Turkey’s ‘My Fair Lady’ problem

Turkey’s ‘My Fair Lady’ problem

After this column argued last week that “Turkey’s identity crisis is too persistent to disappear, even after decades of soul-searching, Turkey is too Islamic to belong to Europe, too secular and non-Arab to belong to an Islamic club, too Sunni to find a seat in any Shiite Muslim club, too Turkish to find allies in a Eurasian pact, and too alien to find a meaningful African alliance,” a most dear friend wrote from London: 

“This phenomenon, ‘falling in between the floorboards’ is not a unique problem for Turks. Take Greek mythology: Pygmalion, probably, was the earliest recorded case of this ‘malaise.’  When Audrey Hepburn moans in ‘My Fair Lady,’ ‘I am not yet a lady, but too sophisticated to go back to being a flower girl,’ she is expressing nothing but the same identity crisis that Turks are suffering today … If you take Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, Eliza Doolittle, you could see the essence of the problem. What are her [Audrey Hepburn’s] choices? She could chuck in all the training Professor Higgins has given her, pack her bags and go back to Covent Garden, to being a flower girl. In fact, in the movie, this is exactly what she does. However, when she does arrive at Covent Garden, what does she find? She no longer fits into that world.” 

In a similar “floorboards” problem, Labor Minister Mehmet Müezzinoğlu disagreed with Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ who defended the bill that pardons child abusers on “religious marriages that are a reality” by suggesting these marriages occur with the consent of the minor. Mr. Müezzinoğlu said: “There cannot be a bond of love between a 14-year-old [girl] and a 30-, 40-, 60-year-old man.” Mr. Müezzinoğlu was right.  

The same “floorboards” problem is evident in President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s foreign policy soul-searching.

 Over the past several years, Mr. Erdoğan has not hidden his desire to make Turkey a member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), known as the Shanghai Five. He once said he asked Russian President Vladimir Putin to end Turkey’s torment of waiting at the European Union’s gates by giving Turkey membership in the SCO. What did Mr. Erdoğan’s government do to win membership in the predominantly Sino-Russian club? It shot down a Russian Su-24 warplane along Turkey’s border with Syria. Then it threatened to shoot down more and, after having to apologize to Mr. Putin, put the blame on the Gülenists even though former Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said more than once that he had given the order to shoot down any foreign aircraft that may have violated Turkish airspace.  

Even after the normalization of ties with Russia, Mr. Erdoğan is speaking of the dangers of “increasing Persian expansionism and dominance in northern Syria – which he says is a bad thing” and defends a Sunni block in northern Syria and Iraq as if no one has told him about the pro-Shiite block consisting of Russia, Iran and the Syrian and Iraqi regimes.   

As if the Persian and Arab Shiite bloc were Russia’s (and the SCO’s) worst nemesis, Mr. Erdoğan, last week, decided to revisit the “Shanghai Five” theme and said that: 1) The EU is not everything, and 2) Turkey could join the SCO. He probably does not understand; Turkey’s chances of joining the EU are close to nil. Its chances of joining the SCO are slimmer. Turkey does not share a common political or democratic culture with Western Europe. It does not share a common geostrategic or military vision with the SCO’s heavyweights either. It is not a “lady” nor is it the same “flower girl” in Covent Garden. 

In Moscow, Tehran, Baghdad and Damascus, the “Turkish My Fair Lady” must be a far more amusing watch than its original.