Values, Hopes and Fears

BY YAVUZ BAYDAR

TODAY’S ZAMAN - ‘The European Union must rethink its relations with the Muslim world at its doorstep, beginning with accepting Turkey, whose membership would help usher the continent from the small-mindedness [Orhan] Pamuk describes. I’m not sure booming Turkey’s still interested; keep someone at the door long enough and that person will turn away. But a union with Turkey in it would not have responded to the Arab awakening with such tiptoeing awkwardness.’

The truth is knocking at the door. The quote above, by Roger Cohen, a columnist with The New York Times, is just another reminder of this. The tough reality in the Arab world has come as proof of what has been argued for deaf and blind EU circles for a long time.

Whether Turkey is an inspiration or a model for the tsunami of change that hit the old Arab regimes is an issue that is bound to be discussed more as events unfold, but one thing is already clear: What happened so far has without a shadow of a doubt exposed the major differences in the nature of relations between the West and Turkey. As my colleague, Sedat Laçiner, argues in a powerful article published in the Star daily yesterday, it is not a relationship based on inferiority before the powerful nations in the West, nor is it based on venomous enmity like the one between Iran and the West.

“It is a relationship between equals,” writes Laçiner and concludes more or less like Cohen: “If Turkey can become a full member of the EU, it will continue to become a hope for West-East relations that are collapsing in places such as Afghanistan, Palestine, Iraq and Lebanon.” When Nicolas Sarkozy visits Turkey for the first time as a statesman, the hope is that he will at least leave with this seemingly tiny but crucial detail that will define global events in the new decade. He can be helped to discover a number of hints and clues in Turkey’s present reality, such as examples of better governance based on respect for what people expect and demand, a self-confidence of the citizenry over a predictable future and, as a basis for all of this, an economy that fulfills almost all of the Maastricht criteria (which many EU members still fail to meet).

Then there’s all this talk about religion. Pamuk, Cohen and many others are simply saying this: Throw your old, misleading glasses into the dustbin because the reality they show is thoroughly distorted. By insisting on looking through them you are also further feeding into the “us and them” mentality, putting more bricks in the wall of intolerance.

The reality is far from the nonsense uttered lately by politicians such as Franco Frattini, Italy’s foreign minister. What is taking place in the Maghreb or the Mashreq has little to do with religion. If anything, its role so far has been limited to helping a new renaissance of morality, and lighting the flames of justice and human dignity. The role of religion is in the deep background; what really matters for all those gravely discontented masses is a decent life, a free vote, an end to corruption and thievery, and a fair share of prosperity.

It is obvious that the masses involved in the Arab unrest somewhere in the explosive fury have had an idea of what is called a “silent revolution” in Turkey. They have felt it concretely by the Turkish products entering their poor markets, successful openings of Turkish schools here and there, openly challenging Israel’s anti-humanitarian mindset against Palestinians when no other Arab statesman dared to come close to doing so, and perhaps most of all, the glitter and glamour of a “new Turkey” depicted in enormously popular TV series.

If a predominantly Muslim nation such as Turkey can manage to prosper in a democratic milieu, turning into a pivotal power for globalism, this cannot go unnoticed by the average citizen in the Arab world. They have certainly found a lot of food for thought in the fact that a political party stemming from a rather radical Islamist background has managed to evolve from within and move into the political center, with a determination to evolve the entire “hard” system based on tutelage, while keeping a broad voter base on free will. From their perspective it is an amazing experiment that aims for a fine merger between religion and modernity.

A new world is in the making. The closer key states such as Egypt get to achieving a representative democracy, the more it will trigger unrest and change in other locations. This is only the beginning, and it is all irreversible. Parts of the “old” EU may continue to build their policies upon fear, but for the others, Turkey -- with its experience and wisdom -- should be the gate to a new world based on hope and respect.

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