»  National Review Online

October 5th, 2004

  Let 'em in

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Should Turkey be admitted to the European Union? This month has seen some fine arguments both pro (from the London Spectator) and con (from Steve Sailer). Read 'em and ponder.

Personally, I hadn't been giving the matter more than idle thought until I recently heard from my brother in England that his son, my nephew, has bought a summer home in Turkey. My nephew is an ordinary non-elite Englishman. He runs a small home-improvement business while raising two kids in a quiet provincial town. If he is buying property in Turkey, a lot of other English people must be, too. Sure enough, a Google on "property in turkey" brought up over three million hits, most of the high-order ones listing prices in pounds sterling, with some very nice villas in the range £50,000 to £100,000 — prices that will buy you a time-share in a broom closet in London.

It would be nice to think that wild Johnny Turk, scourge of Western Civ. for all those centuries, might be tamed at last by mild-mannered young English blokes stopping him in the street to ask: "'Scuse me, anywhere round 'ere I can get a nice curry an' a pint of lager, an' some petrol for me motor?" Nice, but slightly melancholy. The Turks used to boast a kind of colorful barbarian vigor, after all. Now, instead of trying to batter down Europe's door, they are knocking politely on it. Presumably they will soon, like the Europeans and the rest of the bourgeois world, be absorbed in diet fads, celebrity gossip, and dull debates about gay marriage and the capital gains tax. Was the Battle of Manzikert fought in vain?

I'm going to confess to being a Turkophile, though on vague and shallow grounds that don't look like much in the way of reasoned justification when I set them down on screen. Most people of English background are similarly inclined, I think. Gallipoli has something to do with it: the English always admire people who defeat them by fighting bravely in fair battle. A bigger factor is probably the Cyprus "emergency" of the 1950s. Thousands of young Englishmen — the country had conscription at the time — served in the war against the terrorists of EOKA, Greek Cypriots seeking union with Greece. To uniformed soldiers there is something deeply disgusting and contemptible about terrorism, and I am afraid those thousands — young men just half a generation older than myself, including neighbors and cousins — returned home with a strong antipathy to Greeks, and correspondingly warm feelings towards the Turkish Cypriots who were EOKA's primary targets. The 1974 Turkish invasion of Cyprus was generally approved in England, as I recall. No doubt this is unfair to Greeks; but this is how we form our impressions.

There is also a quite distinctive Turkish outlook on life that I find rather appealing. Back in May of '03 I posted on The Corner the only words I know how to say in Turkish, the proverb: "Nerde çokluk, orda bokluk." This flushed out our Turkish NRO readers, and led to this follow-up post by me:

I am amazed at the number of Turkish readers we have. The proverb I posted — "Nerde çokluk, orda bokluk" — does indeed translate pretty much as I posted it: "Where there are people, there is doo-doo." It is used to express the perception, which seems to be strong among Turks, that all human affairs — especially those involving large numbers of people — contain an irreducible and unavoidable component of disorder, mess, chaos, bungling, stupidity, screw-up, SNAFU, FUBAR, monkeys trying to get intimate with footballs, etc. etc. etc. The nearest American equivalent would be — cleaning up the language a little — "stuff happens."

There is, of course, the matter of Islam. I am aware that I part company with a lot of readers here — spare me the e-mails — but I'm not inclined to blame Islam for much of what ails the world at present. Turkish Islam seems anyway to be of the milder sort, and willing to accommodate modernity to a degree not seen in Saudi Arabia or Iran. (It probably helps that Turkey has not much in the way of natural resources, so her people have to work for their living.) Jason Goodwin, in his fine brief history of the Ottoman Empire, describes medieval Turkish Islam as a "stripped-down racing version" of the faith. A Turkish colleague I once worked with, a Jew from Istanbul, once told me he had never experienced any but the mildest kind of antisemitism in Turkey — though he added that he had spent his life in urban surroundings, and that the state of affairs out in the countryside was "quite different."

My colleague's remark points to the real objection Europeans have to letting Turkey into their club: She is, as most European nations were until recently, a nation with a huge peasant population, uneducated and pious. I suspect that the fact of their piety being directed at a non-European religion is actually secondary. What bothers Europeans is an influx of Great Unwashed (the EU rules dictate open borders between member states), pouring into Europe to work for rock-bottom wages, or to leech off the extravagant European welfare state. They regard Turks, in fact, in rather that same way that US Immigration-restrictionists regard Central Americans.

