Monday, September 27, 2004

Talking Turkey 

The clash of civilizations - or at least cultures - on Europe's doorstep: Turkey's bid to join the European Union has stalled for a while, due to the government's proposal to criminalise adultery. The criminal code reform package - sans the naught bit - has now overwhelmingly passed the Turkish parliament, thus removing a major obstacle to greater integration with Europe.

The "Guardian" has an interesting article on the topic:
"Sipping red wine on a hillside terrace high above Vienna, Helmut pointed to the Polish church next door, convinced that the epic drama played out here in 1683 still spoke to central Europeans down the centuries.

" 'I know one Turkish bloke,' said the Viennese social worker. 'He's got two wives. Neither of them can speak a word of German. He beats them up. He's got two sons as well. They're terrified of him. They're just different from us. We're Christians. They're Muslims. And these Muslims are getting more and more extreme. It's time to make a choice. I'm against it.'

"What Helmut is against, like two out of three Austrians, is Turkey joining the European Union. Gerhard, the landlord serving him his wine, joined in eagerly. 'This is Europe and we're in danger of losing our identity with all these people from Turkey and Africa. We Christians are losing our faith while the Muslims are getting more fundamentalist.'

"Neither man wanted to give his full name. Both were keen to dwell on history. The place they were sitting, a hillside north-east of Vienna, was where 321 years ago last week the Polish king, John III, after a plea from the Vatican, marshalled a huge Roman Catholic army and went galloping down the mountain to save Christendom, Europe and Austria, routing the Turks, raising the 61-day Ottoman siege of Vienna, and halting the Turkish advance into the European heartland."
I'm always on the lookout for the Polish connections, and this one arguably is one of the less well known in the West. In 1683, the last of the great Polish warrior kings, John III Sobieski, led his coalition of the willing, consisting mainly of Polish troops, to relieve the Turkish siege of Vienna. In a famous cavalry charge, the Polish huzars smashed Kara Mustapha's army against the gates of the Austrian capital. Vienna was the last throw of the dice for the Turks; after that the Ottoman Empire would never again be a threat to European states. Ironically, when Poland's ever grateful neighbors, Russia, Prussia, and yes, Austria, a hundred years later partitioned between them the Polish kingdom, thus wiping it off the map until 1918, Turkey was the only country which did not recognize this international rape. As Norman Davis wrote in his "Heart of Europe":
"The 'Sick man of Europe' remembered the Dead. Throughout the nineteenth century at the gatherings of the Diplomatic Corps of the Sublime Porte [the Ottoman empire], the Ottoman chef de protocol would call on His Excellency, the Ambassador of Lechistan [as Poland was known to Turks], to step forward, and an aide would announce his regrets for the ambassador's temporary indisposition."
Just one of those nice little stories that shows decency is not always absent from international politics.

Polish historical anecdotes aside, the possibility of Turkey's ascension to the European Union is bound to continue to generate debate in the Old World. There are powerful arguments that greater integration with liberal Europe will help Turkey, already a democratic and comparatively secular state, to become even more so, thus providing more inspiration and example for moderate Muslims elsewhere. Working against this lofty vision is the wide-spread sentiment alluded to in the "Guardian" piece: many already feel the Islamic presence on the continent is too strong, even without adding a whole nation-full of Muslims to Europe's existing ethnic mix. This is what's at stake here: will Europe be able to Westernise its Muslims before the Muslims succeed in Islamicising Europe. Stay tuned.


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