Turkey reaches out to EU while embracing Islamicization

Araminta Wordsworth


Full Comment’s Araminta Wordsworth brings you a daily round-up of quality punditry from across the globe. Today:  Not even the Turks seem very upbeat about their government’s application to join the European Union.

Only about 33% of them now think it’s a good idea, down from more than 70% in 2005, when talks began.

From European nations, the silence is deafening. They remain nervous about letting in a Muslim country, with a history of repression of minority groups, most notably Kurds. There are also worries about freedom of the press — more than 70 journalists are in jail, most just for  doing their jobs.

Then there’s the spectre of the creeping Islamization under way under the government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, seen by many as a latter-day sultan.

His Justice & Development Party (AKP) promotes such things as wearing head scarves in universities, while cafés in Istanbul have had their alcohol licences yanked. Secularists say the changes chip away at the legacy of Kemal Ataturk, the creator of modern Turkey in which state and religion were separated. This included banning the fez, which he saw as a symbol of all that was worst in the degenerate Ottoman Empire.

In fact, the only reason the awkward topic of EU entry is being discussed now is because Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, is visiting Turkey. Germany, along with Austria and the Netherlands, favours some form of junior membership.

The British news magazine The Economist concedes Turkey has made some progress, but is far from satisfied.

Ten years of AK rule has also made Turkey more democratic. With scores of generals in jail on coup-plotting charges, the army has lost power. Yet Mr Erdogan’s critics say that, after a decade in government with weak opposition, AK has become arrogant and overbearing … at least 49 hacks are behind bars. Dissidents are jailed under vague anti-terror laws. The response of Egemen Bagis, Turkey’s Europe minister — “I’m not saying Turkey is perfect. But it is better than yesterday’s Turkey” — will not satisfy many.

One of things sticking in the EU’s collective craw is the infamous section of the Turkish penal code that makes insulting Turkishness a crime. As interpreted by zealous prosecutors, this can be triggered by mere mention of the deaths of Armenians during the First World War.

Most notoriously, it snagged the country’s most favour writer, the Nobel Prize-winningOrhan Pamuk.He was  convicted under article 301 and ordered to pay nearly $4,000 in compensation for writing, “The Turks have killed 30,000 Kurds and one million Armenians in this land.”

Ankara’s media crackdown has attracted the attention of Reporters without Borders, whose 2012 annual report dubbed Turkey “the world’s biggest prison for journalists.”

With a total of 72 media personnel currently detained, of whom at least 42 journalists and four media assistants are being held in connection with their media work, Turkey is now the world’s biggest prison for journalists – a sad paradox for a country that portrays itself a regional democratic model,.
The number of detained journalists is unprecedented since the end of military rule but is not surprising given the Turkish judicial system’s structural problems – very repressive legislation with broad and vaguely-worded provisions that allow all kinds of excesses, and markedly paranoid judicial attitudes that prioritize security concerns to the detriment of defence rights and freedom of information.
Most of the imprisoned journalists are representatives of Kurdish media, a situation that again underscores the fact that freedom of information in Turkey is inextricably linked with the search for a peaceful solution to the issue of its Kurdish minority.

As Noah Beck at Christian Post underlines,

A sober look at Turkey’s past and present reveals a darker side that the EU is trying to overlook – presumably for the economic benefits of Turkish EU membership and the hope that such membership will reform Turkey. The past: the Ottoman Turks slaughtered approximately one million to 1.5 million people in the Armenian genocide almost a century ago. Rather than apologize and make reparations à la Germany, Turkey has whitewashed history and used article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code prohibiting “insulting Turkishness” to silence those brave enough to speak out about the issue – like journalist Hrant Dink (who was assassinated in 2007 for doing just that).

A spat about new uniforms for the country’s flagship airline perhaps provides the most telling indication which way Turkey is headed. Flight attendants on Turkish Airlines will be required to don long dresses, skirts below the knee and Ottoman-style fez caps. The designs come courtesy of Dilek Hanif, a favourite of Mr. Erdogan’s head-scarf-wearing wife, reports Tim Arrango in The New York Times.

[S]ome Turks mocked the new uniforms as reminiscent of the costumes worn in Magnificent Century, a popular Turkish soap opera about the decadent reign of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent in the 16th century. The dispute was only heightened after the airline said it was banning alcohol on some domestic and international flights.
Others slammed the new look as too conservative, a transparent effort to please the Islamist-rooted AKP.

The airline itself made it clear it was doing the government’s bidding:

“The Turkish Airlines vision matches with our government’s vision,” said the chairman, Hamdi Topcu. “There is no difference between them and us. It is the government that appointed us.”

compiled by Araminta Wordsworth
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