EU-Turkey rift no temporary matter
The rift between Turkey and the European Union is not a temporary matter; on the contrary, it is time to think rationally and take it seriously. The idea of Turkey’s EU membership has always been a bit hypocritical for both sides. It was not that EU membership was a dream project limited to the aspirations of Westernized elites. Despite the skepticism on behalf of conservatives, nationalists and Islamists, European identity and Westernization have always been a general aspiration for the majority in Turkey. Indeed, it has always been a love-hate relationship with the West and it is not only true for Turkey, but also for most non-Western countries and their anti-Westernist sentiments and politics.
As a matter of fact, the West has never been loved or hated for its values, but for its power, and the resentment toward the West has always been a reflection of discontent concerning its power and reflections of that power upon others. Turkey’s Islamists turned their back on the West not only for ideological reasons but also because they felt snubbed and disappointed by their Western allies.
Nevertheless, that is not the whole story, and that is not to say that it was the Western allies who initiated the rift. The real problem is that the majority in Turkey and elsewhere have come to perceive the so-called “Western values” of democracy, human rights and freedoms as Western tools to weaken them. It is a problem which stems from the failure to acknowledge that it is in the interest of our non-Western societies to embrace such values to achieve peaceful and prosperous societies. It has always been impossible to reconcile this sort of skepticism and friendship, resentment and ambition. Islamisms of all sorts have always suffered and still suffer from this contradiction. When they fail to challenge the West by achieving an alternative, they tend to substitute it with extreme reaction and manifestations of anger.
This is also true for the Islamist rulers of Turkey; that is why they have turned against the EU and the West in general. They never considered the fact that they managed to get enough power “to rule” but failed “to govern” a complicated society like Turkey – something I wrote many years ago. In fact, it is they who failed to achieve a solution to the Kurdish problem but think it is Westerners who plotted against Turkey by supporting the Kurds in Syria. It is their problem that they failed to attain a political and social consensus in Turkey – having produced instead immense polarization and social tension – but they think it is internal enemies who are pawns of West who are challenging their authority in the name of political opposition. They had no problem with the West when the EU and United States praised so-called “Islamic democracy” and Turkey as “a model for the compatibility of Islam and democracy.” When their idea of democracy failed and they slid toward Islamic authoritarianism, they never thought that it was they who disappointed the liberals, democrats and Western friends, but they perceived the resulting disenchantment as Western and Westernists’ betrayal of their governance only because of their enmity toward the Islamic world. Under the circumstances, I think that there is no chance of repairing the damage caused by the EU-Turkey rift.
But the Europeans who supported the project of Turkey’s full membership have been a bit hypocritical as well, since they tried to avoid the complexity of the matter from the beginning, not only in the name of political reasons, but also because they adopted “a patronizing view of democratization.” Especially after the Justice and Development Party (AKP) came to power, EU and Western policy in general supported the so-called Muslim democrats unconditionally as a panacea against Kemalism, disregarding opposition as the unjustified reaction of an elite minority “who lost their privileges” under Islamist rule. It was also the thesis of Turkey’s “progressive liberals and democrats who would despise anybody that they do not agree with.” In fact, Kemalism had its problems, but a majority of those who have been classified as the Kemalist elite had nothing to do with privileges; on the contrary, many were minor state employees, teachers, lower middle class adherents of secularism and Alevis who felt threatened by Islamist sectarianism. They too felt betrayed by the EU and the West in general.
It’s time to think rationally; the EU-Turkey rift is a serious crisis, and we cannot delude ourselves into thinking that it’s a temporary matter. At the same time, it is not an affordable and sustainable policy for Turkey to cut its ties with the EU and the West entirely. Nonetheless, that is not to say that sooner or later they will reach a compromise, as many countries have been destroyed as a result of the narrow-mindedness of their rulers who insisted on unsustainable politics and unaffordable ambitions.