Rehn: EU not supporting extreme secularism

The European Union has announced that a court case seeking to close the AK Party is not in line with EU standards at all.

Rehn: EU not supporting extreme secularism

The European Union has for the first time announced that the fight in Turkey is between extreme secularists and Muslim democrats, declaring once more that a court case seeking to close the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) is not in line with EU standards at all.

EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn made clear that the EU has not changed its position on the debate within Turkey, supporting democratic secularism but not the extreme version of it. In a rebuke of French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Rehn referred to former External Relations Commissioner Chris Patten's words that the next page of the European story could be written in İstanbul.

Rehn dealt with the Turkish question at length during a conference on Thursday at St. Antony's College of Oxford University. In his speech, titled "Europe's smart power in its region and the world," Rehn said he now needed to read Orhan Pamuk's "Snow" again to better understand political developments in Turkey.

In what seemed a rather in-depth analysis of Turkish society as it stands today, Rehn said the split was between extreme secularists and Muslim democrats. "Most obviously there is a cleavage between the secularists -- especially the extreme, rather than liberal, secularists -- on the one hand, and the Muslim democrats, many of whom are reformed post-Islamists, on the other. But religion is just part of the story. There is also the social cleavage between the political and business elites of the big cities and the entrepreneurial, pious middle classes of Anatolia and other regions. Social mobility and the rise of the new economic classes are a vital but often missed part of Turkey's current development," Rehn said.

Underlining Turkey's significance for Europe, Rehn said the country was vital in dealings with the Islamic world. "Turkey plays a key role in this. As Chris Patten has observed, we haggle and barter in Brussels, but it may well be that it is in İstanbul that we shall write the next chapter in our European story," the enlargement commissioner said.

Despite the criticism he has received from secularist circles in Turkey, Rehn once more announced that the case against the AK Party was not normal in European democracies. He stressed that the reaction in Europe was one of disbelief.

"The EU cannot be indifferent to what happens in Turkey as Turkey is a candidate country. Let us not paint the devil on the wall, as we don't have to do it now. But, of course, we hope that democratic principles and the rule of law will be applied in line with European standards so as to avoid negative ramifications for Turkey's EU accession process," Rehn noted.

'Snow' a reference

Referring to "Snow," Pamuk's best-read novel in the West, Rehn said the book was a good guide to understanding the latest standoff in Turkey. "I must admit, I have in recent days started to re-read Orhan Pamuk's novel 'Snow,' which provides a surrealist portrait of contemporary Turkey. I must likewise admit that I am not sure if Pamuk's novel on the tensions between hard-line secularists and Muslim democrats is only a surrealist exercise, but instead more like a realistic analysis of today's Turkey."

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Last Mod: 03 Mayıs 2008, 10:00
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