Are Muslim and Western values generally incompatible? The case of Turkey and the EU.
An easy answer to this question would be a decisive yes. Many argue that the Muslim and Western world are completely different as they are based on different religions, Christianity and Islam. In the Christian Bible there is a definitive separation of church and state, it documents Jesus Christ as saying “Give to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's” (Matthew 22:21). Islam, on the other hand, is an 'encompassing religion that addresses all aspects of individual and social life. In Islam, 'religion and politics are not separated, but intertwined with each other', leading to the problem of how 'some Islamic principles and norms contradict modern western values' (Bogdani, 2011: 51-4). The fundamental Islamic principle of a poor tax (Zakat) fits in well with the idea of the welfare state, something central to European identity (Gerhards, 2007). Other Islamic principles, however, do not fit so well with modern western values. Principles of religious intolerance are rooted in the holy Sharia law which some Muslim countries use as the basis for their legal system. Then there is the fact that the Islamic holy book, the Qur'an, encourages the principle of Jihad to enforce the non-Muslim world to accept or submit to Islam. These are obviously at odds with the Western values of democracy, tolerance, human rights, equality, liberty and separation of church and state (Bogdani, 2011). Huntington outlined this view of how Islam and other civilizations are incompatible in his seminal 1993 paper The Clash of Civilizations and this is a view held by many. However, if one looks deeper they will find that there are a heterogeneous range of Muslim societies, ranging from fundamentalist Sharia Law-abiding countries such as Iran, to Muslim democracies such as Turkey, which will be the basis of this essay. The question I will attempt to answer is whether Turkey, a secular state with a majority Muslim population has compatible values with those present in the EU. This essay is not about whether Turkey should or should not become a member, so I will not be discussing matters such as Cyprus, Kurds or Armenian Genocide. Instead I will be looking at whether the version on Islam found in Turkey today is compatible with the Western values found in the EU. Many view Turkey's religious difference 'as a handicap severely restricting Turkey's capacity to Europeanize' (Rumelili and Cakmakli, 2011: 105). Throughout this essay I will investigate whether this is the case.
In 1926, after the fall of the Ottoman Empire, Turkey adopted Swiss Civil law. The aim of this was to move away from the stagnant Islamic world and into the prosperous, democratic, developed world. In their pursuit of this goal they ensured that there was a clearly defined separation between the state and the religion of the people, similar to countries in the West. The westernisation of Turkey was not forced upon it, but instead was a choice made by Turkish elites. Unlike many of their Muslim neighbours, Turkish governments have formed close links with western countries, especially during the Cold War. The result of this is that the West is portrayed as an 'enemy to Islam to a far lesser degree than in other Muslim countries' (WRR, 2004). This has helped lead to the position today where this 99% Muslim country wants to join the secular European Union.
The type of secularism in Turkey is known a Kemalism (named after the first president of Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk). It began in 1937 and is based around a strong state which can keep religion under control (Bogdani, 2011: 44). This can be seen with the Diyanet, a government institution tasked with 'countering undesirable Islamic influences' (WRR, 2004: 53). Its main role is to control and restrain the teaching of Islam in schools. The main enforcer of secularism however, is the Turkish army which has staged coups in 1960, 1971, 1980...
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