianity. Europe includes non-Christian nations and groups, who acknowledge laws inspired by the anthropological nature Christian first, and then secularized- of human rights. Take the example of gender view. Islam does respect women, as inferior beings: men are told to protect and command them as they do with children. Lets quote, for a better understanding, the Universal Islamic Declaration of Human Rights (second declaration proclaimed by the Islamic Council in 1981, Annex 5B). In this fundamental and founder text, based on the Quran, it is clearly stated that men and women are two distinct species. For example: women have rights similar to those against them in a just manner, and the men are a degree above them (article XIX) or: Men are in charge of women, because Allah hath made the one of them to excel the other (article XX). What we have here is a description of two distinct humanities, differentiated through Gods look upon them; now you can see what a radical and ontological gap it is. As for European culture, it has been living for twenty years according to Saint Pauls words, the very basis of human rights: There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus (Gal, 3-28).

So I dont think that Turkeys capacity to democratize its institutions or reorganize its jails can be put forward as an argument for its entry into Europe. What would become of a modern democracy provided with a declaration of islamic rights? We might call it a democracy, but it would have a totally different meaning as it would not allow the individuals to lay claim to the same ontological rights, depending on the group they would belong to (somehow I find it rather comical to see those same Europeans crying out against the democracies of Reformist Islam while denying Ancient Greece the label of democracy). Of course, some will argue - rightly - that Christian Europe has very often despised women: but this behaviour was in opposition to its own principles, and thats why it has changed; whereas in Islamic culture, the behaviours deriving from the dividing of mankind between two species are prescribed by the fundamental dogmas, and so justified for ever.

The question of Turkeys entry is less related to the question of religion than to the anthropological one that lies beneath. And I cant see how the peoples of Europe, who have instituted racism as their number one enemy, could live every day alongside a culture that institutes two species instead of one.