Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Banning the building of minarets and Turkish membership of the EU

All kinds of issues, all rooted in history, emerge from the controversial Swiss vote to ban further building of minarets in that strange but deeply democratic country.

It is plainly the kind of popular judgment the European Union was created to deny and is an indication of a widespread European view towards Islam, even in its rather liberal Turkish guise (most of Switzerland’s Muslims come from Turkey and the once Ottoman possessions of the former Yugoslavia). The judgment is likely to push Turkish popular opinion against the European Union, as a fascinating recent article in the Wall Street Journal pointed out (though it should also be said that the Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan’s comment that minarets are the ‘our bayonets’ was not helpful).

France has been especially hostile towards the idea of Turkish membership of the EU. Yet, it is not widely known that in the 1530s the Most Christian King of France Francis I allied with the Turk against the Very Catholic King of Spain Charles I. More typical of European attitudes towards Turkey was James IV (r.1488-1513) of Scotland’s appeal to western rulers to unite against the Ottomans, an attempt to heal European divisions caused by the ‘Warrior Pope’ Julius II, who had formed the so-called Holy League in an attempt to quell French ambitions. Perhaps Alex Salmond has been reading his history books and eyes a similar role of European peacebroker for his ‘independent’ Scotland.

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