‘Turkey and the Dilemma of EU Ac­ces­sion: When Re­li­gion Meets Pol­i­tics’

Turkish Review - - CONTENTS - JU­LIA TEIX­EIRA

‘Turkey and the Dilemma of EU Ac­ces­sion’ is a book that takes on the chal­leng­ing task of ex­plor­ing to what ex­tent re­li­gion presents an ob­sta­cle to Turkey’s EU ac­ces­sion process. Au­thor Mirela Bog­dani claims Turkey’s Is­lamic val­ues are a fac­tor in its in­abil­ity to com­ply with the Copen­hagen cri­te­ria. How­ever, the book was writ­ten be­fore the Arab Spring and does not nec­es­sar­ily re­flect the po­lit­i­cal re­al­i­ties of the re­gion to­day In her book, “Turkey and the Dilemma of EU Ac­ces­sion: When Re­li­gion Meets Pol­i­tics,” Mirela Bog­dani takes on the chal­leng­ing task of ex­plor­ing to what ex­tent re­li­gion presents an ob­sta­cle to Turkey’s EU am­bi­tions. Bog­dani has de­voted much of her ca­reer to study­ing Euro­pean Union en­large­ment and pol­i­tics and has pre­vi­ously writ­ten two books fo­cus­ing on this sub­ject in relation to Al­ba­nia. Bog­dani ap­proaches this work with what she iden­ti­fies as a per­sonal un­der­stand­ing of Mus­lim cul­ture and also a dis­tinct in­ter­est in the in­ter­play be­tween pol­i­tics and re­li­gion. Her schol­ar­ship on the sub­ject of re­li­gion and cul­ture’s in­flu­ence on in­ter­na­tional pol­i­tics is par­tic­u­larly in­flu­enced by the works of Sa­muel Hunt­ing­ton and Bernard Lewis, giv­ing her ar­gu­ments a dis­tinct “clash of civ­i­liza­tions” and “cul­tural de­ter­min­ism” fla­vor.

Bog­dani’s aim is to dis­cover if re­li­gious and cul­tural fac­tors are a pri­mary ob­sta­cle to Turk­ish EU ac­ces­sion, or are only part of a num­ber of is­sues that to­gether com­pli­cate Turkey’s move to­ward join­ing the Euro­pean club. After ex­am­in­ing the ev­i­dence, in­clud­ing some schol­arly works and pub­lic opin­ion poll re­sults, she draws the con­clu­sion that since eco­nomic is­sues and demo­cratic prin­ci­ples are not the only rea­son be­hind Euro­pean op­po­si­tion to Turkey’s ac­ces­sion, re­li­gion is at least a con­tribut­ing fac­tor to the pro­longed ac­ces­sion process. How­ever, she is care­ful to qual­ify this con­clu­sion, and after mak­ing th­ese claims in the last page of her book she points out that there is a lack of con­clu­sive data, so this state­ment can at best be iden­ti­fied as prob­a­bilis­tic rather than proven. Along the same lines, she also con­cludes that the com­bi­na­tion of Turkey’s huge pop­u­la­tion and its re­li­gious makeup are per­ceived to be a threat to the cul­tural bal­ance of the EU.

Bog­dani has di­vided her book into five parts, which fo­cus on dif­fer­ent as­pects of the re­la­tion­ship be­tween the EU, Turkey, and re­li­gion and cul­ture. She be­gins by ex­am­in­ing the re­vival of re­li­gion around the world, and the re­la­tion­ship be­tween re­li­gion and pol­i­tics, specif­i­cally in the EU. She fol­lows the evo­lu­tion of this re­la­tion­ship by ex­am­in­ing the sec­u­lar­iza­tion of so­ci­ety, sub­se­quent desec­u­lar­iza­tion in cer­tain parts of the Western world, ex­clud­ing Europe, and then fi­nally Europe’s re­cent desec­u­lar­iza­tion as Euro­peans once again be­gin to embrace Chris­tian­ity in the po­lit­i­cal sphere.

From here, she turns her at­ten­tion to Turkey and the EU, dis­cussing the bloc’s east­ward ex­pan­sion to in­clude Balkan coun­tries, and Turkey’s his­tory of West­ern­iza­tion and its re­la­tion­ship with the EU. In this

sec­tion, Bog­dani ex­am­ines the of­fi­cial ob­sta­cles to Turkey’s EU ac­ces­sion, in­clud­ing the do­mes­tic po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic re­form nec­es­sary for mem­ber­ship, as well as Turkey’s stance on its mi­nor­ity Kur­dish pop­u­la­tion, Ar­me­nia, and Cyprus. She also dis­cusses the semi-for­mal ob­sta­cles, in­clud­ing ge­og­ra­phy, de­mo­graph­ics and re­gional se­cu­rity. Fi­nally, she in­tro­duces the in­for­mal fac­tors that are the main fo­cus of the book: re­li­gion and cul­ture. She ar­gues that although Turkey is a sec­u­lar state on the gov­ern­ment level, Is­lam still plays a prom­i­nent part in Turk­ish cul­ture. She also makes a con­tro­ver­sial claim, posit­ing that Turkey’s Is­lamic val­ues are one fac­tor in its in­abil­ity to com­ply with the po­lit­i­cal Copen­hagen cri­te­ria re­quired for EU ac­ces­sion.

