The victory of the Justice and Development Party in the last Turkish elections and the recent declarations by Valery Giscard d’Estaign, the President of the European Convention, where he stated that the accession of Turkey would mean the end of the EU, have placed two great questions on the table that affect this country in its contemporary history, and which, in turn, are intimately related: the problem of its national identity and the challenge of its link with Europe.
Two political scientists with a particular influence on public opinion have taken on these questions by placing them in a historical perspective: Robert Kaplan and Samuel Huntington. In his work Eastward to Tartary, the former describes his visit to the headquarters of the Virtue Party, the forerunner of the party that has now won the elections, and reports his interviews with militants and leaders of the party and says that he is convinced of the modernising vocation of this political force in both the economic and political fields. However, Kaplan contemplates the rise of this party in the Turkish political scene with ambivalence, as this modernising spirit does not necessarily correspond to a pro-western leaning. In the new Turkey founded by Ataturk, westernisation has been interpreted as secularisation and not always as democratisation. The moderate Islamists have, on the other hand, staked on the second of these and achieved a clear popular mandate in the polls, but the secular forces, beginning with the military, mistrust the intentions of their leader Tayyip Erdogan.
This currently gives special interest to the work of professor Metin Heper, which analyses the ideological evolution of Erdogan from his religious training and his political career alongside the Islamist leader Necmettin Erbakan, to his current break with him. Heper particularly stresses the influence on the young Erdogan of the director of the religious school he attended, Sheik Kotku of the Nakshibandi order. Kotku considered moral development as a pre-requisite both of material development and political stability. Although this moral impulse would have to come from the interiorisation of the virtues of Islam, its final objective would be aimed at the influence on the mundane sphere. Heper highlights the “extraordinary sensitivity towards modernity” of Kotku and says that the revitalising role that he attributes to Islam is comparable to the protestant ethics in Max Weber’s analysis. From these ideas, Erdogan’s project is progressively defined until it achieves the following traits:
· A moralisation of political life that serves to overcome the crisis of legitimacy of the Turkish political class and relaunch a strong economy on solid bases.
· This moral rearming is preached by example. The reference to Islam comes in a personal plain and does not involve a change in the nature of the State or the imposal upon the secularists of an Islamic lifestyle.
· Although there is no intention to alter the State created by Ataturk, from the point of view of identity, the emphasis is placed on the values of civilisation and History associated with Turkey’s Islamic cultural roots.
· Although democracy is conceived more as a means than an end, in recent years Erdogan has preferred to stress his unequivocal commitment to democracy, as this is the only conceivable system possible for developing his political project.
· In the same way, the initial reticence towards adhesion to the EU has changed into the conviction that Europe represents a space of democracy and that the EU therefore constitutes a “legal umbrella” that will prevent the military from preventing this political alternative.
The conclusion is that the route taken by Erdogan gives credibility to his project to marry Islam with democracy in Turkey. However, tolerance must play in both directions: the Islamists may not undermine the foundations of the secular State, nor may the secularists impose their way of life on the faithful. The problem is that the mistrust of the secularists is deep-rooted, and for them Erdogan uses the well-known Islamic practice of disguise (takiyye), so the true intentions are hidden until the time comes to reveal them.
If Erdogan demonstrates his loyalty to the secular State with facts, the greatest danger of a democratic bankruptcy would not come from the failure of the radical secularists to recognise that the journey to the centre by the Justice and Development Party has been consummated.
Will this internal conflict prevent the success of the current Turkish political experiment? Will the military frustrate the attempt just like they did with the Erbakan government? Robert Kaplan believes that agreement is possible between the Islamists and the military, the only two forces with popular deep-rootedness and prestige in the country. On the other hand, the Bush administration seems to stake on the success of this new political phase; in the short term, Turkish co-operation is fundamental for any war scenario in Iraq. However, in general terms, the strategic role of Turkey, which was essential for the Atlantic Alliance during the Cold War, is still essential today in the war against terrorism. Its geographical and military value is complemented by a political factor of enormous significance: the possibility of creating a model that conjugates Islam and democracy as an example to the rest of the Islamic world. This is the reason for the United States pressure on the EU for the European Council in Copenhagen to give Turkey a positive signal to start negotiations for entry. These dealings seem to have borne fruit in the case of Germany, as Chancellor Schroeder must pay a large price to rebuild his relations with Washington following an electoral campaign with an anti-US tone.
It is in this context that we receive Giscard d’Estaign’s declarations to Le Monde. The President of the European Convention makes them only a few days after his visit to the Vatican, from whence he returned with the petition from the Pope for the new European Constitution to include a reference to Europe’s Christian roots. The link between both questions is not a casual one and indicates a cultural definition of the frontiers of Europe.
Giscard affirms that Turkey is an important country but not European, thus placing himself fully in the analysis of Huntington in Clash of civilisations. In this work, he argues that Turkey is one of these broken away countries like Mexico and Russia, which lie between two civilisations. But three conditions must hold for a broken away country to successfully redefine its identity. In the first place, the elite in the country must be in favour of such a step. In the second place, society must at least be willing to accept the change of identity, and thirdly, the dominant centres of the host civilisation must be willing to accept the convert. Huntington considers that even though the first two requirements might be given, the third does not hold in the case of Europe. He therefore proposes that Turkey should give up its humiliating role as an eternal candidate asking for entry into Europe and should return to its more worthy, relevant role as a central State of the Islamic world, which the Ottoman Empire played in the past for eight hundred and fifty years. This would be a historical option for Turkey, but the consequences of this must be considered when it is not a voluntary move, but rather the result of the rejection of Europe.
Giscard’s declarations refer not only to Huntington but also to De Gaulle when he says that those who have most encouraged the expansion in the direction of Turkey have been the adversaries of the EU. This is the reason for the echo that his statements have received among other French personalities in different parties, such as Hubert Vedrine. Giscard points to the USA and the United Kingdom and says that Turkey would be a Trojan horse that would end up breaking up the European project, thus finishing with all attempts to create a superpower capable of facing up to the strength of the United States.
There is another reason that Giscard does not state clearly, but which underlies his view, which is referred to by Huntington when he quotes the British analyst Barry Buzan: “a society cold war with Islam would serve to strengthen European identity at a crucial time for the process of integration”. Islamophobia in Europe has recently become a powerful wave of opinion that entered the last French presidential elections and the Dutch and Danish parliamentary elections with more force than ever. The Turkish candidature is therefore a popular cause among the member States and their governments know this. However, for the moment they have been able to swim and save their clothes. But the European Council in Copenhagen must come out with an unequivocal message in one way or the other. The open debate on the membership of Turkey in the EU is now inevitable.
The immediate question on the table is that of Cyprus, its adhesion to the EU as a single State with the blessing of Turkey or as a divided country, which would open a serious crisis with Ankara. Beyond Cyprus there is the strategic stake that Europe wants to make in favour of the success of the political phase starting in Turkey, which will have consequences on our relations with the Islamic world, undoubtedly the most decisive question in the new international situation that has opened up following the attacks of 11th September. Will these considerations weigh more heavily on the European leaders, or will they feel under pressure by the foreseeable difficulties of the EU being able to digest a country that would have the largest population of any in Europe? It is, in any case, a transcendental decision that places the EU now, more than at any time in the past, before its responsibilities as the strong international actor it wishes to be.
Director of the Cabinet for the Analysis and Prevision of Foreign Policy of the Spanish Foreign Affairs Ministry