Anthony de Jasay

Europe: More Secular and More Islamist

Anthony de Jasay*
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By 2020, with Turkish membership, the EU will have one ardent Moslem for every six lukewarm Christians. Time might teach the secular and the Islamist how to cohabit.

Long-range thinking is a fairly safe pastime. By the time your forecasts turn out to be wrong, nobody remembers what they have been and your reputation remains intact. The present essay will take advantage of this agreeable circumstance.

Our subject is Turkish membership of the European Union, or more precisely how such membership will shape the Union a few decades down the road. As is well known, Turkey has been insisting on admission as a full member for the last half-century; the peoples of Europe have been lukewarm or frankly hostile to this and their politicians, mostly favourable, had to stage a balancing act consisting mainly in keeping the negotiations for Turkish membership moving forward as slowly as was decently possible, while telling their public that membership is too far off to worry about. Realistically, it looked that a treaty with Turkey could be signed some time around 2015 and ratified by the members over the ensuing three to five years. The Greek part of divided Cyprus, surprisingly enough a full member of the Union, kept threatening to veto this process and though they were legally entitled to do so and used their veto right as a bargaining lever to obtain unification of the island on their terms, nobody really believed that they could make their veto stick to the end.

However, causing surprise in Brussels and anger in Ankara, during his presidential election campaign in 2006 M. Sarkozy flatly declared that if he is elected, France will oppose Turkish membership. A French veto could hardly be brushed aside. The negotiating process, touching only a fraction of the tens of thousands of pages of small print, came to a standstill and when M. Sarkozy was duly elected, nobody pretended to know what turn the events will take. However, only a few months later France quietly announced that she is not opposed to membership negotiations being fully resumed. The long-range forecast was reinstated, for it was unthinkable that once Turkey made all the concessions, promises and legislative reforms Brussels demanded, the club could end up blackballing it.

The economic implications of Turkish membership would be modest. Trade between it and the Union is almost completely free anyway, as are capital movements. Turkey is already enjoying the windfall of European technology transfers without bearing the cost of developing it and ironing out its early shortcomings. There would be two additional benefits to Turkey. By rights it ought to become one of the chief recipients of farm aid under the Common Agricultural Policy, or what will be left of it by 2020 or so. It should also get massive allocations of "structural funds" designed to improve the infrastructure of poor regions of the Union. Turkey's income per head, despite nice progress in the present decade, is still only about 40 per cent of the average of the 27 current members. Guesses about the annual aid Turkey might get under these two headings range as high as 30 billion euros, though it could not really complain if it got half that amount.

The economic effects are dwarfed by the political and indeed the long-term historical ones. Turkey now has a population of about 75 million, 60 million Turks and 14 million Kurds, all Moslems. On present trends, soon after 2020 Turkey would become the most populous country of the Union. Under the double majority rule incorporated in the European mini-constitution that might be agreed by end-2007, it would become the most influential, weighing more than Germany, at least in terms of voting power.

Out of Europe's present 450 million people, an estimated 15 million are Moslems. This is but a statistically puny 3 per cent, yet London is coming to be called Londonistan, parts of Marseille and the northeast rim of Paris look and sound as if they were in North Africa, and some Cassandras profess to see Europe becoming Eurabia. Both demographic trends and clandestine immigration favour the relative growth of the Moslem population. However, what makes the Moslem presence look so prominent is not their still modest numbers, but their conspicuous effort to remain apart and the fervour with which they affirm their Islamic faith.

After Turkey becomes a member of the EU, the latter will have a population of about 540 million, of whom maybe 95 million or 18 per cent will be Moslems. Most of the latter will stay put in Asia Minor and never come to join the Arab, Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Turkish diaspora in Western and Southern Europe. Despite their low visibility, their political weight will count nonetheless. A minority of them will no doubt sooner or later flee the poverty of Anatolia and settle in other countries of the Union, intensifying the alarm many there feel about the progressive Islamisation of Europe.

At first sight, it looks strange that it should be religion, widely written off as a spent force in the modern world, that should pose such a threat, or at least the apprehension of a threat, to Europe's identity. The explanation is that as modern-day Europe is gradually shedding the Christian, transcendent and metaphysical tradition of its culture and defiantly professes to be secular, the Moslem world (or at any rate the most vocal, most active and influential elements of it) is becoming more passionately religious. It puts Islam at the centre of its consciousness. Islam fills the life of contemporary Moslems as fully as Christianity once did the life of medieval Europeans. In Iran, a theocratic state has firmly established itself. In Iraq, a civil war is raging along a religious divide. In such secular states as Egypt, Pakistan and Algeria, only dictatorship could so far resist the rising Islamist tide. In nearly every Moslem community, there is a clamour for Sharia law. In Turkey, despite warning growls of the army, an Islamist president has just been elected and the governing party is having a hard time reconciling the secular policies imposed by the army and the business classes, and the exigencies of Brussels with the strongly Islamic leanings of its own electorate.

One explanation that is no worse than many others is that rising religious fervour, coupled with feelings of spiritual superiority and an aggressive, conquering posture are due to Moslem societies being sad failures in a worldly sense. The Arabs ruled much of the Middle East and North Africa from the 7th century onwards, occupying the Iberian peninsula and penetrating deep into France before decline set in. Decline has been almost continuous ever since. Arab mathematics, philosophy and medicine are but proud memories. The one source of Arab riches and prestige is the oil Western petroleum engineers find and pump out from under the sand.

At its peak, the Ottoman empire was as glorious as the Arabs have been before it. It became the overlord of the Arab lands, from the Persian Gulf to Morocco, it owned the Balkans and nearly captured Vienna in 1683 before it sank into impotence and withdrew to Anatolia, keeping only a toehold in Europe around Constantinople. Its greatness in architecture, handicrafts and military science became a thing of a nostalgic past.

It should perhaps not surprise nor shock us that peoples conscious of great achievements in their history, conscious of past power and riches, and acutely conscious that power and riches have perhaps irretrievably passed into Western European and North American hands, should take their failure to keep pace very badly. Hatred of the West and its ways must come naturally to Moslems who see their own societies bogged down while others are barrelling ahead. It heals the wounds of Islamic self-esteem to proclaim, and indeed sincerely to believe, that Western values are contemptible, Western materialism, greed, indecency and immorality disgusting and a provocation to right-thinking men. Islam by contrast is a refuge of spiritual purity and a guardian of the true values.

In the secular world, there is a social hierarchy that, like it or not, puts the successful above the unsuccessful. Thus it comes about that Moslems, too many of them unsuccessful individually and all of them unsuccessful as nations, have a hard time adopting Western standards of success and preserve their self-esteem at the same time. This is why nationalism—a modern movement pursuing modern aspirations with archaic means—is taking such weird forms in Moslem countries. Outright rejection of Western secularism and utter devotion to the service of Islam are psychologically the easier options.

This is emphatically not to say that every Moslem is a potential suicide bomber, nor that there is no remedy to their serious problems of self-esteem. Time, a modicum of personal and national achievement, and time again, hold the homeopathic remedy. The fifteen or more years that Turkey will have to spend in the waiting room of the European Union are long, but in the best interest of Europe perhaps none too long.


*Anthony de Jasay is an Anglo-Hungarian economist living in France. He is the author, a.o., of The State (Oxford, 1985), Social Contract, Free Ride (Oxford 1989) and Against Politics (London,1997). His latest book, Justice and Its Surroundings, was published by Liberty Fund in the summer of 2002.

The State is also available online on this website.

For more articles by Anthony de Jasay, see the Archive.
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