June 22, 1997
The Wisdom Fund

Has The European Union Become A Christian Club?

by S. Amjad Hussain

Turkey was again passed over for membership in the European Union. This has sparked a fresh debate over Turkey's recent overtures to the Muslim states in the area and in turn its long standing tradition of secularism. Most Turks, including the secularists, think that the European Union is determined to keep Turkey out of the Union simply because it is a Muslim Country. Tansu Ciller, the deputy Prime Minister and leader of the secular True Path party, echoed the sentiments of many Turks when she said that the Europeans want to keep it a Christian club.

Emerging from the debris of the Ottoman empire after the first World War, Turkey for all practical purposes broke off its links with rest of the Muslim world. Kamal Ataturk, while laying the foundation of the modern state of Turkey, put the country on the path of fierce secularism. Symbols of the past like the head scarf for women and the fez for men were banned. Arabic alphabet was replaced with Roman alphabet for Turkish language. Turkey was to be a European country closely associated with the West.

And associate with the West it did for seventy-five years. It joined all the regional Western alliances. It forces fought heroically in Korea. It joined NATO and became the anchor for its southeastern flank. It maintained the largest standing army in the alliance, second only to the United States and played a vital role in the Western strategy during the cold war. It was widely expected that Turkey will become part of the European Community. Early last year Tansu Ciller the former Prime Minister predicted that in three years Turkey will become a full member of the European Union. When Turkey was passed over yet again, Ciller, now the Deputy Prime Minister in Islamist Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan's government called EU a Christian club.

Human rights abuses, fragile economy and political instability are the usual reasons given for EU's reluctance to grant Turkey full membership. But the real reason may well be that, despite secular policies of the past seventy-five years, Turkey is a Muslim country. Somehow the Europeans have always been paranoid about Islam and its followers. It has more to do with European insensitivity towards Muslims than Islamic identity of Turkey.

When the Islamist Refah party of Necmettin Erbakan captured 159 seats in the most recent election held two years ago, it sent shock waves through the Western capitals. His appointment as the Prime Minister was greeted with fear and skepticism. It was assumed that a militant Islamic revival will push Turkey into the dark ages. Those fears were unfounded. Erbakan's minority government has, from all counts, done well. It has renewed contacts with the Muslim world, signed a multi billion dolor gas deal with Iran, and tried to bring Turkey from the isolationist policies of the past.

At home Erbakan's education policies have run into trouble with the all powerful army generals who consider themselves the custodians of Kamal Ataturk's legacy. Their abhorrence for anything religious is matched by the disdain the religious parties has for thoroughly Westernized secularists. Erbakan had to walk a tight rope where he had to balance his own convictions against the demands of the army.

Turkey has been a trusted ally of the West and will remain so irrespective of who occupies the Prime Minister House in Ankara. Europeans have to realize that Turkey has a long and distinguished history going back a millennium. Its past is inextricably linked with the East and perhaps its future too. Snubbing Turkey for its religious identity will be detrimental to the Western interest in the long run.

Surgeon-writer S. Amjad Hussain lives in Toledo, Ohio where he writes a bi-weekly column for the Op-Ed pages of The Blade.

Heather Brooke and Andrew Brown, "WikiLeaks cables: Pope wanted Muslim Turkey kept out of EU," Guardian, December 10, 2010

[Although known to historians and religious experts, the centuries-old political and economic influence of a group known in Turkish as the "Donmeh" is only beginning to cross the lips of Turks, Arabs, and Israelis who have been reluctant to discuss the presence in Turkey and elsewhere of a sect of Turks descended from a group of Sephardic Jews who were expelled from Spain during the Spanish Inquisition in the 16th and 17th centuries. These Jewish refugees from Spain were welcomed to settle in the Ottoman Empire and over the years they converted to a mystical sect of Islam that eventually mixed Jewish Kabbala and Islamic Sufi semi-mystical beliefs into a sect that eventually championed secularism in post-Ottoman Turkey. . . .

Ataturk, who was reportedly himself a Donmeh, ordered that Turks abandon their own Muslim-Arabic names. The name of the first Christian emperor of Rome, Constantine, was erased from the largest Turkish city, Constantinople. The city became Istanbul, after the Ataturk government in 1923 objected to the traditional name. There have been many questions about Ataturk's own name, since "Mustapha Kemal Ataturk" was a pseudonym. Some historians have suggested that Ataturk adopted his name because he was a descendant of none other than Rabbi Zevi, the self-proclaimed Messiah of the Donmeh! Ataturk also abolished Turkey's use of the Arabic script and forced the country to adopt the western alphabet. . . .

It was Ataturk's and the Young Turks' support for Zionism, the creation of a Jewish homeland in Palestine, after World War I and during Nazi rule in Europe that endeared Turkey to Israel and vice versa.--Wayne Madsen, "The Donmeh: The Middle East's Most Whispered Secret,", October 25, 2011]

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