1151) A New Era (1-3)

Over the past five years great changes have taken place in the world. Many concepts of the liberal ideology that emerged in the 1980s and prevailed in the world in the 1990s are no longer valid. These changes are so extensive that one can say we have stepped into a new era. If we fail to understand the characteristics of this era, we will not be able to determine the right policies or implement them effectively. . .

No person in his right mind is willing to argue anymore that the nation-state will disappear in the foreseeable future. Globalization needs the rule of law that can be established only by the nation-state it has worn out so much. The World Bank and Fukuyama have discovered, albeit belatedly, that development cannot be achieved without a state, either. The Iraq case has shown clearly yet another time the difficulty of building a nation and a state, underlining the fact that there will be no democracy without a nation-state.

Meanwhile, the Sept. 11 incident has caused the fight against terrorism to become the top priority issue. The liberal countries of the West have introduced certain restrictions in the framework of the war on terror -- to the point of violating basic principles of international law. This development has shown that human rights and freedoms can flourish only in societies that are not plagued by internal clashes.

The world has seen Western Europe's failure to integrate into its society the Arab/Muslim minorities and the way it tries to assimilate them instead, resorting to incredible methods such as creating a “European Islam” and forcing these minorities to speak the language of the majority. Thus the ideal of multiculturalism has collapsed.

The Islamic world has been turned into a veritable adversary, even the “hostile other” for the West, due to two factors: the failure to integrate the Muslim communities and the imperative to fight with al-Qaeda and home-grown Muslim terrorists, both of whom resort to terror in the name of Islam.

Due to these developments the perception of human rights and freedoms is starting to change. Under the influence of post-modernism the granting of freedoms in the broadest manner had gained priority over such considerations as how those freedoms would be used, for which purposes and with what kind of context. The liberals were arguing that one should give rights to (and meet the demands of) the minorities even when the latter resorted to terror -- because these were inalienable rights.

Similarly, they wanted the widest scope of religious freedoms regardless of whether these were in accord with democracy, the principle of secularism and modernity. They asked, “Who is supposed to be determining whether a creed is ‘right' or ‘wrong' or ‘modern enough'?”

Yet, now even those Western societies that are in the advanced stages of liberalism are questioning the content of the freedom of belief. They criticize the dress-related symbols of those Islamic movements that are deemed extremist on the grounds that these cause discrimination, prevent integration with the host society, lower women's status and, using Jack Straw's words, block communication between individuals.

America's efforts to democratize the Arab/Muslim world in the course of the war on terror are failing after causing heavy casualties and material losses in Iraq. If the sole super power's “rescue from Iraq” took place in the form of an abrupt withdrawal, the current instability (which, in reality, is the outcome of a process that began with the American military operation in Iraq) would give way to chaos. That would shake peace and stability not only in the Middle East but in the rest of the world as well. It would not be possible to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. The Shiite threat against the Sunnis would grow dangerously. Israel's security would falter.

In such a chaotic atmosphere the national security considerations and national interests of the individual countries would come to the fore even more strongly than before. Regional conflicts would become more intense. In an “each one fends for himself” kind of climate each country will pit itself against those focal points that it perceives as a source of threat for itself with a defensive reflex.

At such a critical time the European Union is failing to transform itself into a strategic actor. On the contrary, it is becoming more and more inward looking. It has a gigantic economy -- and a political intelligence that could easily fit into a nutshell. In the name of preserving its social model it avoids making economic reforms, becoming bogged down in racism. It is losing its enthusiasm for enlargement. It is preoccupied with petty maneuvers rather than conducting a real foreign policy.

Yet in the Far East we see the inevitable rise of China. It is as if China is now displaying a counter-model to the world. It shows that an undemocratic country can obtain an extraordinary amount of foreign investment from the democratic West, that one can achieve much more rapid development by restricting rights and freedoms and that one can even take the world financial system hostage when one has a huge balance of payments surplus.

This is the kind of world Turkey has to survive in.

As the world becomes a more dangerous and less liberal place, Turkey faces difficult problems of adaptation. This signals the failure of liberal policies.

