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European ideals are now being tested

April 20, 2016 - Asli Erdogan - Discussion

Asli Erdogan

Anything can happen at any moment. Even the most careful analyses may turn out to be wrong. In physics, there is something akin to a state of equilibrium when you can make observations and experiment. By contrast, Europe is currently experiencing a state of chaos. It does not look positive to me at all.

The rise of nationalism, chauvinism and xenophobia in Eastern Europe is alarming. In some ways, it is similar to the situation in Turkey, where the same processes are happening. One response to an identity crisis is to create an identity at the expense of others. In this instance, the scapegoat are refugees. Some statements currently being made by public authorities remind me of Europe in the 1930s; “Muslims cannot adapt, they will never be able to integrate, etc.”

I am from a Muslim country and I do not feel fundamentally different from someone who has grown up in England or the Czech Republic. When you meet Syrians, they are just like you. It is a superficial way of thinking to claim that their culture is totally different. Now, we all know that most Jews are a part of European culture, but back in the 1930s, this was not so clear.

This text is a part of New Eastern Europe’s special coverage titled “A debate on the future of Europe”.

The European Union is based on certain ideals: brotherhood, fraternity, equality and freedom. It is also founded on the conviction that all human beings have rights because they are human. The EU has always been opposed to borders, yet now it is building heavily guarded borders to keep non-Europeans out. Europe is undermining itself and its own values. It is a European ideal to take care of war refugees and help if somebody’s life is under threat. Isn’t that a lesson from the Second World War? If you do not open your borders, millions of people could die. Europe seems to have forgotten about these ideals.

To a foreigner, it looks like nationalism is much more attractive to the average Pole or Hungarian than those ideals on which the EU has been built. Hubris is dangerous. It does not matter if you are a proud Pole or Turk; hubris is the same wherever you are from. Europe’s identity crisis and the rise of extreme right-wing ideas pose the gravest threats to its survival at present. The European ideal of democracy is now being put to the test. Maybe Europe needs to look in the mirror. Perhaps it is the Middle East that will be Europe’s mirror. Maybe it was too quick to conclude that it had created the best political system. It is also possible that this phase of right-wing resurgence will simply pass.

Europe can see how it dealt with its colonial past. If democracy is such a great idea, then why not export it? The more countries adopt democracy, the happier Europe should be. For example, as far as Turkey is concerned, I feel cheated by Europe. The EU was like a teacher for Turkey, stating for years that “you are not democratic enough”, as though it were a mantra. Of course, this was true but now, when Turkey is further away from democracy than it has been for years, the EU is bribing it.

I realised it was not a question of democracy at all. It was more like a “don’t cause us any trouble” attitude. In regards to the refugee situation Turkey is facing, thus far, Europe has demonstrated nothing but hypocrisy. However, Europe seems to be very tolerant of all the awful things currently happening in Kurdistan.

When ISIS conducted their terrorist attack on Paris in November 2015, the entire world heard about it. Oddly, this was not the case when ISIS killed hundreds in Ankara. Refugees are also fleeing the Middle East because of ISIS. Europeans have a right to be afraid of ISIS, but shouldn’t the refugees also have that same right? The crisis they are facing is a major event and it is currently putting all of Europe’s ideals to the test.

Aslı Erdoğan is a Turkish writer, human rights activist and former columnist for the newspaper Radikal.

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