Tuesday, July 1, 2008

The EU's Catch-22 for Turkey

Have just spent most of this past week in Istanbul, Turkey where I picked up on various socio-political-economic currents from reading local papers (in English only, the Turkish Daily Press), and just observing the street scenes. I am struck by the sharpness of the divide between the established secular system and the rising Islamist movement. This has most recently come to a head in the move by the secularist ("Kemalist") Supreme Court to consider a case to close down the current ruling AKP party, which is viewed as "moderately Islamist" and was democratically elected, along with the president, Abdullah Gul (who spoke to the opening session of the 15th World Congress of the International Economic Association [IEA], which conference I was attending in Istanbul). This is analyzed well in an invited essay by Andrew Arato on June 30 on Juan Cole's site at http://www.juancole.com, entitled, "The Turkish Constitutional Crisis and Board Beyond." I note that this case poses a Catch-22 for Turkey in its generally internally popular efforts to join the European Union, which keep getting pushed back by various European countries, with the latest setback a new move to put Ukraine ahead of it on the list. The Catch-22 is that many in Europe do not want Turkey in the EU because it is "too Islamic," but the opponents to the Islamic movement are "undemocratic," (the military and the Supreme Court). Thus, either way, the opponents of Turkish entry into the EU get their way: no entry because either too Islamic or too undemocratic.

Unsurprisingly another issue that is inolved in this is clothing, in particular, headscarves for women. The parliament voted to allow women to wear headscarves to universities, but the Supreme Court also just overturned that as against the constitutionally mandated "secular" nature of Turkey. This secular nature was imposed in the mid-1920s by Mustafa Kemal "Ataturk," a title meaning "Father of the Turks," who ended the Ottoman sultanate, empire, and caliphate, changed the calendar and Latinized the alphabet, along with banning anything but western clothing in public places (men are not allowed to wear beards to work, although mustaches are OK). I heard him praised as a "revolutionary" more than once while there, with the model being Napoleon Bonaparte, I believe, who also did such things. The feudal titles of the Ottomans were also abolished by him to form "The Republic of Turkey." An irony on the headgear issue is that he banned the fez, which was the general headgear of the late Ottomans, who triggered the Arab nationalist revolt when they tried to impose the fez on their Arab subjects in the early 20the century. The fez in turn was imposed in 1826 after the putting down of a revolt by the powerful Jannissary Christian slave militias, with headgear prior to then being very ornate and specific to precise positions in society. Thus, the fez itself was a move towards western egalitarianism. As it is in the street, I would say that women were about half and half wearing or not wearing headscarves. The older ones with headscarves looked poor and rural, but many younger ones looked quite stylish and chic and well educated.


Anonymous said...

How do you judge if someone looks well educated? Stylish and sleek, sure, that you can see.

rosserjb@jmu.edu said...


Point well taken. I don't know for sure. They simply looked intelligent and sophisticated with reasonably sophisticated and intelligent males in tow with them. But maybe they are all just ignorant airheads, and the older ones can recite the Collected Essays of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

BTW, there is a small minority of clearly more radically Islamist people one sees, the men with Osama type beards and non-western clothing with the women in full, black clothing with veils and the works.


rosserjb@jmu.edu said...

Things are heating up in Turkey. Yesterday's Financial Times had a front page story on the arrest of 24 persons in Turkey, including two senior retired generals, for plotting a coup to overthrow the Turkish government. I can say that when I walked by the military compound near the conference site, I sensed the soldiers there to be not in the least relaxed or particularly friendly. The Fin Times says that political stability in Turkey is over for some period to come.