Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Turkish Disenchantment with Europe and the West

This article from Orhan Pamuk, a Turkish national and 2006 Nobel laureate in literature, merits a partial re-post from a (rare) EurAm link to The New York Review of Books. Pamuk underscores Turkey's bilateral relationships with France and Germany, couching these into telescoping perspectives on the European Union, "Europe generally," to borrow his apt phrase, and the West at large. 

His view is primarily that of a capital-C Culture angle: he sprinkles references to it throughout the piece, shooting as high as the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, as low as Gauloises cigarettes. Pamuk is the intellectual's intellectual, forever able to flaunt his consecration by the Nobel kingmakers. What follows is a surveying of the global landscape from a Turkish vantage point, synthesized from a breadth of subject awareness enviable by any opinion leader.

"That Turkey and other non-Western countries are disenchanted with Europe is something I know from my own travels and conversations... There are also the emotional responses whose significance can best be explained by the example of relations with France. Over the past century, successive generations of the Turkish elite have faithfully taken France as their model, drawing on its understanding of secularism and following its lead on education, literature, and art. So to have France emerge over the past five years as the country most vehemently opposed to the idea of Turkey in Europe has been heartbreaking and disillusioning. It is, however, Europe’s involvement in the war in Iraq that has caused the keenest disappointment in non-western countries, and in Turkey, real anger. The world watched Europe being tricked by Bush into joining this illegitimate and cruel war, while showing immense readiness to be tricked. [italics EurAm]
When looking at the landscape of Europe from Istanbul or beyond, the first thing one sees is that Europe generally (like the European Union) is confused about its internal problems. It is clear that the peoples of Europe have a lot less experience than Americans when it comes to living with those whose religion, skin color, or cultural identity are different from their own, and that many of them do not warm to the prospect: this resistance to outsiders makes Europe’s internal problems all the more intractable. The recent discussions in Germany on integration and multiculturalism—particularly its large Turkish minority—are a case in point.
As the economic crisis deepens and spreads, Europe may be able, by turning in on itself, to postpone its struggle to preserve the culture of the “bourgeois” in Flaubert’s sense of the word, but that will not solve the problem. When I look at Istanbul, which becomes a little more complex and cosmopolitan with every passing year and now attracts immigrants from all over Asia and Africa, I have no trouble concluding that the poor, unemployed, and undefended of Asia and Africa who are looking for new places to live and work cannot be kept out of Europe indefinitely. Higher walls, tougher visa restrictions, and ships patrolling borders in increasing numbers will only postpone the day of reckoning. Worst of all, anti-immigration politics, policies, and prejudices are already destroying the core values that made Europe what it was.
In the Turkish schoolbooks of my childhood there was no discussion of democracy or women’s rights, but on the packets of Gauloises that French intellectuals and artists smoked (or so we thought) were printed the words “liberté, égalité, fraternité” and these were much in circulation. “Fraternité” came to stand for the spirit of solidarity and resistance promoted by movements of the left. But callousness toward the sufferings of immigrants and minorities, and the castigation of Asians, Africans, and Muslims now leading difficult lives in the peripheries of Europe—even holding them solely responsible for their woes—are not “brotherhood.”
One can understand how many Europeans might suffer anxiety and even panic as they seek to preserve Europe’s great cultural traditions, profit from the riches it covets in the non-Western world, and retain the advantages gained over so many centuries of class conflict, colonialism, and internecine war. But if Europe is to protect itself, would it be better for it to turn inward, or should it perhaps remember its fundamental values, which once made it the center of gravity for all the world’s intellectuals?"