European Union membership: Turkey starts waking up from its European dream

Istanbul (not Constantinople)

When the French and Dutch rejected the proposed EU constitution in referendums held this week, the real pain was not felt in Brussels, but at the edge of Europe (well, technically past it) in Ankara, where Turkish citizens reacted with mixed feelings. Though the referendums in France and Holland weren’t explicitly aimed at proposed expansion (with Turkey being the most controversial of potential members), many opponents of the proposed constitution played on the fears of EU citizens from admitting Turkey and its 70 million poorer Muslim inhabitants, especially after having boosted the union from 15 to 25 last year. These fears are fueled by an already increased suspicion and resentment of Muslim immigrants (though not from Turkey, which participates in Eurovision, after all). “The next generation of MPs (Members of Parliament) are very anti-Turkey, because they have large populations of Turks living in their own lands,” said Richard Hewitt, a European Parliament member. “Politicians are now bending to concerns at home about this anti-Muslim sentiment.” Turkey, of course, is an anomaly among Muslim nations – staunchly secular, but acknowledging a Muslim identity. However, Turkey still has its fair share of non-religious obstacles to EU membership – the death penalty, recognition of Cyprus, and the state of its economy. Officially, Turkey vows to continue its efforts to join the body, focusing on the reforms agreed upon earlier with Brussels. “If Turkey does its homework properly, that is the best way to avoid the criticism leveled [from Europe] against Turkey and its ability to fulfill the requirements,” said EU representative Hans-Joerg Kretschmer. Meanwhile, the sting of the French and Dutch referendums still resonates with Turkey’s citizens. “We witnessed Europeans rejecting something that we are struggling to achieve,”said Cetin Kargin, a jeweler in Ankara. “The EU is unfolding.” Others used the moment to find their inner Woody Allen. Acknowledging that the results weren’t that bad, retiree Ahmet Yilmaz added, “The EU was never going to accept us anyway.”

Zahed Amanullah is associate editor of altmuslim.com. He is based in London, England.