Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Comments to FT Columnist Gideon Rachman's column of September 18, 2006: Clashing Civilisations on the Banks of the Bosphorus:

Clash of civilizations???
19 Sep 2006 01:22 PM
I think the column portrays the situation in a well-balanced way, but I would like to comment on a few points:

1. Turkey definitely needs to improve on many fronts, the mind-set and education of many of its people being the foremost. At one point Mr. Rachman points to the "Deep social forces within Turkey that determine the country's relationship with Islam..." Firstly, some values and traditions that prevail in Turkey cannot be associated with Islam alone, rather they are a result of lack of education and economic problems (as is the case in everywhere in the world that is fundamentalist in one way or another.) Secondly, this backwardness could not be eradicated since the reforms in 1920's, because the roots of these problems were not adequately addressed. One big problem is that our political elite has generally been incapable, catering to the backwardness rather than trying to change it. If left alone, I don't think these problems would be addressed for years to come, because of these "deep, conflicting social forces." But the European Union is a solid symbol for improvement. It's a solid goal, and no interest group in Turkey can openly oppose the notion of EU membership. And we should not let our national pride get in the way of seeing the obvious need for reform. We should not get angry because Europeans see the obvious and criticize us.

2. However, not all European demands and criticism is just, and they divert the attention from areas where reform is really needed. Focusing the attention solely on Cyprus and Armenian Genocide is blocking the negotiations, thereby making EU membership out of reach for us, and killing the support, energy and enthusiasm for reform. We think the Europeans are not trying in good-faith. I am not denying our responsibility for Cyprus and Armenian Genocide, but these issues should be dealt with not BEFORE, but IN PARALLEL to the other negotiation chapters. Politicians like Nikolas Sarkozy are utilizing Turkish membership as an easy source of fear for their populace. Instead, they should focus on their own economic problems to be able to face the forces of globalization better, rather than getting scared of Turkish membership that is at least 15 years off.

3. Really, the issue can be seen in two ways: Turkish membership can alleviate the division between West and East, with Turkey reforming itself and Europe showing a sincere effort to include Turkey. Or the division between West and East can be seen as an obstacle for Turkish membership, which will make the problem impossible to solve.

4. Lastly, although I do think the response of the Muslim world is too harsh, the Western world does not have the right to insult the sensitivities of Muslim people. They should think twice, again in good faith, before they make comments or draw cartoons. They should make a cost-benefit analysis. They should ask, "does my point really say anything valuable, besides a stubborn affirmation of my right to say anything I want?.. And what might be the consequences?" I know, nobody should get hurt or no company should be boycotted as a response to some person's thoughts. But the real world is not ideal, so the Western world should act responsibly.

1 comment:

Pratik said...

Relating to your point 4: I think the greatest strength in comedy is the ability to self-depreciate and have a laugh at your own expense. An early Simpsons episode was about Homer refusing to go to church and founding his own religion - it was a great satirical take on Christianity. I find it an Orwellian 'doublethink' when a sizeable minority of Hindus watch and appreciate this comedy, while simultaneously remaining ultra-protective of their own religion, strongly frowning upon any such cultural introspection. Similarly, I think Muslims occasionally take it a little too seriously.

But at the same time, I appreciate pluralism and heterogeneity of opinions. So if Muslims or Hindus are culturally more sensitive to such things, the generally more liberal-minded western world should tread a tad more carefully.