The West's Turkish delusion

Published 10.06.2016 20:05

The global culture of fear and irrational analyses of Islam in the aftermath of 9/11 strengthened EU members' prejudices, which shape their view of Turkey today

After the decision in German parliament defining the 1915 events as genocide, debates sprung up in both Turkey and Europe on whether Turkish-European relations had entered a crisis. Although Ankara expressed that it does not evaluate German parliament's decision as the general attitude of the European Union, there is still a rational basis for this debate. Because of Germany's power in the EU and Germany coming to such a decision following France presents us with a solid justification to problematize Turkish-European relations.

The West became the biggest factor of the identity crisis Turkey experienced from the 19th century until the 2000s. From economy to politics, culture to education, essentially in nearly every area, Turkey set its path through Westernization policies. Applied in a top-down manner through a limited state elite and without obtaining the consent of a large part of society, these policies brought serious cultural breaks with them. After 2000, Turkey began to develop an interest-based and rational relationship with the West rather than continuing passionate Westernization policies. A large part of society came closer to the West during this period, which had not been seen before. The Justice and Development Party (AK Party) elites accomplished what the Republican elites could not manage to do. In this sense, the West stopped being a part of Turkey's identity crisis after 2000.

Alongside this Turkey started to take on the role of being the main factor in the identity crisis of Europe after 2000. Europeans took Turkey's full membership process for the EU from being a technical and legal procedure and built a cultural resistance mechanism instead in order to obstruct Turkey's potential to join. In the center of the Europeans' cultural resistance mechanism undoubtedly is the fact that nearly all of Turkey's population is Muslim. In this framework, the argument proposed is that Islam would be in conflict with European values and that Muslim Turks coming under the roof of Europe would create big problems. However, this approach is not the only thing causing this cultural resistance.

Another factor leading Europeans to form a cultural resistance to Turkey's membership in the EU is their perception of the presence of an Islamist administration in Turkey. British Foreign Minister Michael Gove's latest statement is a symbolically powerful example of this. According to Gove, "[a]llowing 77 million Turkish citizens visa-free travel" is a factor signifying that "the West has opened its borders to pleasing an Islamist administration." As will be seen in this example, an issue related to Turkey's reality is being sacrificed to a wrongly coded image of Turkey.

To put it bluntly, Europeans evaluate Turkey as led by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan through their prejudices toward Islamism. According to this prejudice, Islamists have only one aim. This aim is to Islamize. Islamists, in turn, are backward, irrational actors who will attempt anything and take on any shape in order to realize this aim.

The global culture of fear and irrational analyses of Islamism that have occurred in the aftermath of 9/11 strengthened these prejudices. The Arab revolutions that came about a decade later pushed this process forward. Westerners supporting the repression of Arab revolutions and taking up positions next to authoritarian leaders was caused by them regarding these Arab revolutions as a rise of Islamism. However, the Arab revolutions had actually come about as an extension of the demand for democratization in the Islamic world.

The belief that during the Arab revolutions, the AK Party's experiences in Turkey were taken as a model reinforced this essentialist understanding of Islamism in the West and became one of the most important justifications of the creation of an anti-Erdoğan political environment.

However, as John Esposito said, Islamism in the modern period has generated itself not just with a demand to Islamize, but to democratize as well. What is more, the AK Party in the beginning of the 2000s under Erdoğan's leadership came forward by taking politics' secular dynamics as a base and became the administration. The AK Party broke off from the Welfare Party (RP), which had put its agenda of Islamization over democratization, and developed a post-Islamist line. The AK Party gave the guarantee that it would conduct politics in order to find solutions to the inequalities and problems of development in society. It said that during this process, it would not consider any type of nationalism, including Islamic nationalism, to be essential. In this frame, it said that it would be on the side of service politics rather than identity politics.

Alongside this, the AK Party defined its own political line as being one of conservative democracy. With this formula, the AK Party revealed that it would take up the agenda of democratization as the foundation, rather than Islamization, and it translated the Islamization agenda of Turkey's Islamists into conservative politics. It took an approach to protect the religious values and traditional institutions of society. It attempted to put into practice Karl Manheim's rationalized traditionalism formula for conservatism.

While embarking on its development moves and foreign policy spurts, it did not move forward based on common religion or sympathies, but rather based its approach on political and economic interests.

European leaders and mainstream media organizations are intent on not reading this Turkish reality and prefer to judge the country with the images they have concocted in their heads. In truth, I think this is literally a choice. It is a conscious choice aimed at weakening Turkey's hand. But this choice also forces Turkey to enact its own cultural resistance mechanisms in turn. Who will benefit from this? We will see in the coming days.

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