In the third sec­tion of her book, she asks the ques­tion of whether Is­lam is com­pat­i­ble with democ­racy. Draw­ing only from ar­gu­ments made by Hunt­ing­ton and by Seymour Lipset, Bog­dani ar­gues that Euro­pean and Mus­lim so­ci­eties are fun­da­men­tally dif­fer­ent, and that some of the val­ues and norms that shape Is­lam make it in­com­pat­i­ble with Western, lib­eral democ­racy. She specif­i­cally fo­cuses on hu­man rights, ar­gu­ing that Is­lam does not al­low for the sep­a­ra­tion of church and state that Euro­peans are used to.

After look­ing at Is­lam and democ­racy more broadly, Bog­dani fo­cuses on what place re­li­gion and cul­ture have in the de­bate on Turkey’s EU can­di­dacy. She ar­gues that re­li­gion is the most in­flu­en­tial com­po­nent of cul­ture, since it dic­tates so­ci­etal norms and cul­tural men­tal­ity. She also points out that re­li­gion acts as a common bond be­tween Mus­lims across the world, re­gard­less of their in­di­vid­ual cul­ture. Bog­dani notes that while Euro­peans are gen­er­ally not overtly re­li­gious, Judeo-Christian val­ues make up the foun­da­tion of Euro­pean iden­tity, in­clud­ing mod­ern democ­racy. The end of the fourth sec­tion iden­ti­fies the ac­tors in the de­bate on Turkey’s ac­ces­sion, fo­cus­ing largely on the opin­ions of Euro­pean cit­i­zens, but also on those of EU in­sti­tu­tions, lead­ers and politi­cians.

Ac­cord­ing to Bog­dani Euro­pean op­po­si­tion to Turkey’s mem­ber­ship has in­creased since 2001. She iden­ti­fies and elab­o­rates on a num­ber of po­ten­tial fac­tors in this neg­a­tive trend: the rise of Is­lamic funda- men­tal­ism world­wide; the in­crease of Europe’s Mus­lim pop­u­la­tion and its com­par­a­tively low in­te­gra­tion lev­els into Euro­pean so­ci­ety; the fear that such a sharp in­crease in the Euro­pean Mus­lim pop­u­la­tion will lead to the “Is­lami­sa­tion of Europe” (p. 105); and po­lit­i­cal Is­lam as part of Turkey’s main­stream pol­i­tics.

Bog­dani has taken on the in­cred­i­bly chal­leng­ing task of ex­plor­ing a topic on which there is lit­tle doc­u­mented in­for­ma­tion. She ac­knowl­edges th­ese chal­lenges, and although she was warned of the dif­fi­culty in prov­ing her cen­tral propo­si­tions, she makes a very bold claim in her book, ar­gu­ing that she “suc­ceeded in as­sess­ing the im­pact of re­li­gious and cul­tural fac­tors on Turkey’s ac­ces­sion process and on Euro­pean ac­tors’ opin­ions, as well as in draw­ing con­clu­sions about the rea­sons for their re­luc­tance to let in a coun­try like Turkey” (fore­word, p. x). How­ever, as she con­cludes, there is sim­ply not enough data to make a con­clu­sive state­ment one way or another; one can only con­tinue to spec­u­late. This re­viewer be­lieves that some of the in­for­ma­tion Bog­dani presents as fact does lit­tle to en­lighten or ed­u­cate the au­di­ence, and does not ac­tu­ally ap­pear to con­trib­ute to the find­ings of the book.

The third sec­tion, in which the au­thor ex­am­ines the com­pat­i­bil­ity of Is­lam and democ­racy, was par­tic­u­larly strik­ing. The sec­tion com­pletely over­shad­owed many of Bog­dani’s rel­e­vant ar­gu­ments. While it is le­git­i­mate to

ex­am­ine Is­lam’s re­la­tion­ship with democ­racy in the Turk­ish con­text, the au­thor makes ex­treme ar­gu­ments, sug­gest­ing that Is­lam and lib­eral democ­racy are com­pletely in­com­pat­i­ble. She makes the leap that the rea­son many coun­tries with pre­dom­i­nantly Mus­lim pop­u­la­tions have dic­ta­tors is be­cause the Mus­lim faith is best suited to dic­ta­tor­ships and sup­pres­sion of free­dom. She seems to com­pletely ig­nore the im­pact of Western colo­nial­ism in in­stalling and prop­ping up dic­ta­to­rial strong­men as lead­ers of th­ese coun­tries, and that for many dic­ta­tors po­lit­i­cal Is­lam is ac­tu­ally seen as a threat to their power. In mak­ing this ar­gu­ment, she men­tions Turkey, the sub­ject of the book, only briefly, say­ing that Turkey and In­done­sia are ex­cep­tions. How­ever, all coun­tries have po­lit­i­cal sit­u­a­tions shaped by their unique his­tor­i­cal ex­pe­ri­ences, cul­ture, and eco­nomic sit­u­a­tions; in the case of majority Mus­lim coun­tries’ ex­pe­ri­ence with au­thor­i­tar­i­an­ism, re­li­gion and the pres­ence of an au­thor­i­tar­ian regime is cor­re­la­tion rather than cau­sa­tion.