When the late Turgut Özal decided to make a bid for Turkish full membership in the European Union (then the EC) in August 1986, he had two goals in mind. With the Jan. 24, 1980 decisions, the country had adopted an export-oriented economic growth model. During the planned economy era Özal, as the undersecretary of the State Planning Organization (DPT), had opposed a customs union with the EU. Now he wanted Turkey to enter the EU, the world's biggest market, situated right next to us. From a political standpoint, too, Turkey should not be left outside the pan-European movement. These were his goals although he did predict that the EU's high technical standards would place a burden on our economy and that the EU's social model would slow down the growth not only of our own economy but also that of the EU.

After Turkey entered into a customs union with the EU in 1995, the liberals gradually added other goals for membership. They argued that Turkey's inner dynamics were proving inadequate to enhance the country's democracy, that without foreign investments the country could not achieve rapid development and without an EU perspective foreign investors would not come. For them the “Kurdish problem” could be solved only within the EU. The Cyprus and Aegean problems, too, could be solved in that framework.

On top of all this, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government sought EU membership in order to ease the radical secularism of the republic and to prevent any further military interventions of the Feb. 28 type. There was speculation to the effect that the EU membership process would give this government political legitimacy when dealing with the military.

Thus an odd coalition was formed, a coalition consisting of the former leftists-turned-liberals, religious circles and Kurdish separatists, each having been maltreated by the republic. They attributed an existential importance to the EU -- which they called external dynamics -- with respect to the survival of the Turkish democracy and economy. It was as if we would not be able to survive without EU membership. Consequently, they argued that we should obtain EU membership at all costs.

Scorning the enormous progress achieved by the republic on its own, thanks to the country's own dynamics, they claimed the country had been conducting erroneous foreign policies almost in all fields.

Thus, the goal to secure EU membership for pragmatic reasons was turned into a utopian goal. EU membership was now being advocated as a panacea for all ills. There was no concession too costly for us to make in our zeal to become an EU member. As a result there was no concession our interlocuters would refrain from demanding. The negotiations and the struggle inherent in foreign relations, the process of give-and-take, turned into a one-sided process whereby Turkey alone was expected to do the giving.

First Turkey's four-decades-old “erroneous” Cyprus policy was abandoned. The Greek-Greek Cypriot “duo” calculated that those who so easily accepted the Annan plan would be prepared to make even further concessions in the course of the EU accession process. This is how we reached the current spot. We have agreed to take the Aegean issues to the International Court of Justice, but Greece is not satisfied even with that.

Meanwhile, the Kurdish separatists have not contented themselves with the cultural rights EU membership would provide. In parallel with the developments in northern Iraq they have started demanding a federation as the first step to secede from Turkey and they have reverted to terrorism. They turned indifferent when we reduced the all-embracing “Turkish identity” to the level of one of the many ethnic identities in Turkey.

As time passed, the Justice and Development Party's (AKP) -- and the AKP grassroots' -- eagerness to seek EU membership waned due to European Court of Human Rights decisions on banning the Welfare Party (RP) and the headscarf ban and the treatment the Muslims were accorded.

It becomes clearer with every passing day that the EU itself is faced with an existential crisis and that within the EU there exists a sizable bloc determined not to make Turkey a member. They are stressing that due to religious differences Turkey cannot be a member. They see Turkish membership as an obstacle to the EU's political integration. For these reasons the EU's Dec. 17 document did not envisage the full membership of Turkey. And the Oct. 3 negotiating framework document introduced for Turkey the kind of rules that had not been imposed on any other candidate country.

As if all this were not enough, they supported “Armenian genocide” claims. The European Parliament had already recognized the “genocide” in 1987. In the name of freedom of expression not only France but many other European countries as well (such as Belgium the Netherlands and probably Sweden) are now demanding that we abolish Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code (TCK) and start debating the “genocide.” Meanwhile they themselves take the path of banning “genocide denial.”

However, it seems that the breakup will be caused not by these but by the Cyprus issue. Having forgotten all about its April 26, 2004 commitments, the EU is demanding that we implement the additional protocol. Thus, the more we cede the more they demand and the ship runs aground.

The concession-making approach has inevitably created a nationalist reaction. People cool off on the EU membership goal. The military and the other republican institutions, together with the masses of people, now worry that the founding principles of the republic are jeopardized.

We are stepping into a new era.

