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November 25, 2009 |  3 comments |  Print  Your Opinion  

Mensur Akgün

Topic The EU's Identity Crisis

Mensur Akgün: Recent media reports on Turkey’s alleged foreign policy fail to acknowledge major positive achievements on behalf of the AKP government, notably Ankara’s attempts at reconciliation with its neighbors. Western pundits should ask themselves what this “western identity” that Turkey is supposedly moving away from, really is.

A cursory reader of Turkish politics should be able to notice the recent negative publicity and the concern about the country's vocation under the AKP leadership. Analyses and columns questioning the nature of the new orientation are abundant. They are mostly elaborating on what has not been done and usually claiming some things can never be done. Pundits criticize Prime Minister Erdoğan's speeches, reactions and elaborate on the deficiencies in the formulation of the new foreign policy.

The Davos incident, a protest by Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan after a display of hostile behavior by Israeli President Shimon Peres during a panel discussion at the World Economic Forum in January this year, has been taken as the most solid evidence of the orientation shift in Turkey's foreign and even domestic policy. However such a conclusion fails to take into account the motives underlying Erdoğan's behavior, just a month after Israel attacked Gaza and 1317 innocent people were killed, which was later confirmed by the Goldstone Report.  

Later in the year, Turkey's fair and pragmatic policy advocating a diplomatic solution to the problem of Iran's nuclear aspirations was also criticized either explicitly or in veiled references in many a news article. The content of the policy was largely ignored. Those ostracizing Turkey failed to see the nuances and references to international legal instruments like the NPT, as well as calls for regional nuclear free zones. 

Not many were content with the lifting of visa requirements between Syria and Turkey. Hoards of Syrian refugees tended to be imagined at the gates of the EU, with no mention of Syria's economic importance to Turkey.  Not much positive has been said about Turkey's historic reconciliation with the Kurds in North Iraq either. Even attempts at the facilitation of the talks between Israel and Syria went largely unnoticed.

Very few discerned the changes taking place within the country as well as attempts for reconciliation with the neighbors. The recent rapprochement with Armenia, nicknamed as football diplomacy, remains little noticed. When debating Turkey's new non-western orientation, people tend to neglect the fact that Turkey is going beyond risking her relations with Azerbaijan.

The main reason seems to be that Ankara is not only opening the border gates and establishing diplomatic relations with Yerevan, but also committing itself with a pledge to recognize the 1915 tragedy as genocide if the commission of historians is to supply evidence in conformity with the prevalent legal norms.

It might be prudent to remind the reader here that Turkey's official policy of genocide is based on Article 2 of 1948 Genocide Convention and not on denial for quite some time. Turkey recognizes the tragedy fallen upon the Armenians in 1915 due to a deliberate political decision. But genocide is not a generic term for Ankara, it has a specific legal meaning. It is not seen as a substitute term for massacre, crime against humanity, ethnic cleansing or war crimes. 

Yet this caveat has never had any impact on the reality on the ground. The recent changes in and around Turkey, with a remarkable exception of the EU Commission in its yearly Regular Reports, is misread by many. Any exception, such as personal moral support extended to Sudan's notorious Omar Al Bashir, is seen as another vindication of the "epistemic" shift in Turkey's pro-Western orientation.

However, those criticizing and snubbing Turkey for its "shift" fail to ask themselves the fundamental question:  What is "Western"? What are the defining characteristics of it? Are we talking about human rights, democracy and basic norms of the Westphalian state system or about the divide between the so called "civilizations"? Which cleavage are we referring to? Which values are distinguishing the West from the rest? Is the axis from which Turkey presumed to divert itself based on the divide between Judeo-Christianity and Islam?    

Assuming that religion is not the defining characteristic of the West from which Turkey is diverting, how can one claim that Turkey's attempts at democratization, its internalization of human rights, and its determination to find peaceful solutions to its domestic and international problems, mean Turkey is changing its orientation and becoming something less than "Western"?

Should we believe that the US and the EU member countries, are immune from all political diseases such that their preferences, policies and practices are in perfect harmony all the time with the norms they presume to embody? Do they really stick to the same norms they advocate for others? Could it be the case that the West has lost its own Western identity, but the pundits have yet to realize it? 

Mensur Akgün is the Director of the Global Political Trends Center, a foreign policy oriented research institute under Istanbul Kültür University.


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Tags: | EU | US | judo-christianity | Islam | western identity |
 
Comments
Member deleted

November 25, 2009

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I like this comment! What's this?
The last sentence of the article is probably the key to all, very impressive/powerful statement.
 
Jakob  Schirmer

November 25, 2009

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I like this comment! What's this?
I agree to my previous writer but assume/hope it are rhetorical questions.
 
Greg Randolph Lawson

November 25, 2009

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I like this comment! What's this?
The article raises an intriguing question: "Could it be the case that the West has lost its own Western identity, but the pundits have yet to realize it?"

The question of what is the "West" is deeply philosophical. Is the "West" Christian, secular, modern, post-modern, etc. The answer appears to be all of the above and this is fundamentally what will keep Turkey and the EU from ever formally being able to be joined despite a strong contemporary strategic rationale.

The dominant philosophical trend of secular humanism espoused so strongly throughout Europe appears to actually be the vestiges of Christianity. As paradoxical as that might seem at first glance, Christianity's morality and ethics still dominate European thinking. Certainly, post-Enlightenment rationality attempts to entomb the faith of the transcendent that defines Christianity. Yet even as it does so, there is a residue of compassion, respect, and love of neighbors that seems to still be grounded in faith even if it is now promoted by vacuous legalisms.

Rationality does not beget morality. Rationality is a morally neutral deice that can help illuminate some answers, but cannot answer those that are the most fundamental of questions especially why do we exist. Consequently, the "West", still retains elements of itself and has not completely succumbed to airy cosmopolitanism. Though even as it attempts this, it is still living out an effort at universality that is reflective of its Christian origins in the wake of the collapse of the western Roman Empire.

To step back from going too far down the road of abstraction, the question about Turkish-EU relations boils down to this: can an Islamist nation (as Turkey is slowly turning into under the AKP, though let's leave the debate over "extreme" and "moderate" for another time) join a faithfully Christian or secularized Christian grouping without sacrificing something of intense importance to its own long-term identity?

I suspect the long-term answer is no (as in several generations). Neither side is able to swallow this at the most subterranean of levels.

That said, for contemporary strategic reasons, it would be advantageous to paper over this reality for the moment. Good policy often has to glide over uncomfortable truths in order to function. It is in Europe's interest to be more embracing of Turkey so as to deal with the very immediate challenge of energy security. The larger philosophical questions can be answered later and, perhaps, in ways difficult for anyone living now to conceive.
Tags: | Turkey-West relations |
 

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