This book was pub­lished in 2011 and writ­ten be­fore the Arab Spring demo­cratic move­ments, so Bog­dani’s anal­y­sis and ar­gu­ments do not nec­es­sar­ily re­flect the po­lit­i­cal re­al­i­ties of the Mid­dle East and North Africa to­day. How­ever, while read­ing this book one can­not help but think of the in­spir­ing move­ments the world has wit­nessed as peo­ple rose up in pre­dom­i­nantly Mus­lim coun­tries across the Mid­dle East, de­mand­ing demo­cratic re­form and at­tempt­ing to over­throw dic­ta­tor­ships. The au­thor’s fail­ure to con­sis­tently dis­tin­guish the dif­fer­ence be­tween po­lit­i­cal Is­lam and Is­lamist move­ments based on com­plete ad­her­ence to Shariah fur­ther weak­ens her ar­gu­ment.

She spends lit­tle time dis­cussing Turkey’s ex­pe­ri­ence with re­li­gion and democ­racy; rather she fo­cuses on more re­pres­sive regimes. While she ac­knowl­edges that the Mus­lim world is di­verse, most of the third sec­tion draws con­clu­sions based on broad gen­er­al­iza­tions about Mus­lim coun­tries on hu­man rights, gov­er­nance, eco­nomics, and ap­pre­ci­a­tion for sci­ence and ed­u­ca­tion. She uses ex­am­ples of the most re­pres­sive so­ci­eties, such as Afghanistan and Saudi Ara­bia, to draw con­clu­sions about majority Mus­lim states in gen­eral. This sec­tion does lit­tle to help her over­all ar­gu­ment. Per­haps some of her points could have been used as support else­where in the book, but the way she presents her ar­gu­ments here does not as­sist read­ers that may be un­fa­mil­iar with Mid­dle East­ern his­tory or Is­lam; rather it projects an anti-Mus­lim bias that col­ors the way the reader ap­proaches the rest of the book.

Bog­dani could have ben­e­fit­ted by of­fer­ing by a more bal­anced ap­proach to her in­ves­ti­ga­tion. When she ar­gues that Turk­ish so­ci­ety’s Is­lamic val­ues will re­main an ob­sta­cle that will pre­vent it from meet­ing the hu­man rights cri­te­ria for ac­ces­sion, it would have been use­ful to iden­tify the hu­man rights ob­sta­cles the most re­cent mem­bers faced and why ¬-- as majority Christian so­ci­eties -- it was eas­ier for them to change. In ad­di­tion, she spends quite a long time dis­cussing Euro­pean cit­i­zens’ opin­ions, but does not re­ally dis­cuss Turk­ish pub­lic per­cep­tion of EU mem­ber­ship. Ad­dress­ing this ques­tion would have made her ar­gu­ment more com­plete.

Fi­nally, she frames the dis­cus­sion on Is­lam and democ­racy in a highly bi­ased and not en­tirely ac­cu­rate fash­ion. She over­looks cer­tain parts of his­tory in or­der to make the ar­gu­ment that the Christian re­li­gion is peace­ful and Christian val­ues are fun­da­men­tal to a suc­cess­ful democ­racy, while Is­lam is an his­tor­i­cally vi­o­lent re­li­gion and in­com­pat­i­ble with democ­racy and re­spect for hu­man rights. The in­ter­ac­tion be­tween re­li­gion and pol­i­tics is a chal­leng­ing topic to tackle, be­cause it is a sen­si­tive is­sue and ac­tors are not al­ways will­ing to have an open, can­did con­ver­sa­tion. While this re­viewer would not nec­es­sar­ily rec­om­mend this book, the au­thor’s other work, “Al­ba­nia and the Euro­pean Union: The Tu­mul­tuous Jour­ney To­wards In­te­gra­tion and Ac­ces­sion” (London and New York: I. B. Tau­ris, 2007), co-au­thored with John Lough­lin, would cer­tainly re­ward read­ers in­ter­ested in the jour­ney to EU mem­ber­ship.

Mirela Bog­dani, “Turkey

and the Dilemma of EU Ac­ces­sion: When Re­li­gion

Meets Pol­i­tics,” I. B. Tau­ris, London & New

York, 2010 (228 pp.)


French Pres­i­dent Ni­co­las Sarkozy (R) and Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel dis­cuss re­cent eco­nomic de­vel­op­ments. (Aug. 16, 2011)

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