Turkey leading the way?
A discussion of political and economic reform in Turkey would be more suited to a full-length magazine article than a short column - or a blog. Unfortunately, Marcus Gee only gets a column, and you and I only get my babbling.
There's no doubt Turkey should eventually be admitted to the EU. Recep Erdogan isn't the saint Gee makes him out to be, and the fiercely secular Turkish military isn't the oppressive devil, but given Turkey's progress in the past few years, that's quibbling. Overall I agree with the columnist's view that Turkey is moving in the right direction, and in the long run, that promises to be good for Europe, for Turkey, and for the West. Whether it is also good for Islam depends upon what version of Islam you'd like to see in the world.
Allowing a Muslim country into predominantly Christian Europe, [Erdogan] argues, would send a message to the whole Islamic world. "Then they will see that the clash of civilizations is not a reality, but harmony of civilizations is a possibility," he said this spring. "This is an opportunity the EU shouldn't miss."I don't know that I agree with him on that point - I tend to think Turkey's leadership will be painted in the Islamic world as traitors to the Judaeo-Christian oppressors, as the Wahhabist House of Saud has recently been - but I'm glad he's saying it. Somebody on the Islamic side of the divide has to maintain hope for reform. And it's not just an opportunity the EU shouldn't miss, it's an opportunity peaceful Muslims shouldn't miss. (The pessimist in me keeps yelling the famous line about the Palestinians: they never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity. I think the Turks are smarter than that.)
The one place where I think Gee and a number of other commentators fall down is in their single-minded focus on democracy in a predominantly Islamic country.
But if Mr. Erdogan succeeds in showing that democracy and Islam can coexist, he will have struck a harder blow against Islamic extremism than any mere war could.
I'm a great believer in democracy, but it's not a magic bullet. And it doesn't exist in a vacuum. Democracy cannot survive without freedom and prosperity. EU membership criteria wisely recognizes this:
Membership criteria require that the candidate country must have achieved:
- stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human
rights and respect for and protection of minorities;
- the existence of a functioning market economy as well as the capacity to
cope with competitive pressure and market forces within the Union;
- the ability to take on the obligations of membership including adherence to
the aims of political, economic & monetary union.
If Erdogan wants EU membership for Turkey - and it's obvious he understands that would be in Turkey's best interest - then he is forced to implement reforms in law, in politics, and in the economy. By tying the three together, the EU almost guarantees a successful transition.
So the real question is not whether democracy can coexist with Islam, for with economic and legal reforms, it most certainly can. The question is will militant Islamists allow Turkey to lead the way?