Burak Bekdil in Kathimerini (thanks to Ali Dashti) asks some much-needed questions about Turkey’s radical Muslims and its hopes to enter the EU:
This column has invariably argued that Recep Tayyip Erdogan was a reformist, but an overrated one. He has reformed some of Turkey”s laws, not necessarily because he genuinely believed in reforms, but because he wanted to win a date from the European Union, a date which would minimize the military”s powers and earn him a second and perhaps a third term in power in a country where three in every four support the idea of membership in the EU. Inevitably, the time has come for Mr Erdogan’s alter ego to speak on his behalf….
Mr Erdogan, apparently under pressure from his party”s Islamist flank, wants to outlaw adultery despite increasingly loud warnings from the EU that if he went ahead with the plan Turkey would not be given a date to start membership talks. Mr Erdogan is dangerously zigzagging between his broader goals and his own roots. Guenter Verheugen, enlargement commissioner, had to remind Mr Erdogan of the bitter truth: that Turkey wants to join the EU, not vice versa….
Mr Erdogan hopes, first and foremost, to reward the “greener” of his party members and grassroots supporters. He has failed to please them in matters like removing the headscarf ban “” a dispute seen by many as the symbol of the clash between political Islam and secularism and one of Mr Erdogan’s pre-election pledges. Larger groups of Islamists tend to protest that Mr Erdogan, once their much-praised “Imam of Istanbul,” has failed to keep his “greener” promises….
There is something deeply wrong in the thinking of the “reformist” and his men. They claim that they are the “real secularists.” But it is an open secret that they want to outlaw adultery because it is a sin under the Koran (as in other holy books). This is dangerous thinking. With a clear majority in Parliament, Mr Erdogan’s men may one day wake up with the idea of criminalizing alcohol or pork, for both are banned under the Koran.
Also, Mr Erdogan thinks that EU understanding on criminalizing adultery would show that the bloc was taking Muslim values into account. This mind-set is not healthy. Confident that a date was in sight, Mr Erdogan wanted to test the waters to see what Muslim values he could impose on the non-Muslim club during accession talks. The answer to his curiosity lies in Mr Verheugen’s clear-cut reply to his bravado “” that the EU was not a sine qua non for Turkey. A smart man, Mr Erdogan should be able to get the message. But he has made things more difficult for himself.
When he bluntly played down the EU criticism on the adultery dispute and delivered stronger messages to his “greener” grassroots, Mr Erdogan tied himself to his promise to outlaw adultery. If, under EU pressure, he steps back, he will once again ridicule himself in the eyes of the Islamists whom he cannot give up.
The solution is simple. Mr Erdogan must decide on his true identity at once. He must either completely break with the Islamist past and walk toward the center, or give up his reformist, pro-EU rhetoric. He cannot continue to be both. Besides, Mr Erdogan should be able to understand that he cannot change the rules and values of the club he hopes to join one day.