- "Normally, the army belongs in the barracks. But I will make an exception for Turkey," Wilders wrote. "The Turkish army is the greatest defender of Kemal Ataturk's legacy, the man who compared Islam with a rotting corpse. Without the corrective influence of the army, Turkey would already be a second Iran."
- "Wilders solution is wrong," says Turkish columnist Leyla Tavşanoğlu, "It is precisely because of these fears that we should admit Turkey into the European Union. Or we will lose this country to radical Islam and Europe will have a second Iran at its border. Surely that's not what he wants."
Is Turkey a bum deal? Shouldn't we have a better reason than -- if accession is not forthcoming - Turkey joins with Iran. We are basing an awful lot on the assumption that - by allowing Turkey entry - the EU and possibly the US will gain more control over which countries Turkey chooses to ally with. Yet while the accession talks continue today - Turkey makes overtures towards Iran.
In one of Erdogan's latest statements - he is reported to have said - no Muslim can perpetrate a genocide.
If this was business rather than politics - leaders would not hesitate to call it as it is.
The Turkish government fears a visit by Dutch anti-Islam politician Geert Wilders will have negative consequences for its relations with the Netherlands and Europe. But both secular and religious Turks say they welcome a debate with him.
The spokesperson for the ministry of foreign affairs in Ankara wants to make one thing perfectly clear. "The decision whether or not Geert Wilders will be allowed to enter in January and who he will talk to has yet to be made. It is up to the prime minister to publicly disclose it."
But will explain the "philosophy of Turkish foreign policy" which is: "We feel the ideas of Geert Wilders are racist and unacceptable. That is why no one here is eager to roll out the red carpet for him, and neither are many other European capitals. The media attention for his coming to Turkey will overshadow all other members of the delegation and jeopardise the excellent relations we have with the Netherlands. We have to draw the line somewhere."
The statement by the foreign ministry has already enticed media attention to the visit planned for next year, although less so in Turkey than in the Netherlands. Turkish daily Aksam on Tuesday broke the news of the ministry's worries about the forthcoming visit of Dutch members of parliament including Geert Wilders, but the controversy got little attention in other Turkish media.
Sarkozy and Merkel more feared
Wilders is just one of many European politicians who are opposed to Turkey joining the EU. French president Nicolas Sarkozy and German chancellor Angela Merkel, who really make the decisions, are more feared and discussed here. "We are aware that politicians like Wilders feed on this kind of negative attention. But what else can we do?" said Burak Ozugergin, the right hand of foreign minister Ahmet Davutoğlu.
But the ministry doesn't speak for the entire country, no matter what newspaper headlines may imply. Both secular and religious opinion makers in Turkey who know about Wilders say they actually welcome a conversation with him - all for their own reasons.
Leyla Tavşanoğlu is a columnist for the republican newspaper Cumhurriyet, which has campaigned against political Islam ever since it was founded in 1924. "Geert Wilders is a very interesting man. Do you think he would have half an hour for me when he is here?" she asked eagerly.
"I fear political Islam as much as he does", she said. "Because more and more villages in Anatolia banned alcohol, because my phone is being tapped, because my 80-year-old boss has been arrested, because someone threw a bomb over the fence here 18 months ago. But," she paused, "Wilders solution is wrong. It is precisely because of these fears that we should admit Turkey into the European Union. Or we will lose this country to radical Islam and Europe will have a second Iran at its border. Surely that's not what he wants."
Secular elite and army lost power
Tavşanoğlu's point of view represents that of most secular Turks who live in the affluent neighbourhoods of Istanbul. She is the voice of an elite that, over the past seven years, has been gradually losing power to the emerging religious middle class, headed by the ruling AK party of prime minister Tayyip Erdogan.
Ironically, it was the very reforms required for EU membership that led the secular Turkish elite, and especially its guardian, the powerful Turkish army, to rapidly relinquish influence. Army generals are now being prosecuted for conspiracies and alleged coups, as are many secular and republican opinion leaders. These persecutions are among the ten reasons Wilders has listed on his website for blocking Turkey's entry to the EU. "Normally, the army belongs in the barracks. But I will make an exception for Turkey," Wilders wrote. "The Turkish army is the greatest defender of Kemal Ataturk's legacy, the man who compared Islam with a rotting corpse. Without the corrective influence of the army, Turkey would already be a second Iran."
This position is incomprehensible and indefensible coming from a liberal like Wilders, said Mustafa Akyol. He is a columnist and deputy editor of the Turkish Daily News and a practising Muslim. "Wilders forgets that Ataturk in his time [the 1920 and 30s] turned Turkey's face to the West, but that the West wasn't a very pleasant place at the time. Many of the European fascist and nationalist ideologies of the time, like that of authoritarian one-party state, were thus imported to Turkey and the secular Turks have held onto them until now.''
'The West's biggest fans'
When Akyol saw Wilders' film Fitna in 2008, he invited the Dutch politician for a Turkish coffee to explain why he should not fear Turkish Islam. Given the chance, he would tell Wilders the ruling AK party, with its roots in political Islam, has done more for democracy in Turkey than any of its predecessors. The government has continued its overtures to the Kurds and neighbouring Christian Armenia, despite opinion polls showing many Turks oppose them.
"The Islamic movement in Turkey has changed radically since the 1990s. The anger against the West originated from the anger against authoritarian secularism. This disappeared as soon as people realised European democracy would actually give them more rights as Muslims. Muslims are the West's biggest fans here. Wilders has nothing to fear. I would like to explain that to him."
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