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Islamophobia’s chill sweeps Turkey

26 October 2010 General No Comment Email This Post Email This Post

Millions of Europeans arrive here each year to visit historic sites like the Blue Mosque; to savour the aromas of roasting kebabs, barbecued fish and apple-flavoured water pipe smoke; and to haggle with merchants at the energy-oozing Grand Bazaar.

But Turkey is increasingly unwelcome in Europe as the rise of Islamophobia crushes much of the optimism that this economically and militarily powerful Muslim country will fulfil its long-standing dream of joining the 27-nation European Union.

Far-right parties have gained ground in numerous European countries in recent elections, with anti-Muslim Dutch Freedom Party leader Geert Wilders declaring during his recent breakthrough campaign that Turkey’s Islamist prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is “a total freak.”

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has insultingly dismissed Turkey — which is claiming Istanbul as Europe’s 2010 “capital of culture” — as not being a legitimate European country since most of its land mass is in Asia.

And German Chancellor Angela Merkel fed into the growing anti-immigrant mood by lamenting last week that Germany has “utterly failed” to integrate its 2.5 million Turkish minority.

“Ten years ago, the majority of Turkish people were for membership in the European Union, but now it’s the opposite,” said Kamil Park, a businessman here in one of the world’s most dynamic and cosmopolitan cities. “They don’t believe it. They say Europe cannot accept us.”

Support for EU membership has indeed plunged to just 38 per cent in a recent poll by the German Marshall Fund think-tank, down from 74 per cent of the population in 2004.

Some Turks argue that Europe is correct in questioning the candidacy of this country of 77 million people that straddles Europe and Asia.

The harshest of these critics are usually among the large minority who voted against Erdogan, a former Istanbul mayor who some see as a threat to the strongly secularist tradition established in 1923 by the founder of the republic, former war hero Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

Erdogan, whose Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP) first formed government in 2002 and is on track for its third straight mandate next year, was once jailed for reading aloud an Islamic poem that states: “The mosques are our barracks, the domes our helmets, the minarets our bayonets, and the faithful our soldiers.”

A Turkish court came within one vote in 2008 of banning the AKP, and courts also overturned his attempt to remove a ban on women wearing head scarves in educational facilities and other public places.

More alarming for Turkey’s allies, especially in Washington, is Erdogan’s cozying up to some unsavoury leaders in the Islamic world. Erdogan is developing warm relations with Iran and Syria, has downplayed the threat of Iran’s nuclear program, and recently united with Brazil to thwart a United Nations Security Council bid to sanction Iran over its nuclear program.

He has also built links with the anti-Israeli political groups Hamas, in Gaza, and Hezbollah, in Lebanon. He famously said last year that he was more comfortable meeting Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, indicted for war crimes in the Darfur region, than Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Original post: Islamophobia’s chill sweeps Turkey

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