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Sarkozy for 300 minutes

Wednesday 2 March 2011, by Cengiz Aktar

French President Nicolas Sarkozy was in the Turkish capital Ankara for an unofficial 300-minute visit Friday.

As the G-8 and G-20 term president, the French leader shared views with Turkey on the state of the world’s economy. In reality, term presidents are not obliged to visit all member countries at the highest level.

In the past, Sarkozy had rolled up his sleeves behind doors to remove six countries, including Turkey, from the G-20 but hit the buffers during the Pittsburgh Summit of the group.

To be honest, the visit was nothing but an excuse to patch-up French-Turkish relations that have suffered primarily because of Sarkozy’s attitude. As fresh proof, let me note that several French newspapers extensively recalled how the president was and still is against Turkey’s EU membership when they were covering the visit. Who is fooling whom in the end?

Indeed, bilateral relations are far from balmy. This is so despite the remarkable efforts of outgoing French Ambassador Bernard Emié, who will head to London for his new appointment within days.

Sarkozy assumed his anti-Turkey approach long before he was elected president in place of President Jacques Chirac, who had a positive attitude toward Turkey’s EU bid. Sarkozy maintained his position during his presidential tenure and officially announced already in 2007 his intention to unilaterally veto five negotiation chapters with the EU because they are directly linked to full membership.

He has used Turkey’s EU bid as an election gimmick every time and has always kept combining hostility toward Turkey with hostility toward Islam. When he said last week that there should be no call to prayer in a secularist country, someone asked whether there could be any church bells. No answer was given.

Sarkozy always refrained from visiting Turkey. Although his mother’s side comes from Ottoman Salonica, the French leader has always hated voicing this. Last April, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan made a statement to French daily Le Figaro in which he said he would invite Sarkozy to visit contemporary Turkey, adding that if that happened, Sarkozy would see how much Turkey had developed in some areas compared to many EU countries.

The prime minister was right but it seems some French statesmen are not ready to abandon the old clichés about Turkey. The last official visit from a French leader was by François Mitterrand toward the end of his tenure – 19 years ago. Two previous official visits by top representatives were by Charles de Gaulle in 1968 and Empress Eugénie in 1869! I think there is no other country that France looks so down upon.

Sarkozy, Arab politics and Turkey : an ethical decline

While anti-Islam is used as election gimmick in France, we have observed French policies toward the Maghreb countries – which are based on the fear of Islam – failing one by one. Developments in Tunisia, France’s backyard, and possible similar events in Morocco show that policies based on sheer political and economic interests as arranged with authoritarian regimes are close to the end. From now on, instead of these authoritarian-yet-passive regimes, new actors will emerge and take the stage in the Middle East. And they should receive their due.

These new kinds of actors first made an entrance in Turkey and are rapidly increasing in the neighborhood. Sarkozy’s France hasn’t been able to perceive the development just by looking at Turkey. On the contrary, it continued to look at Turkey through an Orientalist worldview, failing to grasp that Turkey could become an equal partner. If it had, it wouldn’t have acted as it does today on Turkey’s EU bid. Even the brand-new search for “how Turks could set a model for Arabs” is, in the final analysis, the way to express uneasiness with what is happening there, not a new policy line. Because the bottom line consists of an incurable perception of the “other,” which takes the shape of Arabophobia, Islamophobia, Persophobia, and Turcophobia.

Although there are more “beautiful days” ahead of the anti-Islam discourse in France, as well as elsewhere in Europe, it is not difficult to spot that the obsession and ignorance vis-à-vis Islam is a sign of ethical decline. The hopeless search for the so-called pure French or European identity, which doesn’t mean anything in reality (just like pure Turkish identity), is the best example of such decline. May God help them; what else we can say?

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Source : TdZ, Friday, February 25, 2011

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