- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Turkey has denied Islamo-phobic Europeans an excuse to deny or delay its European Union entry talks. On Tuesday, Ankara decided to shelve a proposed law criminalizing adultery — a move which will make it more difficult for the EU to turn down Turkey. This is fortunate, since Turkey’s admission is central to American and European interests.

Turkey has proposed a slew of laws to reform its 78-year-old penal code. The package includes stiffer punishment for crimes such as rape, sexual assault, human trafficking, torture and pedophilia. The legislation also recognizes rape in marriage and sexual harassment as crimes, and will make it easier to prosecute so-called honor killings. Before the government dropped the proposal, the package also included legislation criminalizing adultery — which caused a furor in Europe. That furor comes at a very bad time for Turkey. On Oct. 6, the European Commission is to decide whether to recommend a date for Turkey’s EU accession.

That date, therefore, is broadly significant to the international community. Inasmuch as Turkey is a cultural and geographic bridge between East and West, it can serve as a bulwark against a potential clash of civilizations. Turkey’s eventual entry into the European Union would mark a merger of predominantly Christian and Muslim worlds. This would help counter the growing concern that a large-scale clash between Christian and Muslim nations is inevitable. Also, Turkey, long a force for moderation in the Muslim world, would rise in prominence — a welcome prospect.

There is, however, widespread apprehension in Europe about Turkey eventually becoming an EU member — much of which is unadulterated ethnic bigotry. Much of the uproar over the Turkish adultery legislation appeared to have an ulterior motive: delaying the start of formal EU-accession talks with Turkey. Some of Europe’s objections over Turkey, however, are clearly cultural. Many European countries are becoming fairly dogmatic about establishing sweeping secularism, even when it infringes on freedom of religious expression. But Europe is divided on the question of secularism, with more traditional countries keen on maintaining a Christian identity.

Much of Europe’s criticism of the adultery law was heavy-handed, in particular charges it would lead to so-called honor killings. All the same, Ankara was wise to scrap the legislation. But given the fact that Turkey has been kept waiting at the EU altar for some time, Europe is obliged to go the extra mile to play fair.

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