Tuesday, September 23, 2008

What makes a European?

Should Turkey be allowed to join the European Union? The answer depends on what you think forms a European identity.

Conservatives believe that a communal identity is formed by ties of ethnicity, such as a common ancestry, history, religion, language and culture. In Europe there do exist ethnic differences, which is why conservatives oppose the idea of merging different nations into a single European super state.

However, it is possible to recognise common ethnic origins across Europe. For instance, languages are different, but nearly all derive from a common Indo-European root. Similarly, there are differences of race, but also similarities, reflecting again a common origin. And although there are different churches, they share a common Christian heritage. And so on.

Therefore, it does make sense to talk of people not only having a national identity, but a European one as well. In fact, most of us know immediately what people mean if they talk of someone being "European" or of a nation being a "European" country.

If we think about a European identity in this way then we have to answer no to Turkey joining the European Union. Turkey simply lacks the ties of ethnicity binding it to Europe.

This point has been made, surprisingly enough, by Muammar Gaddafi of Libya. On what is purportedly his own website he has declared that Turkey should not join Europe because,

Turkey is a tree, whose roots are in Asia, and only its branch touches Europe. It is an Islamic state of a Sunni denomination, with oriental traditions, customs, history, culture, attitude and taste ... Turkey historically did not look to Europe but was an arena for expansion and conquests ...

Admitting Turkey to the European Union is like an attempt to transplant a human organ into the body of another person with a different blood group, and they never have any biological compatibility. Their only link is that they live in opposite blocks across the street.

The Catholic Church has also supported a more traditional view of European identity. Cardinal Ratzinger, the most senior theologian of the Catholic Church, told a French newspaper that,

In the course of history, Turkey has always represented a different continent, in permanent contrast to Europe. Making the two continents identical would be a mistake. It would mean a loss of richness, the disappearance of the cultural to the benefit of economics.

The cardinal also noted that the Turkish Ottoman Empire had long fought to conquer parts of Europe (more on this later). He suggested that rather than seeking to be part of Europe Turkey "could try to set up a cultural continent with neighbouring Arab countries and become the leading figure of a culture with its own identity."

So what do liberals think?

Liberals don't define a European identity in the same way as conservatives. For reasons explained elsewhere, liberals have rejected the idea of ethnic identity. Instead, they believe that being "European" means sharing certain political values and practices. For liberals, our identity is based on a shared commitment to the liberal political order.

Liberals therefore have given a "maybe" to the idea of Turkey joining Europe. They will agree as long as Turkey can prove itself to be committed to liberal political values.

That's why when liberals discuss the issue of Turkey joining the EU they often debate whether Turkey is sufficiently secular, or feminist, or whether it will accept the Kurds as part of a multicultural state. It is these things which define, for a liberal, whether Turkey is European or not.

A meddlesome cleric

The liberal view is obviously the one which dominates in the mainstream media. It has, though, a number of questionable repercussions.

The liberal view, for example, makes it difficult to defend the existing culture and heritage of a community. You can see this at work in a New York Times editorial criticising Cardinal Ratzinger for his views on Turkey.

The editorial called the cardinal a "meddlesome cleric" and complained that,

he and his fellow doctrinal conservatives worry most about secularization and loss of Christian identity, both of which are implied if Turkey joins the union.

Most people would think it normal for a Christian leader to oppose a loss of Christian identity. But according to the New York Times editorial the cardinal is at fault for elevating "personal beliefs over universal values".

This, then, is the radical implication of the liberal view: a longstanding and deeply rooted religious tradition is no longer considered a legitimate part of a public, communal life. It is relegated to the status of "personal belief". Liberal political values, on the other hand, are treated not just as a personal belief. They are instead universal values to be applied everywhere and to everyone.

This assertion of the dominance of liberal politics is not the only way that liberals have sought to deal with questions of ethnicity. At times, leading liberals have simply reinterpreted history to make the ethnic differences between Turkey and Europe less apparent.

President Chirac of France, for instance, declared earlier this year that "the roots of Europe are as much Moslem as Christian". If true, it would obviously lessen the ethnic divide between Turkey and Europe, but it's absurdly false.

Then there are the thoughts of Chris Patten, the EU Commissioner for External Affairs. In a speech in May he spoke of the Turkish military incursions into Europe as follows,

At one time, particularly when Western Europe was a more savage place, Turkey and the Turks were the very incarnation of the threatening outsider ... We've moved on from that ...

Patten recognises the troubled history, but makes it seem as if Europe and not Turkey was the savage aggressor.

This is a foretaste of what might happen to the presentation of European history if Turkey actually does join the EU. The historical record is that the Turks seized Belgrade in 1521 and conquered Hungary in 1528. In 1529 they laid siege to Vienna.

Prior to the siege the Turks had slaughtered the inhabitants of Pest, and they also slaughtered a column of 4000 elderly men, women and children leaving Vienna itself, impaling some of their captives on stakes. The Viennese resisted over twenty assaults on their city before the Turks retreated.

The Turks set fire to Moscow in 1571, capturing tens of thousands of slaves, and invaded Austria again in 1594.

As late as 1664 Turkey achieved control over Transylvania and in 1683 Vienna was once again placed under siege and was only relieved when the Polish king left his own nation undefended and attacked the Turks outside the walls of Vienna.

For most Europeans this defence of Europe against the Ottoman Turks is something to be positively identified with as part of a shared history. But if Turkey joins the EU, history will no longer be able to play this role in a common culture.