Apparently we will not be able to become a member of the European Union in the foreseeable future. Under the circumstances we should formulate the kind of policy that would leave the door open for a resumption of the accession talks if and when the EU happens to muster the political will to accept us as a member.

Postponement of our EU membership should not prevent us from aiming for the further development of our democracy, work on resolving secularism-related issues and the separatism problem, speeding up economic development and maintaining our Western-oriented foreign policy. All this requires a new consensus.

On the Cyprus problem, an issue that is blocking Turkey's path to EU membership, Turkey should announce that it will not agree to renegotiate the Annan plan. It should stress that even if the Greek/Greek Cypriot side came to accept the plan, implementation could begin only after Turkey became a member of the EU.

The EU has undoubtedly made a significant contribution to the development of our democracy. However, we have a number of issues causing problems for our democracy (i.e., separatism and anti-secularism) which EU membership can hardly be expected to solve. In fact, some of the EU countries, Spain and Belgium, for example, may even get dismembered themselves. In other words, EU membership does not necessarily ensure a country's territorial integrity. Meanwhile, some of the EU members, Britain, for example, are excessively restricting human rights in the fight against terrorism.

EU countries are opting for suppression of the religious, linguistic and cultural characteristics of the Muslim diaspora in an effort to assimilate them. They do that on the grounds that the diaspora has to adapt to the host nation's culture and values. The time of trying to solve such issues via multiculturalism, that is, with liberal democracy, is drawing to a close.

To gain admission into the EU, Turkey is being asked to solve the problem of Kurdish separatism with the kind of methods that the EU countries have abandoned. Turkey cannot solve that problem and fight Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) terror with such methods. We have already acknowledged Kurdish identity. The Kurds have also been granted individual cultural rights. The scope of these rights can be expanded in ways that would not compromise our territorial integrity and political unity. But this cannot go beyond that point, hence the limits of liberal democracy.

The separatist movement gets votes from only 25 percent of Kurds. With the vast remaining Kurdish population (that is, with those outside that 25 percent segment), a “public debate by civil society” should be initiated on a number of issues such as the clan structure, which is undemocratic, even uncivilized, women's low status, and the way the differences are being overstressed to the extent of preventing socioeconomic development of the region. That should be the kind of debate aimed at bringing about reconciliation with the republic.

The liberal democracies of Europe perceive freedom of belief differently than Turkish liberals do. The liberals in Turkey want the broadest possible kind of freedom where individuals and groups can believe whatever they want and let them live the kind of life they chose. In Europe, however, the liberals are, having granted the freedoms, debating the unacceptable manifestations of faith, if not the faith itself.

The same should be done in Turkey. We should campaign for the renouncement of the Kharidji -- Salafi -- Muslim Brotherhood-type of political-ideological interpretation of Islam together with all its manifestations. We should advocate a return to true Islam, that is, to the Hanafi/Maturidi interpretation, which rises above all tarikats and other religious communities. Also, we must realize that the prime minister's easing his style would not suffice on its own to dispel the worries about religious bigotry.

Meanwhile, those defending the republic should admit that our brand of secularism does have a certain religious content, that despite the great strides made by the Enlightenment, there has been a failure to provide answers to ontological questions, that morality has a lot to do with religious creed, and that Islam could actually make a big contribution to democracy -- aside from merely being compatible with it -- if it focused on ontological and moral issues, setting aside the realm of politics.

Champions of democracy must not forget that in the absence of societal reconciliation on the separatism and secularism issues, the army will continue to carry the kind of effective political weight that would go beyond mere talking, if necessary.

When EU membership gets postponed, Turkey will realize that there is no force or “dynamics” other than domestic ones to solve the country's problems. As Ahmet Erdoğan pointed out in a Sept. 21 article in Radikal, in such a climate Turkey would “set out to complete its modernization drive with more radical reforms that would go well beyond the reforms made or promised to date in the course of the EU accession process.”

These goals cannot be attained without a natural sense of nationalism -- that is, the kind of nationalism that would make the country self-confident without debasing other nations, open up to the world instead of becoming inward looking and adopt a rational approach to protect reasonable national interests in the field of foreign policy and economic development.

It is very important that the liberals adjust to these changes and become “normalized.” In this new era, Turkish society will need their eloquence, their knowledge and their tenacious fighting spirit.

October 19-21, 2006
Gündüz Aktan


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