ISTANBUL: How Many Angels Can Dance On The Head Of A Pin?

by Mouhanad Halwani*

Today’s Zaman
Feb 1 2012

This quintessential question consumed Byzantines in the mid-15th
century — right at the peak of the Turkish blitzkrieg.

While Turkish forces pounded the walls of Constantinople (with the
largest cannons known to mankind back then), monks quibbled crossly
about this complex conundrum, oblivious to the winds of change that
were sweeping across their empire.

Today, in a world existentially threatened by a worldwide economic
collapse, currency devaluation, global warming and rogue states making
away with nuclear weapons, one nation is going all Byzantine. In
a throwback to the good old days, France contemplates codifying
legislation that renders the “Armenian genocide” sacrosanct. Any
denial, debate or critical thinking incongruent with the government’s
narrative can land you one year in jail and a hefty fine of 45,000
euros. So, if you’re like historian Dr. Bernard Lewis, who posits that
“there is no evidence of a decision to massacre [Armenians]. On the
contrary, there is considerable evidence of attempt [sic] to prevent
it.” You’d better not be in France while expressing such views.

Come to think of it, it’s quite ironic. France, a country that prides
itself as the stalwart champion of equality, liberty and fraternity
comes up with a law that claws at two of its founding principles in
one fell swoop. In one bold — yet dubious — coup de maître, Paris
Match becomes Pravda.

Now I will not linger in this article on how unwise it would be for
a country to forsake the principles that made it great. Nor will I
extrapolate the dangers of curbing free speech and exercising double
standards, which amounts to taking steps down a slippery slope that
leads to authoritarianism and fascism. As for the history of the
subject matter, I will leave that to well-grounded historians to
discuss in the halls of academia as opposed to fickle politicians to
assert in the House of Commons.

This brings me to the crux of this article, which is about the nature
of France’s “Armenian genocide” legislation. History, in this case,
is not about finding the truth or granting justice to any of the
victims of World War I. Instead, history is used — nay, abused —
as a tool of foreign policy. Through highly selective and prejudicial
interpretation, history is weaponized, and the gestalt of Turkey
(its culture, its history and even its people) are branded with the
mark of Cain.

Why Turkey? Why now?

Who knows? Maybe the grounds for not admitting Turkey into the EU
have become too thin. After all, while the so-called “PIIGS states”
of the EU (Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece and Spain) have exposed
themselves as stagnant entities mired in ineptitude, mismanagement
and inertness, Turkey has time and again distinguished itself in the
last decade as a dynamic political player and an economic powerhouse.

Running out of solid reasons to turn down Turkey’s candidacy for
the EU club, trumped up charges are hence dug up to cast Turkey in
a negative light.

And therein lies the rub. It is one thing to criticize a country’s
economic performance or social laws. It is another to demonize an
entire people based on the subjective interpretation of a series of
events that happened a century ago.

History should be used to bring people together — to highlight how
much we all share. History should strive to build bridges between
people, not walls. It should discuss rather than denounce. Europe
tried it the other way and got oppressive colonialism, centuries of
incessant wars and two world wars in the last hundred years.

If this is not the universe telling the French to “take a hint”… I
don’t know what is.

*Mouhanad Halwani is a freelance writer based in Beirut.

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