A Turkish remedy for radical Europe

Ceylan Ozbudak

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A mother's milk is the first token of God's comfort and sustaining grace, whereby His mercy greets every creature that comes into the world. When milk is pure and fresh, it has a clean smell and light, sweet, pleasant taste, which is comforting and very beneficial for babies. On the other hand, if it is adulterated by harmful ingredients, or if it is rotten, it becomes one of the most disgusting substances the human palette can know. Indeed, the offensive odor of bad milk carries its own warning of food poisoning.

Sincere and reliable religious teaching may be compared to pure and nutritious milk. Just as pure milk sustains life in a newborn child, wholesome teaching about the nature and will of God is the source of every good we ever know in this life. It’s the essence of life. Everything we know as “good” in life comes from religious morality. Every beneficial institution is based on religious values. But if people change its teachings, add bigotry and fanatical interpretations to religious teachings, it starts to suffocate people, creates environments in which none of us would prefer to live and like a disease, it is contagious.

Radical Islam prominent problem in Europe

The challenge of radical Islam for Europe has been under discussion for some time. It was reported that President Obama was briefed about this security risk in his first CIA meeting. The demographics of this problem in Europe are much different than the U.S. and the Middle East. In the Middle East, the majority of the states are Muslim. For the United States, radical Islam is a “foreign” problem since the amount of Muslim population is still less than 1%. British Muslims traveling to America is a cause for concern but for Europe, however, it is a much more immediate and threatening crisis because it is domestic, tangible, ubiquitous –not abstract. In the Netherlands, 6-7% of the population is Muslim. This percentage is around 12-13% in France. And contrary to common belief, it is not entirely a matter of immigration. Ethnic European converts to Islam must also be taken into account, and those numbers are growing. Unfortunately, many of them learn Islam by fanatical interpretations.

"Europe must educate and remodel its entire Muslim population. This undertaking cannot be done without a Muslim partner. This partner has to be Turkey."

Ceylan Ozbudak

Terrorism, which stems from radical Islamism, is not the only concern for the European countries. There is a bigger and much slyer problem: bigotry. It is very difficult to control a bigot through legislation because these people hardly ever commit an actual crime. You cannot punish a person who “hates” women in revealing clothing, who “detests” Western education system and democracy, who thinks secularism is from Satan – after all, it is quite difficult to determine what thoughts go through a person's mind. However, these traits lead to a deep decay in the Western societies through disintegration, polarization and the developments of ghettos. Unfortunately, large numbers of the European Muslim population have faced bigotry, thus becoming a malign formation in the middle of the society and creating a dire cultural predicament.

Old-style multiculturalism is now widely seen as a failure in Holland and is being seriously questioned in Britain. When PEW polled European countries such as France and Germany about Turkey’s accession to EU, nonreligious Europeans said they worried that bringing a large Muslim country into the EU could endanger the continent’s tradition of “gender equality” and “tolerance of alternative lifestyles.” Despite no European fearing connections to the Turkish economy or diplomacy, they still believe that the more Muslims flock to Europe, the more problems they will face in the future in terms of life style.

A case for Turkey: Europe’s partner in combating radical Islam

The very freedoms that allow Europeans to enjoy various lifestyles are the same that enable Muslim radicalism in Europe too. Europe cannot deal with this predicament through cutting freedoms through regulations, legislation or banning certain books but must educate and remodel its entire Muslim population. This undertaking cannot be done without a Muslim partner.

This partner has to be Turkey. Of course, Turkey is a flawed partner. Its flawed democracy has been tainted by militarism, violations of human rights and corruption and to this day is still trying to cleanse itself from military influence on its civil life and politics. Regardless, Turkey is known as one of the most democratic countries in the Middle East and has an obvious difference from other Muslim countries. It’s relatively well developed compared with the other countries in the region. It has succeeded in bringing together eastern and western values in addition to finding cohesion between Islam and democracy. In terms of society, Turkish Muslims, when compared to current European Muslims, are very well integrated into modern life with the highest literacy rate in the Muslim world. In terms of women’s rights, the percentage of women in Turkey who continue a higher education after college is higher than men. After the collapse of 650 year old Ottoman Empire, Turkey stayed immune to three major problems Arab countries couldn’t: socialism, dictatorship and fundamental Islam.

The Arab world post World War II suffered from fundamentalist traditions or Marxism, both of which never permitted people to live in a truly secular, democratic, libertarian and peaceful nature. Oppression led to revolt and degeneration persisted. Through removing itself from all kinds of fundamentalist influences, Turkey has preserved a democratic conception of Islam, far removed from radicalism and bigotry. While in the European Muslim societies we are seeing the discussion of whether or not Sharia courts should be allowed, Turkish Muslims are protesting a politician who commented about the décolleté of a TV presenter.

Turkey is a centuries-old home to a strikingly modern Muslim community when compared to other Muslim countries. Muslim Turks are well integrated into modern life. Tolerant Sufi teachings dominate the religious life in Turkey. The majority of the Turkish Muslims are very pluralistic and protective of their Christian and Jewish peers. A four-season tourist destination, Turkey hosts around 33 million visitors annually. You can find many memoirs about how a non-Muslim tourist felt a warm welcome among Turkish Muslims, praising the hospitality he or she felt during a visit. New governmental measures were taken, emphasizing the hospitality for the non-Muslims communities, which flock to Turkey as refugees.

Same Problems, Different Solutions

Turkey didn’t establish this democratic-Muslim culture overnight. Starting from the Kemalist revolutions, secular culture has been rooted in the public life. Mosques in Turkey are regulated by the Presidency of Religious Affairs, which takes precautions against any kind of radical movement in mosques or other religious places. This is unlike Europe where mosques are dominated by radical elements and is met with negative forces. While Norway bans Saudi investments in mosques, Germany raids mosques to search for books, which promotes bigotry. Europe has come to a point where it realizes its existing 6000+ mosques should also be regulated. To actions that disturb genuine and peaceful worshippers, these non-Muslim European states would benefit learning from a Muslim partner. Just like Turkey seeks know-how on the matters of further democratization and legislation from Europe, Europe should seek know–how from Turkey on fighting radicalization through religious education. Even though many would not like to admit, Turkey is undeniably an authority in the Muslim religion as the heir of the Ottoman Empire, which was the flag bearer of Islam for many centuries.

Some of my European friends cringe when they read “religious education.” However, if we do not educate our Muslims, some radicals will. If we keep ignoring Muslims growing existence in the European cities, the problems of polarization will increase and bigotry will flourish. European states should be one step ahead of those who distort the teachings of Islam and offer to work with moderate Muslim populations for an enlightened, friendlier and accommodating Muslim community. This will not happen unless we bring European Muslims an alternative education from radicalism, which will be taken seriously by them and embraced naturally. As the U.S. took a step forward and decided to partner with Turkey on the issue of education against extremism, now it’s time for the EU states to realize the problem and act accordingly.

In short, Europe needs Turkey. and urgently. European secularism and negative reactions to the growing Muslim population only fuels radicalism to further pollute the purity of Islam. By partnering with Turkey now, Europe can help raise a new generation of European Muslims that are proud Westerners and proud Muslims.

Ceylan Ozbudak is a Turkish political analyst, television presenter, and executive director of Building Bridges, an Istanbul-based NGO. She can be followed on Twitter via @ceylanozbudak

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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