Whenever Turkey is in the international news (as it is now because of elections), otherwise calm, reasonable people lose their heads entirely. Because I don’t have much time, here, briefly, are my thoughts on the general "Turkey issues."

  • So, the Justice and Development Party (Turkish initials "AK") won. Don’t pop a blood vessel, people. Most news sites refer to AK as an "Islamist" party, and while that may be nominally correct, the term itself has a connotation, especially in the West, of violent, intolerant radicalism, which has definitely not been a hallmark of AK’s time in power so far. It is not the Near East’s answer to Hamas. It is not the Muslim Brotherhood. In reality, AK is not even the Muslim equivalent of the Poland’s Catholic fundamentalist party, the League of Polish Families, as some more generous commentators have asserted. A more apt characterization might be the Islamic equivalent of the EU’s conservative Christian Democrat parties. According to its history of governance, and many, many statements by its leaders, AK has no intention of imposing Sharia law on secular Turks or anyone else, as the more hysterical pundits have suggested it does.
  • Turkey’s first lady wears a hijab. So what? If that sends you into a fit, you need to grow up and start acting and thinking like an adult. Judge the woman based on what she says and what she does, not the piece of cloth she chooses to wear on her head.
  • You are entitled to hold the personal opinion that Turkey is not European. But ask yourself, what is European? Defining Europe as a solely Christian makes little sense. Many European countries have more atheists than practicing Catholics, Protestants, and Orthodox Christians. Furthermore, defining Europe (and thus Europeans) by Christianity relegates Europe’s millions of indigenous and immigrant Muslims to an undefined and permanent second-class status –quasi-European? Not European? What?
  • Turkey is a transcontinental state. The currents of the world’s major faiths and empires met and bled together in the Mediterranean, Southeastern Europe, and the Caucasus, creating cultures, nations, and (much later) states that fit uneasily into simple categories like "European" "Asian" "Christian" and "Islamic." In the end, however, for practical and political purposes, we must categorize them. And the rules are neither set nor universal. There is wide acceptance of Georgia, which is geographically in "Asia," as a "European" state, Armenia likewise, but the verdict is still out on Turkey and Azerbaijan. And to muddy the waters even more, think about this: an ordinary Cypriot, in many ways, has more in common with an ordinary Lebanese than a ordinary Swede, yet both Cyprus and Sweden are members of the EU and categorized as "European." If it were up to me, I would define Europe as anything now in the Council of Europe. Within that sphere, I would let the question of near or distant future EU membership remain open –not guaranteed, mind you– but open.
  • Making hysterical statements about how Turkey is now an "Islamist-run state" on the verge of becoming Saudi Arabia is alarmist, dishonest, and ridiculous. It distracts from Turkey’s real problems of repression of minorities, too much power held by the military, human rights abuses by the police, rural poverty, and simmering inter-communal conflict.
  • Dredging up atrocities committed by the Ottoman Empire from the 1800s back is unhelpful (note: I am not including the Armenian genocide here.) The Ottoman Empire overran what is now Bulgaria, OK, as a student of history I know that’s fact. But Britain overran and ruled Ireland for far longer, and Germany and France both spent much of their histories attacking their neighbors and bloodying the fields of Western Europe. Anyway, the Ottoman Empire was no worse than any of the other empires of its time. In a few respects, such as its treatment of Europe’s long-persecuted Jews, it was better. Europe as a whole has been the most violent place in human history, with no country capable of claiming innocence. But, again, that shouldn’t be the point at all. Turkey has problems today, especially in the area of human rights, and those should be the focus of reasoned, balanced, and unemotional discussions of Turkey’s politics and EU candidacy.
  • And finally, anyone who says "But Turks aren’t ethnically European!" does not deserve a response, and should be ignored.