Turkey’s bid to join the European Union has been a long and strenuous journey that started 46 years ago with the first application submitted on July 31, 1959. Back then, the union was called European Economic Community and finally, in 2005, Turkey’s efforts culminated in the right to begin accession talks. Turkey was overjoyed with the news and media covered for several days how the membership would change everything in Turkey.
The government has indeed made great strides in democratization, building on the wide public support it enjoyed and achieved many firsts in Turkey, which would have been considered unimaginable two decades ago. Yet, over time the tide has turned slightly; Germany and France raised their objections to Turkey’s full membership, Europe didn't provide full support to Turkey in its fight against the terrorist PKK which has claimed the lives of more than 30,000 people, and they readily and hastily accepted Greek Cypriots to the EU although their referendum came out with an objection to membership. All these developments clouded the initial waves of excitement in Turkish public.
When TESEV, a prominent NGO in Turkey, conducted a survey in 2002 to determine what the Turkish people thought of EU membership and the Copenhagen criteria, the results were not very surprising as 64% of the population championed the idea of being a part of the Europe: However, when the same question was asked in 2013 with another poll conducted by a different NGO (by EDAM the Center of Economic and Foreign Policies Research), it became clear that only 33% of the Turkish population thought that Turkey should pursue its dream of joining the EU. The current sentiment in the Turkish public is one of resentment towards Europe as they feel that Turkey is being treated unfairly and discriminated against.
However, this public opinion is not set in stone nor is it an insurmountable problem when the EU feels ready to accept Turkey. A few positive steps by the European Union would be enough to rekindle the past feelings of warmth towards Europe in the hearts of the Turkish public .
EU membership is like a marriage; both sides have to approve of the union. However, this also means that the Turkish public has to try to understand why the European Union might be rather reluctant about this unity. Even though there were clear economic and political setbacks before the accession, there is a more pressing matter: extremism.
Europe is wary of radicalism, as radicalism has shown itself to be a major threat in Africa and some Islamic countries in the Middle East. The European public is worried that the radical frame of mind that is unfortunately present in the Islamic world could seep into Europe , thereby harming its culture and limiting its freedom. Their worries are not unfounded , as this frame of mind tends to find a support base and force its ways onto others.
The majority of the Turkish people practice Islam in a very modern fashion in Turkey and the effect of extremism in Turkey is minimal when compared to the rest of the world. Despite that, since Turkey is an Islamic country, Europe feels hesitant to welcome Turkey as an EU member state, thinking that the same threat might be present for Turkey, as well.
The proponents of radical mindset believe that music, art and science are wrong. Many countries of the world infected by this destructive state of mind, Afghanistan being the most notable example, have witnessed the destruction of art in their countries, let alone producing any. In such places, serious science is all but impossible, and even mentioning women’s rights meets with hostility. Women are not allowed to partake in daily life.
The adherents of such a mentality will never accept co-existence with people having different lifestyles. They believe that eating at a table, using cutlery, brushing one's teeth, shaving everyday, using cologne, laughing out loud, listening to music, or dancing should have no place whatsoever in one’s life and think that anyone doing these actions should be immediately punished.
People with such thoughts defend their ideas with books and on TV, taking every opportunity to spread and defend their preposterous ideas; moreover, when they see others who don't agree with them, they freely hurl wild accusations of heresy and disbelief. In some Islamic countries where there is intense extremism, these and similar practices are fairly common. Surely no one would want live with such people, nor approve of such a disturbed mindset. Naturally, Europeans share these concerns. Europe is well-known for its scientific and artistic buoyancy. Music, dance and art are crucial in the lives of Europeans and they take pride in their cities being home to distinguished artists, with numerous art galleries, and their streets lined with statues. A European woman can easily be promoted to a CEO , elected as a president or prime minister, or wear the style of clothing she deems fit. She won’t encounter any pressure, or find herself judged or harassed because of her choices in clothing.
If there was no pressure on freedom of thought, and people did not feel coerced by radicals, if science and art could prosper without any setbacks and if laughing, having fun and ladies not wearing headscarves were as respected in Islamic countries as they are in Europe, things could have been very different for Turkey now.
Bulgaria, Romania and the Baltic countries have weaker economies and less strategic importance compared to Turkey, yet they were accepted to the EU long before Turkey. That is because none of those countries have anything that could be slightly reminiscent of these extremist tendencies. Although it is a slight possibility, Europe is concerned that extremism might spread in Turkey. To address these concerns of the Europeans, it is imperative that Turkey gives a guarantee to Europe that such a thing will not happen and a serious education policy against radicalism should be launched in Turkey.
It is true that the Turkish government has taken important and positive steps in terms of fully unleashing democracy, preventing torture and improving the rights of the minorities. Yet, there is still much to be done in terms of intellectually fighting radical tendencies. The least that can be done is showing and explaining to the European communities that this ban-happy, overbearing frame of mind absolutely doesn't stem from Koran or Islam, but is advocated only by some radical people, and there is no need for Europeans to be wary of Islam and Muslims in general. It should be explained that the real problem that must be focused on is radicalism.
When Ataturk, the founder of the modern Republic of Turkey set out to build Turkey, one of his greatest ideals was making sure that Turkey reached the levels of modern and civilized European countries. Surely, joining the European Union would be achieving a large part of that goal. Even though Turkish public opinion seems to have soured on EU membership as of late, joining the EU is still very much a national goal for Turkey and that goal must never be abandoned.
Adnan Oktar's piece on Al Hadath: