Posted tagged ‘Turkey’

An Ottoman question

January 2, 2010

Today, January 2, is a day of significance for the Ottoman Empire: on this day two men who were to become Sultans of the empire were born: Mehmed IV (1642), and Osman III (1699). European rulers whose reigns coincided with these two Sultans included William of Orange, Louis XIV of France, and Frederick the Great of Prussia. So why do most Europeans know about these European monarchs, but (I suspect) nothing whatsoever about the two Sultans? Moreover, the two Sultans ruled over more European territory than any English, German or French monarch of the time. Why, indeed, are we so ignorant of Ottoman history? Or in so far as we do know something, why do we consider the Ottomans to have been dangerous invaders? Why do we think of the Ottomans (or Turks) to have been a menace as Mehmed IV’s empire besieged Vienna? In an age of empires, should we not be looking at the Ottomans as ruling one that was, on the whole, cultured and civilised and tolerant?

I am, as the title of this post states, asking a question rather than suggesting an answer. I am asking it because, I believe, the ignorance of Ottoman history, or maybe more accurately the somewhat unbalanced perception of what it was, may be contributing today to suspicions about Turkey and, therefore, reluctance to consider Turkey for full EU membership. It may also be that ignorance of the trends and currents of Ottoman history contributed to a less than full understanding of the complexity of politics in the Balkans, not to mention an incomplete understanding of the history of Islam. Maybe it is time for Europe to look more closely at this aspect of our history and culture.


Turkish delight?

October 28, 2009

As I have mentioned in this blog perviously, I was not hugely impressed with some of the arguments used, on both sides, during the recent referendum campaign in Ireland on the Lisbon Treaty. But perhaps the most outrageous slogan used was found on one anti-Lisbon poster: ‘Hello Lisbon, Hello Turkey, No Way’. This was outrageous for many reasons. Its basic suggestion (presumably that the Treaty would pave the way for Turkey’s admission into the EU) was nonsense factually, but that’s not my main gripe. Rather, what I abhor is the racist innuendo. The voter was to be seduced into the fear that voting yes would hasten the arrival of Turkey in the Union, with the subtext being that before we could say ‘mass migration’ hordes of Turks would come gunning for our jobs.

Lest I am misunderstood, there are perfectly reasonable questions that can asked before anyone decides on Turkey’s membership; but that was not the point here. This campaign seemed to me to want to adopt a position on largely racist grounds. Another approach with the same subtext is sometimes used by others wanting to stop Turkey’s accession: that unlike every other EU state, Turkey is not a Christian country in its religious and cultural origins. Turkey, we are being told, has a population that could subvert European culture – white Caucasian culture. Its citizens, already used to doing menial jobs in some European countries that the local workforce will no longer touch, would suddenly gain full rights.

Thankfully the posters did not do the trick, and I would like to think that this demonstrated once again that the Irish are not as open to political racism as some might have feared. But all this shows nevertheless that Europe needs to be more explicit in saying that it does not define itself in line with a neo-aryan outlook, and that its main purpose is not to maintain a particular set of ethnic cultures and to keep out others. I for one hope that it will not be long before Turkey is a member state of the EU.