I wrote a paper on whether Turkey should or should not join the European Union. Again, I’m not posting everything, as that would probably completely miss what I’m trying to do: add accessibility to my blog. Here are some excerpts:
To ask the question of whether Turkey should or should not join the European Union is to completely misunderstand the context in which current negotiations are taking place. In other words, when France adamantly and vociferously maintains that if and when Turkey will be “ready” to join the EU, it will leave it up to its electorate to decide by means of a referendum, it completely misses the point. The primary objective of this paper is to briefly outline the contextual backdrop onto which accession talks have been, and continue to be made, by critically engaging with a cross-section of the current academic literature on this subject. Furthermore, the last section will offer a more pragmatic analysis of the possible directions in which Turkey-EU negotiations could be potentially taken. This will hopefully provide a coherent response to the reality that Turkey’s political, cultural and economical future, will not by any means, be less successful or promising, without full EU membership.
There are a few scenarios that could unfold. The first is that Turkey will not end up joining the European Union. However, this would offer more costs than benefits for a few reasons. One such reason is that the current public antagonism towards Turkey and Islam will only become more acrimonious. The dehumanization and disconnection between the EU (read: the West) and Turkey (read: the East) cannot possibly have any positive consequences. Turkey is not Europe’s or the West’s enemy. Islam is not incompatible with democracy and it certainly isn’t incompatible with market-based liberal economies.
The duality that is found in the EU’s acquis communitaire is indicative of the double standards of such institution. While the EU’s Copenhagen criteria may push Turkey towards maintaining the current secularist status-quo, this is simply unacceptable if Turkey is also to develop an electorally sensitive democracy. Religion, and more importantly, Islam, has and will continue to dominate both private and increasingly as of late, public life. As it has been pointed out before, secularism is a construct that is constantly being reinterpreted to keep in-sync with the dynamic complexities of change. In other words, the ethnocentric features of EU’s integration process is borderline imperialistic, failing to address local and regional uniqueness and even more worryingly, as is the case in Turkey, inadvertently preventing democracy fundamentals from taking root. It is precisely because of this, that Turkey’s future cannot be said to be less certain or more bleak as a result of not having been made a full member of the European Union.
However, if Turkey is to join the European Union, this will need to be more than just a mechanical and technical process. Europe, as was the point of some of the authors discussed, must engage in redefining for themselves the role of religion in society and the extent to which secularism is but a superficial and ignorant misunderstanding of the more bona fide realities of pragmatic politics. Sure Turkey will have access to structural funds, the promising EU single-market and a seat at the decision-making table. This unfortunately does not suffice. Market-oriented economics and the contracts that provides the glue that holds it all together simply cannot function if the European courts put in charge of arbitrating contract disputes, cloak their bias towards EU parties in rhetoric that dehumanizes Islam by maintaining the “us” (read: the West, the good) versus “them” (read: the East, the bad, the enemies) paradigm.
Seeing Islam as a problem in need of a solution is also particularly problematic. The questions of whether the European Union is engaged in an economic integration exercise, or in a political and ideological one, is arguable. There is a sense that Islam belongs to a crude, unjust and barbaric past, incompatible with a more modern understanding of secular democracy and rationally founded and sound public policy. However, the sophisticated present, with all its modern bells and whistles, has not yet been fully successful at creating electorally sensitive political parties, nor has it yet been entirely successful at completely eschewing religion from the subjective life of private individuals. This is true for both Europe and Turkey.
Although not entirely part of the scope of this paper, racial and cultural discrimination and distinctions are arguably corollaries of a wider accepted gamut of scientifically derived, and culturally based, evaluations of what is and isn’t rational. In addition to this, public awareness and public scrutiny of social and cultural constructs may not be sufficient to safeguard from the potential pathologies of the imperialist nature of Western rationality. A further dimension is required, one that asks the electorate in both Turkey and Europe to critically engage, debate and discuss the possible effects of a Turkey-EU integration, or the lack thereof.
Turkey’s democracy is moving towards becoming more electorally responsive and, contrary to the more ominous suspicions of some of its critics, not relapsing into a tyrannical display of Islamic authoritarianism. A wider recognition of human rights as they apply both to minorities as well as dominant cultural and religious groups, will naturally follow as a result of this. However, the key catalyst providing the impetus for the aforementioned, as argued by Mousseau, is the introduction of a liberal market economy and the possibility for economic opportunities that, albeit loaded with Islamic traditional values of community and reciprocal trust, produce beneficial results and allows for the further development and subsequent consolidation Turkey’s democracy.
Future relations between the West and East, the European Union and Turkey, will depend on both European reevaluations of the role of religion and secularist constructs, as well as on future Turkish advancements towards a more open society, sensitive to unique regional cultural minorities and majorities. However, if the EU persists on applying its conditions for membership through a top-down approach, as if to say that only Western modernity and rationality is democratic, Turkey will simply end up with having swapped the Kemalist state elites, one hegemon, for another, the EU technocrats. This dilemma forms a paradox that is missing from current debates on Turkish-EU affairs; one that needs to be further studied, discussed and appreciated.