Monday, May 07, 2007

Just in time

On Saturday, we are told by the Islamic Republic News Agency, the EU’s foreign policy supreme, Javier Solana, backed Abdullah Gül for the Turkish presidency. One might consider Solana’s and the EU’s backing as being the kiss of death for any politician.

Solana told Bild am Sonntag that in his opinion Gül had been an excellent Foreign Minister, having done so much to promote Turkey’s possible membership of the EU (what does that make the French Foreign Minister?) and will make an excellent President.

On Sunday came the news that Abdullah Gül, having not managed to get the required number of votes in the Turkish Parliament as the opposition boycotted the election, has withdrawn his candidacy. Two nil to the secularists, I’d say.

The EU cannot really complain (though, I am sure it will) as the entire process was within Turkey’s constitutional structure. The opposition has the right to boycott presidential elections and it is sensible for a candidate who stands no chance of getting the right number of votes to withdraw. We now await the parliamentary election that Prime Minister Erdogan has called.

Several questions arise. The most obvious one is why do Solana or the Enlargement Commissar, Olli Rehn, think that they have some kind of a right to interfere with internal Turkish matters.

The answer must be two-fold. In the first place there is the possibility, however remote, that Turkey will one day be a member of the European Union and this gives the present officials some rights in its politics. Or so they think. Curiously enough, the Turks do not appear to share this view.

The second point is that wretched common foreign policy, which has no particular aim or purpose. Therefore, in order to show that it does exist, after a fashion, constant statements have to be made and actions, as long as they have no results, have to be taken.

A more interesting question is why does the EU and, indeed, the great and the good across the world, take the Islamists’ side against the secularists’ in Turkey. After all, when it comes to Europe and the European countries, the EU is severely secularist as the Pope, for one, has pointed out.

Left wing newspapers, such as the Toronto Star, where I found this extremely funny article, would demand smelling salts if there were the slightest suggestion that legislation in Canada or the United States or Europe be proposed on the basis of religious views. Yet, in Turkey, where it matters desperately that the secularists stay somehow in power, they take the opposite side.

The answer from the EU’s point of view could be, as my colleague has suggested, that an Islamist Turkey will no longer be a problem in the sense that she could not possibly be part of the European Union. In the process, they lose sight of the fact that an Islamist Turkey would be a problem in many other ways and of another dismal fact – if the Turks are becoming more Islamists, it is at least partially because of the EU’s shenanigans.

Then there is the question of what it is Erdogan playing at. A man, who seems to have had a sure political touch until now, appears to have miscalculated rather badly over the question of presidential elections. Could he have wanted to provoke the secularists in order to control the stronger Islamists in his own party? Might he have done a deal of some kind with the army? Is he trying to pressurize the EU? Could he be hoping for a bigger majority in the parliamentary elections than he would have got if they had come in a few months’ time as scheduled?

Turning away from all this discussion, let us look at Abdullah Gül’s wife and her headwear. One of the problems about Gül is that his wife wears a headscarf and it is part of Turkey’s secular settlement that women are not allowed to wear them in public offices, which clearly includes the presidential palace.

Anyone who thinks this is a minor matter does not understand the importance of certain symbols. The clothes people and, especially, women wear in Islamic countries make a crucial point about those countries.

Hayrounisa Gül, in the picture above, wears a silk scarf and a very expensive looking leather coat. One wonders what the Mullahs of Iran and their morality police would have made of it.


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