Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Turkey's Coming of Age

In 1989, my book Une autre Europe, un autre Monde was published in France. It foresaw the reunification of Europe, the dissolution of the Soviet Union and a future in which Turkey would play the role of bridge between Christian Europe and the Muslim world.

On the first two items, the book was recog-nized as highly prescient. But the third did not turn out as expected: I imagined the Middle East following the example of the European Union, which was soon to adopt the Treaty of Maastricht that eventually led to the creation of the Euro. Although the Israeli/Palestinian conflict was con-stantly in the news, we were more than a decade away from the first manifestations of jihad, as opposed to intifada.

As it turns out, twenty-four years later, Tur-key is indeed playing a role that is closely linked to its geographic location, but it is not the one I envisioned. Since 1987 it has been involved in negotiations to join the European Union, however faced with resistance to its human right record, in 2002 it gave itself an Islamic government.  This represented a break with almost a century of strictly secular rule willed by the founder of the modern state after the fall of the Ottoman Empire, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

The Justice and Development Party that has ruled Turkey since 2002 has invested heavily in development, as if to persuade its citizens that an Islamist Party can deliver the goods as well as the secular European Union. However, that policy has produced a generation of young adults who are right up there with European youth when it comes to aspirations, life styles, and political awareness. A sign shown on RT today says ‘The revolution will not be televised, it will be tweeted’, and inter-viewees complain that after six days of anti-government demonstrations, most Turkish media has pretended nothing is amiss. According to one demonstrator, CNN, ever ready to accommodate power, has been showing a documentary about penguins!

Put OccupyGezi together with the back to back Bloccupy protest in Frankfurt, Germany, where several thousand demonstrated against the financial troika hobbling the European Union and you’ve got real news: the country that straddles Europe and Asia (via the Bosphorus Straits) has turned out not to be an example of modernizing Islam that its neighbors can follow, but of the difficulty for a country to shed a secular past in favor of a religious regime. Or of adopting US style ‘democracy’, i.e., the ballot box and ‘progress’ combined with brutal repression against those who want to replace that package with participatory democracy, less consumption and saving the planet.

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