The shrewd conqueror

The shrewd conqueror

Take this, for example, “Marriage certificates should be issued by Imams, not by municipal officials,” (Jan. 8, 1995). Or this, “The system we want to establish cannot contradict with God’s orders. Our reference is Islam,” (Sept. 23, 1996). And some historic longing too: “We need [Ottoman Sultan] Abdulhamid Khan’s mindset,” (Feb. 3, 1996). 

And a sizeable bunch of fools, opportunists and lackeys believed that the man who publicly said all that would one day celebrate the happy ending for Turkey’s half a century-long march into the EU. Only to hear the same man to declare, in January 2012, that his political ambition is “to raise devout [Muslim] generations.”

In 2004, when 75 percent of Turks supported the idea of EU accession and fireworks heralded membership in “2009 or 2010 at the latest,” this columnist wrote the following: “The [EU] report, by recommending the start of formal membership talks with Turkey, admits realpolitik – that the accession negotiations are the only plausible way if the EU cares about transforming Turkey from a school bully into a good boy. Dismissing the naughty boy from the school could only have turned him into a genuine vagabundo in the neighborhood with entirely unpredictable behavior, probably criminal ((Un)worthy fireworks (II), Oct. 12, 2004, this column).” That policy calculus has largely failed. 

In 2008, then foreign minister, Ali Babacan, unwillingly revealed why “Project EU” never really existed at his party’s headquarters when he said that the removal of the headscarf ban at campuses “aimed at expanding rights and freedoms to join the EU,” and that the scrapping of the ban would “turn Turkey into a first-class democracy.” Although the removal of the headscarf ban was a legitimate move, I am not sure what class of democracy Turkey has turned into since then. 

But we know that more than 7,000 students are behind bars for the slightest manifestation of dissent. We also know that the government, five years after removing the ban on a female garment, has imposed a ban on another. In EU candidate Turkey, a high school in Antalya recently banned skirts for female students – any reader who is curious about why can go back to the quotes in the opening paragraph. 

And in EU candidate Turkey in the year 2013, you could come across newspaper headlines that read: “Locals rage against beerhouses that employ waitresses.” Waitresses! How very infidel. Burn them down!

As Turkish support for EU membership has dropped to 45 percent from 75 percent in 2004, the EU minister made the most sensible remark in his political career. “Turkey has to accept that its long cherished goal of joining the EU is likely to end in disappointment,” Egemen Bağış told the Telegraph. But a second later, Minister Bağış returned to his better-known style and said that “Turkey was the victim of ‘prejudice’ in its treatment by the EU and its defeated Olympic bid.” A few days later, Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin revealed that the government would build 207 new prisons over the next five years. 

That’s good news in a first-class democracy which constantly reminds one of “Maraya,” a Syrian TV satire program which, years ago, broadcast a sketch featuring a debate between an al-Assad loyalist and an opponent. The opponent claims that there is no freedom of speech in Syria, and gives the American example, in which “anyone can curse the American president without fear of punishment.” The al-Assad loyalist replies that Syrians, too, enjoy the same freedom: “Also in Syria anyone can curse the American president without fear.”

Things are better in Turkey, where anyone can curse the American, Syrian or Israeli presidents, or freely protest the coup in Egypt. 

“A shrewd conqueror will always enforce his exactions only by stages ... The more numerous the extortions thus passively accepted, so much the less will resistance appear justified in the eyes of the people, if the vanquished nation should end by revolting against the last act of oppression in a long series. And that is especially so if the nation has already patiently and silently accepted impositions which were much more exacting.” A quote without reason from the author of the 1925 bestseller Mein Kampf.