European Parliament President Martin Schulz appears to have joined the long list of those engaging in polemics with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in order to increase their popularity. This malady has long been a regular and customary practice among local politicians in Turkey. In fact, the favorite method considered as a fast track to fame among opposition leaders, prospective leaders, columnists, artists, nongovernmental organizations and even those aspiring to be a social media phenomenon is to attack Erdoğan.
But Schulz, as the president of such a prestigious institution as European Parliament, jumping on the same bandwagon shows that this malady has spread from Turkey to Europe.
How should we interpret it? Does it confirm Erdoğan's strength or the weakness of his detractors? I think both of them are equally true. Political weakness and politics without society has to rely solely on populism and rhetoric sooner or later. In this sense, the situation that Turkey's pro-status quo and elitist opposition is in and that of Schulz and his ilk increasingly converge. I believe that the desire to oppose Erdoğan's occasional mistakes is way down the list of factors affecting this.
Needless to say, Erdoğan's success is a frustrating kind. It turns into an ontological problem especially for those whose dislike of the political tradition that Erdoğan represents borders on Islamophobia. These people, who believe in the secularization argument, share the same mindset. The Republican People's Party (CHP), People's Democratic Party (HDP), PKK, Eurosceptics, European left and Schulz all seem to be utterly unhappy about seeing the collapse of this argument.
AGE OF ENLIGHTMENT What this argument essentially says is that no good can come from either religion or devout people. It was assumed that religion and religiosity would vanish from earth with the advance of science, technology and the modern state. Religion and religiosity was an anomaly, a delusion and illusion from a certain period of the development of civilization and the individual. It was a product of helplessness. With the Enlightenment, science and technology overcame man's fears and met his needs, and people would find it unnecessary to believe in a religion. Thus the masses that had been opiated with magic, superstition and sacred beliefs would never be able to drag the world into the dark ages again. In fact, we see that this devoted faith itself has become a religion and engendered its own sacred beliefs and dogmas. Religion and the devout have not gone anywhere. Actually, sociologists of religion such as Robert Bellah, Peter Berger, Harvey Cox and Rodney Stark, who passionately defended the secularization argument in the 1960s, say they had erred and that we are witnessing a very lively religious resurgence now. Although institutions like church have weakened in the West, they say, forms of religious experience persist after undergoing a series of changes.
This, in turn, creates huge fear and anger in European cultures, which regard their ways of life as the sole universal truth, and for the elites in the Middle East who internalized this culture. That fear and anger combined with arrogance pave the way for the crisis of culture, politics and science in Europe and the West in general.
However, the Enlightenment was a valuable paradigm and it has had an impact on the Islamic world and the whole Middle East, despite all its problems. We see that in today's Turkey, it is not the elite secularists who experience modernity in a more healthy, self-confident and peaceful way and prepare to step beyond modernity, but the devout. The post-modern period has also come to an end. There is hope that softer realities, more hybrid states and certainly a fairer and more egalitarian economic and political order will be created in the 21st century. Europe and the entire West letting low-caliber actors like Schulz set the agenda instead of appreciating Turkey's unique value is another consequence of the crisis of European culture and politics.
What constitutes the main difference from the Enlightenment is the embrace of criticism. Different from pre-modernity, the fathers of the Enlightenment had directed criticism at their own cultures and mercilessly criticized themselves. And that, in turn, opened up a vast area of development for them. Of course, a look at today's Europe shows that there are people who still dare to do this. But they are the minority and their views are not reflected in the European Union's macro-policies or national preferences. Doubtless to say, Turkey shines with its buoyant economy, its brilliant success over the last 14 years, its energetic people and strong potential. The architect of this success is Erdoğan, a devout Muslim democrat. He has won every election he has contested. After 15 years at the helm of the nation, let alone decreasing, his vote has reached 55 percent. Furthermore, as the country hit the bottom economically following the February 2001 crisis, Erdoğan and his Justice and Development Party (AK Party) took over a ruin. During these 15 years as prime minister and now president, coup attempts by elite secularists, juntas, elite business and media, the PKK, and finally by Gülenists, who had been clandestinely organized within state institutions for 40 years, could not prevent the AK Party from achieving all this.
But it is not just that. There is hell raging across the southern and eastern borders of the country. There is the Syrian civil war, a fragile situation in Iraq, 3 million refugees who rushed to the Turkish borders and were immediately admitted, an aggressive Russia to the north and the crisis in Ukraine and Crimea.
