Europe must stay open to the sublime.

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

The arrival of the moderate-Islamic party into power has not changed the Turkish exclusion: Europe cannot do without a partner who believes in her.

In the administration of the Turkish issue, the European Union is confronted with its own procrastination in the weakness of its foreign policy. As only too often, the worst difficulties are tested by speaking with a single voice and instead of choosing action as a means of progressing; Europe prefers to shut herself away in a sterile status quo waiting for better days to come.

However, the application of Turkey has arrived at a sensitive period in the history of the construction of Europe, at a time when the 15 member states are trying to equip the Union with a Constitution and are preparing for enlargement to 25 members. In this context, M. Giscard dEstaing deserves credit for asking such valid questions. Indeed, by seeing it necessary to mention the Christian heritage of Europe in the future of the European Constitution, he questioned Europe about its identity and therefore about its limits - religious, cultural and geographic - which need to be defined. Nevertheless, he chose the wrong starting point by focusing his debate on religious identity and, in the way he sees Turkey, one can only wonder about a certain lack of clear-sightedness regarding the essence of the political regime of this country.

Turkey, political laboratory of the Muslim world

The arrival of the moderate-Islamic party AKP (Justice and Development Party) into power has made Europe raise her guard. However, one must not underestimate them; their demonisation shows a great ignorance regarding the Turkish political scene. Their victory has often been described as the decline of secularism in the homeland of kémalism as well as the renewal of their own Islamic ideology in the Muslim world. However, it is necessary to understand what the secularism is about. The AKP represent an important fringe of the Turkish population and had put themselves under public ballot before coming into power. Here is a rare case of legal accession and, above all, it collision with an Islamic party, in a Muslim country, at the top of the legal and executive system has been avoided. Islam, in its religious and political form, now needs to rigorously immerse itself once again into a discussion of ideas, an intellectual battle, without violence in the Cité, so that public opinion can be expressed freely. This modernisation of Islam can be achieved by the political modernisation of Muslim countries and, therefore, the length of time the Islamic parties accept the rules of the democratic game within the political field.

However, to effectively realise this transformation, a double process is required. Firstly an endogenous process: the Islamic fundamentalist has shown its incapability to respond to economic, political and socio-cultural definitions of modernity and will end up cutting itself off from the people in Muslim countries. It is so difficult to define oneself around a political project and reassemble around a true ideological force. It is then an exogenous process where the West, in general, and Europe in particular, may be able to become active partners in this process.

Turkey symbolises this phase of mutation and finds itself in the middle of the transformation. As proof, the majority of leaders in Arab countries cannot see the significant difference between the nature of regimes that they have been put into institutions and the case specific to Turkey. As far as they are concerned, it is simply a regime like many others where power has been confiscated by the military. But, it is really about the two deeply opposing experiences how, in Turkey, the army accepted the arrival of the Islamists into power, admittedly by responding to the principles of democracy and secularism.

New relationship between Islam and Democracy

This could well be a unique opportunity that Europe is letting pass by through not recognising the specificity of the Turkish experience in the political orientation that it has given to Ankara in the perspective of entering the European Union. The question should be asked. For many countries, the perspective of joining the European Union largely influences their internal policy in both the medium and the long term. One can affirm that, in many respects, this perspective appears as one of the factor that permits the oldest States to move into modernity in the widest sense of the term, in both an economic and socio-cultural viewpoint.

Because of pressure from Europe, Turkey has had to ask itself fundamental questions abut the basis of its regime. Its secular character comes from Atatürk, and it is fortunate for Europe that Turkey has abrogated the death penalty. And since this decision has been put into perspective, for example, with the ethnic and moral debates that were provoked with the abolition of the death penalty in France, one can see the profound significance, in terms of how it effects society, that this decision has and it is always due to the impetus of Europe that Turkey must extend what is considered a unique historic experience in the Muslim world, seeing Islam secularise itself and form into democracy by developing new relationships with the latter.

Therefore, the paradox is found in the difficulty to appreciate the democratic events in this country. Raising the shields that followed the AKPs victory expresses a revealing schizophrenia: if the West delights about the rise of democracy in the world, it still hopes to mould it after its own image. It is here that Islam finds itself well often in an awkward position towards modernity. Firstly, because it is incapable of finding itself in a temporal and spatial manner within modernity. It develops the consideration of those a feeling of frustration, of anguish because modernity seems to escape it, or it cannot adapt to it. For example, the lack of progress in the sciences is revealing of the situation in so much of the Muslim world. Although capable of mastering the technological tool, it has not produced anything significant since the XVII century. Then, the West is not at the origin of the identity contraction that touches Islam today, but it has undeniably taken part by being the only to include or exclude from modernity.

Europe, vector of modernity in the Mediterranean basin

Turkey, in its own way, has chosen to turn back towards modernity. Nevertheless, the absence of clear answers to the Turkish questions opens up strong anxiety in both European and Turkish public opinion. On the one hand, there is the question about the definition of Europe being at stake. In which way can this identity be maintained? On the other hand, one too often forgets that at the end of World War One, Turkey started up a processes of bringing politics and military closer together with the Western world: firstly, though the reforming will of Mustafa Kèmal who, by leaning on the Western model, made his country enter fully into modernity; then, through a constant pro-west position at the heart of the Cold War when Turkey played a major role in holding back the USSR (entered NATO in 1952, Council of Europe and OECD)

But it happens that Turkey sees itself being refused entry into the European Union for clearly defined reasons. The major danger is that Europe does not propose alternative proposals to this refusal. We must not fool ourselves. Basically, the entry of Turkey in the short term in Europe would be both utopic and suicidal for various reasons. The membership of Turkey must be the subject of profound work. A process of negotiations needs to be put into place, taking into account all that is specific to the Turkish problem. In fact, above all, danger would come in a European Union that gave way to pragmatic musts at haste. Firstly, Europe has run out of political projects (like the rise of risks in the elaboration of the European Constitution and the uncertain challenge posed by enlargement from 15 to 25 members.)

Finally, I believe that Turkey must take part in a global vision of modernisation and homogeneity of the Mediterranean basin. It is not a task for Europe to pull the Mediterranean out of a rut. But the fact remains that, in a pragmatic perspective, its interests lie well in the Mediterranean Basin being stable both politically, economically and socially. In fact, the Arab countries have accused a considerable delay in a great number of fields: weakness of institutions, inexistence of civil society and corruption of the elite on a political viewpoint; lack of diversity in economic resources, weakness or rather inexistence of the private sector, and the weight of administration and archaism in the public sector from a structural point of view. Within these definitions, a global vision of modernisation in the Mediterranean basin - where Turkey plays a dominant role - would favorise the emerging of a strongly integrated and economic pole, which would reconcile Europe with its universal vocation of maintaining Human rights. The risk is large. Europe, through its wish to give itself finite borders and an identity, risks leaving at its doors a periphery of under-developed countries fighting against poverty.