Wednesday, December 18, 2002

Chris Bertram, a.k.a. "Junius", notes that despite Europe's reluctance to accept Turkey as a member of the EU, the Turkish political system follows European models in many respects. Jacob Levy concurs, adding that two particular European complaints about Turkey--its suppression of religious expression and of linguistic minorities--have strong precedents in French history.

Well, Levy is a political scientist, and Bertram is a philosopher, so I suppose they can be forgiven their unworldliness. And I'm not entirely unsympathetic to their criticisms of European snobbery about Turkey. But shocked though these two academic theorists may be to hear it, a nation's official political structure does not necessarily define its politics. I strongly suspect that Europeans are in fact not afraid that Turkey might become too aggressively secular, but rather that a strain of fundamentalist Islam is brewing just beneath the officially secular surface. Similarly, they are not concerned about a Turkey too strongly unified by strict enforcement of a single cultural norm, but rather about a country riven by ruthlessly suppressed ethnic strife that may continue to erupt periodically into dangerously destabilizing episodes of violence for decades to come.

A more interesting question, raised tangentially by Bertram, is what, precisely, might qualify Turkey (or any country, for that matter) as "European", if Turkey's current condition does not. While obviously any such definition is bound to be somewhat imprecise, I propose the following list of promising signs:
  • The presence of a large "internationalized" class who view their home country as a reactionary backwater, and an integrated, forward-looking Europe, the epitome of civilization, as its potential savior;

  • Widespread enthusiasm for an expansive, dirigiste welfare state;

  • A heavily state-subsidized "cultural sector" that produces dreary, unpopular content;

  • Frequent public displays of virulent hatred of the US and Israel.
Once Turkey presents the above symptoms, it will already be effectively European, and rapid finalization of its membership in the EU will then no doubt be a mere formality.

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