Turkey’s EU entry could undo the last vestiges of Kemalist secularism. From The Telegraph, with thanks to Susan:
On Friday, as Imam Gecgel digested the news that Turkey was finally on track to join the European Union, he was too excited by his vision of the future to dwell on the past. Paradoxically, like most Turkish religious leaders he is robustly pro-European — not because he approves of Western mores, but because he believes that accession will extend his powers.
“Turkish people in my position want to be in Europe because it will mean greater liberty for us,” he said.
Although modern Turkey is overwhelmingly Muslim, it is in some respects a more fiercely secular state than most of the EU. The powerful army, upholder of the Ataturk legacy of a modern country, refuses to let the government introduce stricter religious observance even though the ruling party of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the prime minister, is strongly Islamist. The army has ousted governments that attempted to defy it.
In an effort to keep a lid on fundamentalism, all mosques are government-owned and imams are civil servants. Religious symbols are banned from other state property, girls are not allowed to wear headscarves in schools and court officials may not grow beards. One effect of this is that the prime minister’s wife is not invited to official receptions at the presidential palace because she insists on wearing a scarf.
Mullahs have no chance to write and deliver impassioned speeches to the faithful at Friday prayers because the Chief Mufti of Istanbul faxes out the sermon, which must be delivered in identical form across the country.
Yet this tight grip on religion jars with Western, and EU, concepts of religious freedom. As a result, Turkey’s Islamists believe that membership will allow them greater freedom to worship as they like.
The language the imams use can be unsettling to Westerners who are wary at the prospect of almost 80 million Muslims joining a community of predominantly Christian nations. “We ask our government to allow us rights and freedoms but our government cannot deliver them,” said Imam Gecgel.
“In Turkey there are higher powers that answer to Jewish and American controllers which do not allow the government to grant us these freedoms. We have been controlled for far too long.”
The apparent secularism of the proposed EU constitution does not bother Imam Gecgel. “The secular impulses in Turkey and Europe are different,” he said. “In Europe, secularism doesn’t target anyone’s religion or attempt to control what they believe.”