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28 December 2010

Turkey`s European dream

IN the schoolbooks I read as a child in the 1950s and 1960s, Europe was a rosy land of legend. While forging his new republic from the ruins of the Ottoman empire, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk did fight against the Greek army, but with the support of his own army he later introduced a slew of social and cultural modernisation reforms that were not anti- but pro-western.

It was to legitimise these reforms, which helped to strengthen the new Turkish state`s new elites (and were the subject of continuous debate in Turkey over the next 80 years), that we were called upon to embrace and even imitate a rosy-pink — occidentalist — European dream.

As much as the schoolbooks of my childhood were texts designed to teach us why a line was to be drawn between the state and religion, why it had been necessary to shut down the dervish lodges, or why we`d had to abandon the Arab alphabet for the Latin, they were also overflowing with questions that aimed to unlock the secret of Europe`s great power and success.

“Describe the aims and outcomes of the Renaissance,” the middle school history teacher would ask in his exam. “If it turned out we were sitting on as much oil as the Arabs, would we then be as rich and modern as Europeans?” my more naive classmates at lycee would say. In my first year at university, whenever my classmates came across such questions in class, they would fret over why “we never had an enlightenment”.The 14th century Arab thinker Ibn Khaldun said that declining civilisations kept going by imitating their victors. Because there has never been a time when the Turks were colonised by a world power, “worshipping Europe” or “imitating the West” has never carried the damning, humiliating overtones described by Franz Fanon, V.S. Naipaul, or Edward Said; to look to Europe has been seen as a historical imperative or even a technical question of adaptation.

But this dream of a rosy-pink Europe, once so powerful that even our most anti-western thinkers and politicians secretly believed in it, has now faded. This may be because Turkey is no longer as poor as it once was. Or it could be because it is no longer a peasant society ruled by its army, but a dynamic nation with a strong civil society.

And in recent years there has of course been the slowing down of talks between Turkey and the European Union, with no resolution in sight. Neither in Europe nor in Turkey is there a realistic hope that Turkey will join Europe in the near future. To admit to having lost this hope would be as crushing as to see relations with Europe breaking down entirely, so no one has the heart even to utter the words. —

The Guardian, London, From the Newspaper , December 26, 2010 (2 days ago) By Orhan Pamuk, Courtesy Dawn: http://www.dawn.com/2010/12/26/turkeys-european-dream.html