The Corner

Anniversary of the Unthinkable

Turkey, as we all know, wants to join the European Union. And many Europeans are into the idea. This has caused a number of problems.

The first, and most obvious one, was set forth yesterday by Xavier Bertrand, the secretary-general of Nicolas Sarkozy’s UMP, and reported in Le Figaro: “Geography shows that Turkey is not in Europe: geography isn’t going to change and neither is our position.” He means it. As far as France is concerned, membership in the EU for Turkey will come “not now, not tomorrow, not the day after tomorrow,” as he carefully explained.

The issue has come up because the French Socialists have been falling in line with most of the other European leftist parties and have been edging toward the idea of a Turkish membership, at least sometime down the road. It’s an idea that Obama loves, but Sakozy doesn’t — and it’s become an issue in the campaign leading up to European Parliamentary elections next week. When Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt said there was a “strategic interest” in moving Turkish membership forward, Sarkozy cancelled a trip to Stockholm at the last minute, as l’Express reported, blaming it on a busy calendar.

Despite Bertrand’s claim, there’s another reason other than geography for keeping Turkey safely parked on the corner of Asia. It’s that religion of love business. As they do on a regular basis, Turkish authorities are after somebody for insulting Islam — in this case, a Turkish writer with French citizenship, Nedim Gursel, who wrote a novel called Daughters of Allah. According to ABC News, he could get a year in a Turkish prison for “humiliating religious values” — the Islamic ones, specifically.

Gursel’s book, ABC says, is set in the 6th century and describes the “advent of Islam.” Gursel says it’s all fiction, since if it were non-fiction, it would be even more offensive to Islam: Islamic practices mirror the practices of 6th century Orthodox Christianity, right down to the veiling of women, the prostrations and the all-day cycle of prayers.

Plus, the harassment of Orthodox Christians is an ongoing problem. The Ecumenical Patriarch, the senior hierarch of the Orthodox Church, is restrained by a web of crazy Turkish laws, as this Interfax piece describes. Just the idea of chanting a Christian liturgy in one of Christendom’s oldest, most venerable churches, Hagia Sophia, pretzel-twists the Turks. The EU may not be the most God-loving of political enterprises, but outright prohibition of religious practices isn’t quite on, even in Brussels. (One enterprising group is soliciting signatures for an EU petition to force Ankara to allow Christian worship in the church as a condition for EU membership. Check it out.)

This kind of bizarre Islamic behavior may be invisible to Obama, and many other Americans, but it chills the French.

But at least it’s nothing new. In fact, the oppression of Turkish Christians enters its 556th year today. On May 29, 1453, Constantinople, ignored by the West, fell to the Turks. It was the last day of the Roman empire — which must have seemed an unthinkable event. I think Steven Runciman said it happened at 5pm (I don’t have my copy of his Fall of Constantinople at hand), when the Emperor tore off his Imperial eagle, threw it in the dust, drew his sword, and disappeared into the fight.

If you want to mark a moment of silence for Constantinople, don’t honk your horn. Other “unthinkable” events — the end of Israel, for example, or an Iranian nuke — must seem easy by comparison.

Denis BoylesDennis Boyles is a writer, editor, former university lecturer, and the author/editor of several books of poetry, travel, history, criticism, and practical advice, including Superior, Nebraska (2008), Design Poetics (1975), ...


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