As an immigration restrictionist myself, the question of Turkey's admittance to the EU should therefore be a no-brainer for me: I ought to sympathize with the Europeans, and be against it. Unfortunately things aren't so simple. The main reason they are not so simple is that the EU is not the US — is, in fact, a very different thing altogether. How you feel about Turkey's admittance to the EU, in fact, depends largely on how you feel about the EU itself.

First, note that the proposal under discussion is that Turkey be brought into the EU, under EU conditions, regulations, and laws. So far as I know, nobody has yet suggested actually incorporating Mexico, Guatemala, etc. into the USA under the US Constitution. Now, there are a great many things to be said against the EU: see Andrew Stuttaford's posts on The Corner for a pretty comprehensive coverage. The EU does indeed have alarming tendencies in the direction of bureaucratic despotism — the famous "democratic deficit" that Anglo-Saxon-Celts, but not many other EU members, fret about. There are solutions for that, though. It is not inconceivable — I agree that this is not the current direction of the EU, I only say that it is not inconceivable — that the EU might evolve in the direction of a free-trade zone whose administrators practice a much more respectful and non-interfering attitude to national particularity and national sovereignty. Indeed, the admission of a big nation with a strong sense of nationhood — like Turkey! — might help turn the EU in that direction. (And if it doesn't, the Anglo-Saxon-Celts have a last-ditch solution in their own hands: they could just leave the EU.)

More to the point, though — and the reason I myself favor Turkish admission to the EU — is the power of EU membership, and even of just the desire to achieve EU membership, to bourgeoisify a nation. There are many bad things you can say about the EU, but there is also this one great good thing: it bourgeoisifies. That is, it turns ramshackle, introverted, corrupt, badly-run countries into lean, orderly, boring, modern ones.

I have watched it do just this to a nation I know well: Ireland. When I first visited Ireland in the late 1960s she was in a pretty, well, Turkish condition: some nice modern cities marred by ugly slums, backed by a hinterland of pious, ignorant, poverty-stricken peasants. I have seen children playing barefoot in the streets of Dublin; I have worked on construction crews with men from Ireland's West, men who married at age 18, had six or eight children apiece, and who, though functionally illiterate, could name all the Stations of the Cross.

That is not the Ireland of today. All has been transformed, transformed utterly, for better or worse. Now to be sure, Ireland is a small nation, while Turkey is a large one. Turkey is not that large in relation to the EU, though. Current EU population is around 456 million; Turkey has 68 million, a ratio of 6.7 to 1. The population ratio of the USA to Central America, by contrast, is 2.0 to 1 — and that's excluding the Caribbean, which brings it down to 1.7 or so (depending on whether you include Cuba).

So if I had to bet on one of the following possibilities:

my money would be on the former. This takes in a lot of assumptions, of course, so I wouldn't be betting any very large sum of money. Among those assumptions: That my sketchy understanding of Turkish society and culture is sound; that the EU will continue to be a bourgeoisifying force; that modernization will act on Turkish peasant Islam as it has acted on Irish (and Spanish, Portuguese, Italian …) peasant Catholicism; that the Islamofascist infection will not spread to Turkey. All those assumptions are reasonable, though. While any one of them might turn out wrong, none demands any great leap of faith.

The world we are heading into, the world of the mid-21st century, will have two kinds of nations in it. There will be nations practicing constitutional politics and rational economics, and there will be basket-case nations whose people dwell in misery and chaos. The rising generation of human beings will live either in Bourgeoisia, or in Trashcanistan. We can see, just reading the daily news, nations trending one way or the other. Romania, for example, which looked like a sure future Trashcanistan just after the Ceausescu dictatorship fell, is now trending strongly towards Bourgeoisia. Contrariwise, Zimbabwe, which a generation ago had a fair chance of modernizing, is slipping fast into Trashcanistan status. (Current joke going around in Zimbabwe: "Q — What did we have before candles? A — Electricity.")

All the really interesting national dramas of the present day concern those countries — Russia, China, Iraq, Indonesia — that could still conceivably go either way, that might equally well end up, around the year 2050, as either Bourgeoisia or Trashcanistan. Turkey, I think, is in that category; and for Turkey, EU membership, or even the fair prospect of it, could tip the balance. I say let 'em in.