When the European Union was discussing what to put in a proposed constitution, the three pillars suggested were Christianity, Judaism and humanism. Although the pillars (and the constitution) were eventually turned down the idea is still very much alive. In a community where the top players (Britain, France and Germany) carry out policies considered to be anti-Islamic, is there room for Muslim states like Turkey?
Earlier this month, when Sarkozy stopped in Armenia during his tour of the Caucus countries, he reiterated something that’s been said about Turkey for years. That, while it is an important country and a ‘bridge between the east and the west”, it does not belong within the European Union. But what exactly does it mean to belong and why doesn’t Turkey meet this unstated criteria?
France recently banned the niqab arguing that, because it’s a symbol of women’s suppression, it does not belong in French society. Nigel Farage, leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party, proposed a similar ban in Britain, stating that they are oppressive to women and a potential security threat. Belgium’s parliament passed a law banning any clothing that hid someone’s identity. Eight German states currently ban school teachers from wearing headscarves. Many other regions in the EU have also imposed similar policies. Turkey itself has a ban on headscarves that applies to elected officials, civil servants and university students.
No other piece of clothing has ever been such a target for government intervention. Yet, it is not the clothing itself that causes controversy but what it represents. The headscarf is a symbol of Islam, and it is the ideas of Islam that are being targeted with these policies.
It is estimated that only a couple hundred women in France actually wear the niqab, even less in Britain and Belgium. Still, such an effort is being made to control a very small part of the population. Clearly, the EU is sending a message to the Islam population that they are only welcome here if they change their ideas.
If Turkey joins the EU it will be the second largest state, with a 98% population that is Muslim. It’s hard to believe that a union that is currently having a hard time dealing with a small Muslim population would let that happen. Around two thirds of the women in Turkey wear a headscarf. That is a large chunk of the population that will be underrepresented within the union, and member states aren’t going to fight to represent them more. These women won’t be able to walk around on land that is considered to be theirs. Like Sarkozy said, they won’t belong.
Albania, another Muslim country, may have a better chance of membership due to their small and unthreatening population, yet their belonging might also be up for discussion. For Turkey, Sarkozy and Merkel propose a ‘priviledged partnership’ rather than outright membership, something Turkey won’t necessarily be happy to accept.
For now, Turkey gets less and less positive about EU membership every year. When discussing the question of membership with a Turkish student he told me, “If I was the EU I wouldn’t want us either.” A sentiment that sums up what a lot of people on both sides are feeling.