What’s good for Turkey is good for France

National Post (Canada)
November 3, 2006 Friday
National Edition

What’s good for Turkey is good for France

by Sumaira Shaikh, National Post

Yesterday, it was announced that an emergency meeting between Turkey
and the European Union had been canceled, dealing a fresh blow to
Turkey’s bid to join the EU. The problem in this case involved a
disagreement over Turkey’s relationship with Cyprus. But the setback
highlights the more general hostility toward Turkey exhibited by many
European nations. That hostility is rooted in the fact that Turkey’s
70 million people are mostly Muslim, while the EU is mostly
Christian.

The roots of this stubborn hostility were on display in October, when
the lower house of France’s legislature sought to criminalize denial
of the 1915-1917 Armenian genocide by the Ottoman Turks, a bill that
predictably caused an uproar in Turkey.

Turkey holds that the deaths of the Armenians were not the result of
an organized, premeditated slaughter. But French President Jacques
Chirac said Turkey must recognize the Armenian deaths as genocide
before it joins the EU. The campaign seems to be aimed at thwarting
Turkey’s membership in the EU for purely cynical reasons: If Turkey
gains entry, it will become the second most populous EU nation, after
Germany, with more power and leverage than France.

The Turkish parliament responded in kind, with a plan to criminalize
denial of the "Algerian genocide" by the French during 132 years of
colonization in Algeria. There was also heated talk of breaking trade
links with France. Turkey wisely abandoned these ideas: They only
would have exacerbated the dispute.

The French bill has had some benefit, though: It exposed European
double standards.

The reality is that both the Ottoman and French Empires did plenty of
bad things. Even modern-day France, for all the lectures it gives the
United States, is beset by racism and de-facto segregation of its
Arab population, problems that rose to the surface during last year’s
suburban Paris riots. If Europe doesn’t allow Turkey into the EU
because of Ankara’s attitude toward past human-rights abuses, then
everyone else should be expelled from the EU club as well. The
region’s history was a violent one, and all nations have blood on
their hands.

France’s government has its head deeper in the sand than most,
however. Last year, the French passed a law that required high-school
teachers to teach the "positive values" associated with colonialism,
and to emphasize the positive role of the French presence abroad,
especially in North Africa.

This created an uproar in former French colonies, leading Abdelaziz
Bouteflika, President of Algeria, to decline a planned friendship
treaty with France. While the offending legislation was repealed
earlier this year, the damage was done. In Canada, legislation like
this would never have even seen the light of day.

Among French politicians, the sense of history is highly selective.
You cannot have a double standard about what is history and what is
not.

The time has now come for France and its European friends to stop
bullying Turkey. They need to accept it into the EU without
hypocritical pre-conditions. No one is innocent in Europe. Everyone
has a part of history to be ashamed of, whether it is Turkey, Germany
or France.

We need to move on and be more constructive. The world is a bad
enough place, with genocides taking place right under our noses in
Darfur and elsewhere. We do little about them, perhaps because we are
too busy fighting over genocides of the past.

[email protected]

– Sumaira Shaikh is a Toronto-based writer.

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