Relations between Turkey and the West have never been easy since the fall of the Soviet Union, but they’ve got even worse after the so-called Arab Spring.
The reason the two major turning points in the world’s recent political history have worked against the consolidation of Turkey’s place in the Western bloc has a lot to do with both sides’ inability to re-define a realistic and robust set of criteria for the rules of the new game/games.
Just as we are witnessing this historic alliance being fed to the wolves ahead of key votes in both Turkey and some EU member states, we witnessed a fast-tracked narrative about Turkey’s “Muslim but secular” nature after 9/11. Turkey was picked as the poster child of “moderate Islam” and some Turkish leaders were chosen as “good Muslims.” Meanwhile, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) in Turkey got carried away with the role attributed to them by the West.
The AKP used the EU process both internationally and at home to prove that they were not Islamists to be feared but were actually conservative democrats, just like their Christian Democrat
counterparts in Europe. This narrative was as fictitious as Europe’s desire to expand with a Muslim nation on board.
Was the AKP disguising its true agenda from day one or was it just ideologically not equipped to internalize the democratic principles needed to pursue the reforms it promised? Probably both. Was the EU disguising its true feelings about Islam from day one or did it just fail to develop the right approach to speak to a struggling Turkey due to the fragmented nature of the club? Probably both.
The blame game is the only game in town these days. At the political level, it seems nobody is beating his brains out to return to a viable framework for the future of relations. It is all about short-term populist gains at the expense of destroying peaceful cohabitation in whichever form. Even if full membership is a long lost cause, Turkey’s leaders should at least pay attention to the well-being of the Turkish community living in European countries.
There were some integration problems here and there but on the whole, Europe
has never had a Turkish migrant problem. On the contrary, Turks in the Netherlands, Germany, France or the Nordic countries proved to be among the most hard-working and respectful communities. Sadly, the recent antagonizing rhetoric and actions are putting Turks in Europe
in the crosshairs. While European leaders should refrain from creating an unnecessary enemy out of a peaceful population on their own lands, Turkey’s leaders must ensure their domestic political agenda does not erode the rights of European Turks that were achieved after hard-fought battles.
The push for dual citizenship for Turks living in Germany was already at risk before the crisis due to Ankara’s insistence on carrying the constitutional referendum campaign to European frontiers. By the same token, Turks in Austria were already getting their share from far-right hostility toward Muslims before Europe’s referendum campaign crisis with the AKP.
Just as fellow Turks are facing setbacks in their conditions in European countries, Turkey is facing degradation on a world scale. The decision to include Turkey in a list of eight countries from which you cannot board planes going directly to the United States and the United Kingdom with laptops and tablets is nothing but a clear sign that life is about to get a lot worse for all of us, regardless of the color of our votes on April 16.