Europe must not reject Turkey now

Talks now would signal that there is conjunction between the Western and Muslim worlds
Click to follow
The Independent Online

This is probably the very worst time for the European Commission to decide on Turkey's application to become a member of the European Union. The massacre of Beslan has hardly served to dissuade the many in Europe who are deeply doubtful about the idea of letting a Muslim country into a Christian, western grouping. Nor has Turkey's Islamist government's decision to revive the old laws making adultery a criminal offence or the outbreak again of fighting between the Turkish army and security forces and the Kurdish separatist PKK.

This is probably the very worst time for the European Commission to decide on Turkey's application to become a member of the European Union. The massacre of Beslan has hardly served to dissuade the many in Europe who are deeply doubtful about the idea of letting a Muslim country into a Christian, western grouping. Nor has Turkey's Islamist government's decision to revive the old laws making adultery a criminal offence or the outbreak again of fighting between the Turkish army and security forces and the Kurdish separatist PKK.

When Frits Bolkestein, the outgoing internal market commissioner, commented this week that Europe was in danger of being "Islamised" by the huge influx of people that would come with Turkey's accession - adding, with a grandiloquent flourish, that "the liberation of Vienna in 1683 would have been in vain" - he was only voicing what many of his colleagues in the Commission and many politicians in France, Germany, Austria and the new entrants from Central Europe already feel.

And yet this may also be the best time to tackle just such fears. Europe, as the wider world, is on the threshold of a conflagration that could either descend into an all-out confrontation between the West and the Islamic world or move to some kind of accommodation that rolls back the concept of "global war" and breaks up conflicts into specific issues with specific causes and specific solutions.

We know which side Presidents George Bush and Vladimir Putin are on. They are in favour of the "total war on terror" version of history that would put each act of outrage and civil strife into a single basket called "global terror". Of course, both would deny that this is a Christian-Muslim divide, but the effect of their actions and their rhetoric is quite clear. Across the world, and within the Muslim communities of Britain and the rest of Europe, the invasion of Iraq, the suppression of separatism in Chechnya, even the threats of intervention in Sudan, are taken as part and parcel of a Western determination to dominate the Muslim world and its resources.

Which is, of course, exactly what the terrorists and extremists want. Although politicians like to dismiss such outrages as Beslan as "mindless" and "senseless", they are not that. Such brutalities are carried out partly as a means of self-glorification by people who feel otherwise powerless and partly as a means of provoking a reaction which in turn ratchets up the vicious cycle of violence and repression. The one hostage-taker said to be seized alive by the Russian security forces said as much to his captors. Their hope, he was reported as saying, was that the take over of the school might bring about a general conflagration in the region.

The question for the world, within as well as without Muslim communities, is the same question as always with terrorism: how do you encourage the forces for moderate change and meet the concerns and ambition of ordinary people and thus isolate the groups seeking revolution and power through violence. On that at least Bush is right: you cannot ever finally win the war on terror. There will always be people who seek glory or gain through the bomb and the hostage. The aim must be to contain and isolate.

Washington's "plan" to use regime change in Baghdad to spread democracy through the Middle East can be pretty much discarded now. The very act of the invasion and the resulting violence and insecurity has made it unacceptable. US calls for democratisation are seen as a form of imperialism and even those Arabs sympathetic to them feel it wiser to keep their views to themselves.

Which is where Turkey comes in. The point about Turkey's application to join the EU is not that it doesn't pose problems of its treatment of the Kurds. It does, and those may get worse before they get better if the PKK has its way. Nor is it that its avowedly Islamist new government won't seek social and legislative changes that put it at odds with Western Europe's secularist culture. It isn't even that Turks can be regarded as "Europeans" in the same way as Swedes or Poles.

It is that Turkey wants to join the EU, it has a moderate Muslim government within a secularist constitution and is prepared to make the changes - as much for its own sake as Brussels - to get there. On the other side you have a union of states which, for all its failings, provides a way of incorporating all sorts of ethnic and religious views within a wider context than the nation state.

Next month the Commission is set to produce a report assessing Turkey's suitability for joining the Union. But the decision to start talks doesn't have to be made until the end of the year and even then it could take up to a decade before Turkey meets the requirements to join, plenty of time to discuss everything from Kurdish rights to adultery.

It is the gesture of inviting talks that matters now. Lord Owen yesterday described it as an historic opportunity. And that is no exaggeration. The talks will signal that there is the possibility of conjunction between the West and the Muslim world. To regress to the mindset of the 1683 siege of Vienna would be to sound the opposite note and to promote the world of division which the terrorists so dearly wish to see.

a.hamilton@independent.co.uk

Comments