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Turkey's destiny in Europe



Jonathan Power
TFF Associate since 1991
Comments to

December 20, 2004

LONDON - "Some frontiers are only in the imagination", wrote Jan Morris in her remarkable book, "Fifty Years of Europe". Prince Metternich used to say the frontier of Asia was at the Landstrasse, the street which ran towards Hungary, away from Vienna's city walls. It was also said that Konrad Adenauer, the first chancellor of Germany after World War 11, held similar feelings about Prussia. He was a Rhinelander, and whenever his train crossed the Elbe, on its way eastward to Berlin, he too would groan, "Hier beginnt Asia", and pull the blinds down.

We cannot help but ask, "What is Europe?"

Geographically, it is no more than a peninsula protruding from the landmass of Asia. Culturally it has always been a potage of peoples, languages and traditions. Politically it is a moveable feast- of the 35 sovereign states in post Iron Curtain Europe, nine have been created or resurrected since World War 11.

Arguably the one and only thing that truly unites it is not politics nor economic and monetary union but religion. It is Christianity that has provided the common morality and common identity that made talk of union in the late 1940s a possibility despite the wars of past times. The poet T.S. Eliot broadcasting on the BBC to a defeated Germany in 1945 declared that "An individual European may not believe the Christian faith is true; and yet what he says, and makes, and does, will depend on the Christian heritage for its meaning."

Now, using his immense prestige as an intellectual, a former president of France and president of the European Convention, Valery Giscard D'Estaing has joined Eliot's chorus (in the FT of November 25th.) in an attempt to derail the Turkish application. Turkey is not an inheritor of the "cultural contributions of ancient Greece and Rome". It has not experienced the Renaissance or the Enlightenment. Nor does it share Europe's "religious heritage" and entry may well not prevent Turkey "from sliding into Muslim fundamentalism".

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Not only does Giscard ignore France's own Napoleon Bonaparte, the first pan European, who once said, "If the world were a single state, its capital would be Istanbul", he greatly misreads history.

After the fall of Rome the center of Christianity moved to Constantinople. It was the Byzantine Christian empire that led Europe's climb out of three centuries of cultural strife and military defeat. It lasted a long time. Byzantine did not fall to the Ottomans until 1443

During the crucial twelfth and thirteenth centuries Christian scholars based in Byzantium realized they had to learn from Islam the Arabic corpus that incorporated Greek, Roman and Persian learning. Under Charlemagne's anti-intellectual rule all this had been lost to Europe.

Through all the ages it was Islam that was, by and large, the tolerant religion that respected the "Peoples of the Book", giving Christians and Jews when it ruled over them a great deal of autonomy. The bombing of synagogue in Istanbul last December was the first hostile act (probably carried out by Al Qaeda) against Jews in Turkey for 500 years.

The Christians for their part have rarely been tolerant, unable to come to terms with Islamic and Jewish minorities in their midst. The long persecution of the Jews in Europe which culminated in Hitler's gas chambers was always pursued by Christians not Muslims.

Why should Turkey slide into modern day fundamentalism? Turks across the political spectrum were outraged by this bombing in Istanbul. Turkey and Indonesia, two of the three largest Muslim countries, have tolerance in their bones. Fundamentalism Al Qaeda style will find thin soil for its seeds here.

Besides there is fundamentalism and fundamentalism. That of the present government in Turkey is seized by internal reform, not by anti-Western hatred. Its roots are deep in religion, but in the sense that drives it to resist corruption and to preserve moral standards in family life.

Like all Turkish political parties the ruling party is wedded to the ideals of Attaturk, the revolutionary general who founded modern Turkey in the 1920s on secular principles, clearly separating state and religion and driving through a series of political and social changes whose consequence is that a majority of its peoples now feel more at ease in being part of Europe than Asia.

We Europeans, not only Giscard, have to think hard about our prejudices. We have been raised on Shakespeare's witches' brew of "nose of Turk and Tartar's lips", Dante's portrayal of Mohammed in hell and Delacroix's painting "Massacre of Chaos" with Christian women pursued by Turkish lancers. We have to put this behind us and look at history and the facts. Turkey has earned its passage to Europe.


Copyright © 2004 By JONATHAN POWER


I can be reached by phone +44 7785 351172 and e-mail:




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