- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 27, 2010

TURKEY IN EUROPE: BENEFIT OR CATASTROPHE?

By Roberto de Mattei

Gracewing, $22.95, 97 pages

Reviewed by Brett M. Decker


“So how does it feel to see your culture taken away from you?” That’s what a friend in Paris emailed to me after Rima Fakih won the Miss USA Pageant last week. It was a loaded question. Supposedly, I should have felt the sting of an Arab-American Shi’ite being crowned because she hails from Michigan, which is my home state as well. While it’s questionable if beauty pageants are inherently a constituent component of American culture, I’m sure our culture is not being taken away from us. If anything, it’s being given away.

But that was the point of the chiding email from the Parisienne. The two of us shared dinner many moons ago overlooking the Bosphorus, and I was more taken by the charms of Istanbul (Constantinople for the die-hards) than she was. Then as now, it was a hotly contested question whether Turkey should be admitted as a member of the European Union. Having romantic illusions about the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and its utility as an instrument of U.S. foreign policy, I made the mistake of equating Turkey’s 58-year membership in NATO with its ambition to be part of the EU. If our Turkish friends are useful to America as a moderate balancing force in the Islamic world, the snobbish Europeans need to grow up and get with the program, my logic went. This relationship seems all the more poignant today given Turkey’s shared border with Iran, Iraq and Syria, and all that’s going on in those hotspots.

The glitch is that Ankara’s loyalty is wavering. The government is having increasing difficulty keeping a lid on growing Islamic radicalism in the country, and last week Turkey signed a three-way deal for nuclear fuel with the leftist anti-American governments of Brazil and Iran. “There is no more ground for new sanctions and pressures,” Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said of the civilized world’s attempts to prevent the Iranian mullahs from becoming a nuclear power. This development has sounded an alarm that the semi-secular state founded by Ataturk in 1923 was merely a quaint experiment of the 20th century, and that the new millennium may witness a return of the Islamist orientation that defined the preceding Ottoman Empire for 600 years. This is hardly a foregone conclusion because Turkish politics teeter-totters through cycles of moderation and radicalism, but Turkey’s oft-neglected history is relevant no matter which direction the republic turns.

Roberto de Mattei tramples this ground in his book, “Turkey in Europe: Benefit or Catastrophe?” In short, he argues Turkish membership in the EU would be catastrophic because the Turks lack a shared culture with the West and they could exacerbate the threat of ascendant radicalized Islam inside Europe. “The European Union is not in a position to integrate a nation which is as foreign to our political, cultural and religious traditions as Turkey is,” Prof. de Mattei explains. The issue of integration is particularly pressing given demographic trends. Political power within the EU is based on population. Within 15 years, there will be more Turks than Germans and Frenchmen, giving the newcomer a disproportionate influence in directing Europe’s future.

Resistance to this fate is rooted in the long and bloody history of Turkish conquest in Europe, which culminated in the siege of Vienna in 1683. The cautionary tale is that Islamic jihadist armies made it that far into the heart of Europe and nearly prevailed. Many fear a new invasion is in the works. And indeed, in the Islamic world, the expansionist vision is not a relic of the past. Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the spiritual guide of the Muslim Brotherhood, declared that, “Islam will return to Rome conquering and victorious.” Religion is thus still central to this old conflict. Pope Benedict XVI addressed the subject when he was the Catholic Church’s doctrinal watchdog, known then as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. He said Turkish entry into the EU would be “anti-historical,” because, “The Ottoman Empire was always opposed to Europe … [Turkey] remains the nucleus of the former Ottoman Empire; it has an Islamic basis.”

The pope has a point, but the reality is Europe already has surrendered by ditching its own religious heritage. The Old World has been thoroughly secularized, if not outright repaganized. European culture isn’t being taken away; it has been given up.

Brett M. Decker is editorial page editor of The Washington Times.