Having become able to lend money to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Turkey has also increased its domestic production rate in the defense industry to 60 percent and is preparing to build its first locally manufactures aircraft carrier and fighter jet.
Our leftists would not even dream of the health reform in Turkey, which President Barack Obama failed to introduce in the U.S., and the social policies favoring low-income citizens. The people perceive the AK Party as a social democratic party. Armenians like me, and Christians who had to even hide their names during ultra-secularist and elitist governments until a very short time ago, perform important duties today in Parliament. Properties owned by non-Muslim foundations, which had been seized by the Kemalist regime, are being returned through a bill passed by the AK Party, but which the CHP brought to the Constitutional Court. Churches and synagogues are being restored and new churches are being built.
But Schulz, like other Eurocrats, purposefully ignores all the relevant contexts and indulges in attacking Erdoğan and uses this valuable partner, signaling a possible bid to become Germany's chancellor, not to mention Turkey being targeted with a shamefully fascist discourse during the Brexit campaign.
Finally, Schulz instructed Erdoğan to change the country's anti-terrorism laws as a precondition for visa liberalization. And he criticized Turkey's plans to adopt a presidential system, as if it was his duty. According to Schulz, Erdoğan sets the entire agenda to bring this system.
I attended the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) just a few days ago. While everyone began by praising Turkey's generosity, power and value, anti-Erdoğan sentiment was looming over every debate. The post-monitoring report on Turkey almost turned into a lynching orgy. That sentiment startled me - but not on behalf of Turkey, because nothing will ever happen to Turkey. I felt sad for Europe. Objective and consistent criteria were replaced with sentimentality, arrogance, and fear. They only say that is the way they do things there. European Parliament and the Council of Europe seem to have become pro-PKK platforms.
VISA IS NOT THE POINTThe Turkish government, however, is not obsessed with visa liberalization at all. It was part of a deal that the EU wanted. The Turkish government will not take any lesson from a Europe that has showed shameful irresponsibility regarding terrorism and refugees, leaving Turkey alone. European Parliament and the Council of Europe have turned into tools of an anti-Erdoğan perception-management operation. The European Union has surrendered to racism, with states of emergency becoming a norm, Denmark sinking so low as to seize refugees' jewelry, demonstrations banned in Paris and women being beaten with police truncheons, and one out of two voters not even bothering to go to the polls. Would it not be better for them to emulate Turkey instead of quarreling with Erdoğan and to save the continent from Nazification? But this is impossible with the likes of Schulz, who has moved away from objectivity and resorted to polemics.
Erdoğan has rightfully told Schulz: "You have lost your temper," and cut him down to size.
"Mr. President, you have not gotten to know the Turkish nation yet. Turkey is not after visa-free travel or the shipping back [to Turkey of migrants who arrive in Greece]. However, you are after Turkey right now. You are thinking about what would happen if Turkey was to open the gates and let the refugees pass."
This nation is not mad about visa liberalization [not panning out] or the return of refugees. You are seeking help from Turkey now. You ask yourselves: 'What will happen to us if Turkey lets refugees pass the borders?' "
Ankara's EU accession negotiations are not the EU's instrument of guardianship over the country. Turkey is a very valuable Western democracy and it will not discard this identity. Moreover, it has the capacity to take the lead from Europe in improving democracy. Europe should establish an equal and dignified relationship with Turkey and modify the old ways of conducting this relationship.
While combating PKK and DAESH terrorism at the same time and trying to purge Gülenists, who provide logistical support to these groups, from the judiciary, police and intelligence organizations, our European friends have always put obstacles before us, let alone help. The latest European Parliament and Council of Europe Turkey progress reports are so subjective and part of a perception-management operation that they will go down in the history of the EU in infamy.
Until a meteor hits and transforms our region, Europe and Turkey have to be neighbors and allies in our globalizing world. But I can say one thing for sure: Turkey wants its shortcomings to be pointed out in a friendly way. However, it cannot tolerate European institutions being used by certain groups as centers of perception-management operations against it, either.
In this regard, a radical shift seems to be necessary in the nature of the relationship between Turkey and the EU.
A friend whose absence begins to not be felt cannot unilaterally impose the requirements of friendship on the other.