The Turkish experience

The seemingly growing gap between East and West is often exaggerated, not least by politicians and columnists who have barely met Muslims, let alone actually spent time in a Muslim country. Having too many facts is clearly a dangerous thing. The Australian believes it has the right to patronisingly praise “good” Muslims to lead the charge.

Turkey’s wish to enter the European Union has caused much angst throughout Europe, especially in light of growing Islamophobia, caused in part by a perceived Muslim threat. Ahmet O. Evin, founding dean of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at Sabanci University in Istanbul, has written that Turkey’s inclusion in the EU would in fact enhance European coherence – though a bloc not ruled from Brussels – and prove that, despite all the challenges, shared values are achievable.

In this environment of mutually assured suspicion, one would hope that moderate Muslim voices would gain prominent media coverage. Alas, no. Last night’s lecture by Dr Ali Bardakoglu, Turkey’s President of Religious Affairs – “the closest thing Europe has to an Islamic pope”, wrote Irfan Yusuf yesterday in Crikey – at the Sydney-branch of the Australian Institute of International Affairs was the kind of speech that should be played and then replayed to the ever-growing litany of post- 9/11 Islamic “experts” (usually white, Anglo and paranoid.)

Dr Bardakoglu spoke to a 60-strong crowd of various ages that included the Consul-General of Romania and representatives from the Turkish embassy. His talk, “Islam and the World in Transition”, was a calm dissertation on the need for greater understanding between the West and Islam. “Looking at Muslims with security lenses and perceiving them as a threat” was destined to fail, he said, and we should never forget that Islam was a religion of peace. “Religion can empower believers in fighting against injustices, inequality and oppression”, but remember that terrorism was always wrong. The definition of that terrorism, of course, is very subjective (and he chose not to address it.)

The issue of Turkey’s membership into the EU was presenting many problems, Dr Bardakoglu argued. The culturalist approach “emphasizes civilisational differences and religious convictions in Europe”. Polls in Holland, France and Austria have indicated that Turkish membership of the EU should be rejected because the main religion is Islam.

A comment by past French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin -“Do you [Europeans] want the floods of Islamism to submerge the river of secularism?” – highlighted the challenges facing nations that contributed, according to Dr Bardakoglu, “to the weakening of relations among various ethnic and faith communities.”

He urged “intellectuals, politicians, the media and civil society to preserve and foster multiculturalism in Australia.”

Is our Dear Leader listening?

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