At best history will be told from a "neutral" perspective, designed not to offend anyone's sensibilities. At worst history will be "Pattenised" and reinterpreted to best integrate the former "outsiders".

Are there limits?

One final consequence of the liberal view ought to be considered. Chris Patten at one point says,

Is Turkey European? If aspiration is any guide, the answer would have to be a resounding yes.

This statement is a reminder that for a liberal it's possible for a country to "aspire" to be European, as being European means having a liberal political order.

At one level, this might sound appealing, as it makes things seem open, rather than fixed. It brings with it, though, a problem: it means that potentially any country can become European. This makes the liberal definition of what is European seem too open, to the point at which it begins to lose stability or useful meaning.

Stephen Kinzer, a former New York Times bureau chief, has already drawn out the implications of this point. He has noted that many countries could reach a satisfactory level "of political and economic democracy" for EU membership. This means that,

Armenia, Georgia, Azerbaijan, and possibly Russia could also become candidates. In the distant future, so might Israel, a Palestinian state, or even Morocco.

Why not Morocco? If you hold to the liberal view potentially any country could apply to join the EU, even if they have no connection of either geography or ethnicity to Europe. Why not one day Uganda or Nigeria or Syria?

When someone like Stephen Kinzer is willing to consider even Morocco as a European country, it's time to reconsider the way that liberals are choosing to define communal identity.

The liberal definition ultimately collapses because it's unable to draw meaningful boundaries. The conservative definition works better because it recognises what is particular about the existence of Europe and the Europeans, not just in relation to politics, but to a much wider sphere of people, culture and history.

(First published at Conservative Central, 24/09/2004)


  1. There are so many facts left out of your argument that it would take too much of my time to offer a proper response. I would rather just mention a few things for you to consider.

    1. Hungary, Estonia, Malta and Finland are not Indo-European. In fact Malta speaks a Semitic language which is nearly Arabic. Yet they are in the EU. That's in regards to your language and culture argument.

    2. In regards to invading forces in which you single out the Ottomans, have you heard of the Visigoths, Vikings, Poles, Normans, etc? Also, did you know the Patriarch of the Greek Orthodox Church asked the Ottomans to fight against the Catholics in fear that they would forcefully convert them? Did you know the Ottomans were asked to wage an attack against Vlad the Impaler? By his own brother.

    3. What about Bosnia, Albania, Kosova and Macedonia? Countries with either a majority Muslim population or a very large Muslim population.

    4. If you say "Conservatives believe that a communal identity is formed by ties of ethnicity, such as a common ancestry, history, religion, language and culture.", which one of these options are you willing to look the other way on? Malta has a different language family, as do the others mentioned. Bulgaria has a different ethnicity, ancestry, history, religion, language and culture, yet they are in the EU. Yet Turkey is singled out because they are Muslim.

    5. I think you should just make it easy on everyone and yourself and simply say that Turkey doesn't belong because they are Muslim. It's quite pathetic to come up with so many contradictory excuses when you can just say what you really mean. After all, if the Byzantine Empire is a European Empire, then why isn't Turkey a European Nation? Answer: religion.

  2. The anon above me is talking to a wall. The 5 points are invalid, chasing straw men.

  3. You're right. I'm a Muslim apologist. I transfer buck passing to other parties who are in illusion as to the failed and Eurabian EU project. For Turkey, only workers with globalist intentions want them accepted for cheap services.

    Eastern Europe to amend the EU is irrelevant. South Balkans is traditionally Eastern Orthodox and must remain so.

    If I could just concede in validation of massive negation of Islam, mandated war, committed genocides for 1400 years of its inception against any nonbeliever, Christian, Jews, maybe the post I scribed prior (in November) would be reassessed for postmodern falsification.

    Again, what Nordics are to do with my post, I'm clueless.

    Unrepresented claimant in my 2nd point ponderously assumes that kafur infidel religions under Ottomans had veto. There are no references for this.

    Vlad the Impaler had no biological brothers. I am remorseful for my falsehood. He had two half-brothers that allied with conquering Ottomans.

    I mention Balkan nations that are Muslim, but in reality, wish to acquire Sharia over Christian European lands quietly and peacefully. They will undergo the reformation treatment. Unfortunately, what I don't realise is that Macedonia is a forged nation from Ottoman Illyria and it is not Greek by Slavic populating.

    Unrepresentative out of context points are not 'fact', ironically the orthodoxy of 'fact' is personal opinion.

    Sorry Mark for wasting your superior premise.

  4. Turkey:

    - 97 % of Territory is in Asia
    - Doesn't speak a European or Indo-European language.
    - culture and traditions are by far related more to middle eastern countries than any other EU counties.
    - Occupies part of Cyprus(an EU Country) and,
    - Doesn't recognize Cyprus as a legitimate nation.
    - Criticizes Europe for being racist against Turkey, while Turkey still doesn't recognize the Armenian genocide. And represses its own Kurdish minority by disallowing them the basic human right of self determination.

    picking and choosing strew man arguments by specifying different characteristics of different European nations that are smiler or related to Turkey is in no way a justification for it joining the union.

    It Is exactly the same as making the case for Turkey joining the African Union. Since many counties in Africa are majority Muslim, Egypt is partily in Asia and it is in the African union anyway, Turkey has a history with north Africa and so on..

    the only reason why there is even a discussion of Turkey joining the EU is because, back in the early stages of the EU many countries in western Europe where afraid of Turkey siding with the Soviets and thus suggested that it MIGHT join the EU. However the Soviets are long gone and Turkey simply doesn't belong in the EU.

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