Noam Chomsky in Turkey: EU racism, Kurds, Gaza Flotilla Attack

Noam Chomsky

Noam Chomsky

By Fatma Demirelli, Todays Zaman – 11 Oct 2010

Resistance to Turkey’s membership in the European Union on grounds that it lags behind fulfilling human rights criteria is not fully unjustified, but, according to Noam Chomsky – the world-renowned US linguist and political scientist – the key reason why Turkey is unlikely to join the EU is European racism.

“Europe can claim with some justification that Turkey has not satisfied all of the human rights conditions. On the other hand, I don’t really think this is the reason. …I think it is plain racism,” Chomsky told Today’s Zaman in an interview on Sunday.

He pointed to a recent statement by German Chancellor Angela Merkel – in which Merkel said that Germany’s culture was based on Christian and Jewish values and that Muslims in the country should accept this – and said that, apart from the fact Merkel mentioned Jewish values because of the Holocaust and not because Jewish values really shaped German culture, it was “a pretty extreme and racist statement from a major political figure in Europe.”

According to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) professor, Germany is only one of the European countries where one can see a “rightwing backlash against Muslim immigrants” and: “It is the background reason why Turkey is unlikely to be accepted into the EU, even if it meets all the human rights standards.”

Turkey’s efforts to join the EU date back half a century, despite membership talks being opened relatively recently, in 2005. The progress has been very slow since then and membership is not expected to take happen for at least a decade. The initial Turkish enthusiasm has also faded since 2005, amid European arguments that Turkey cannot join because of cultural differences.

According to Chomsky, who arrived in İstanbul on Friday to attend an international gathering on the freedom of expression, the European Court of Human Rights is justified in ruling on cases regarding human rights violations and insisting on better Turkish compliance with European human rights standards. But this does not conceal the fact that there are worse violators among EU countries, such as Britain, which participated in the invasion of Iraq.

“Has Turkey done anything like that? On the contrary, it refused to participate in the invasion. That’s a much higher level of observance of human rights and even international law,” he said. For Chomsky, “when Europe was homogeneous enough, racism was not dramatically evident. But as immigration is coming in to Europe, you see it rising.” He added: “I always felt Europe was more racist.”

Turkey’s bridge role hindered

According to Chomsky, the stalemate in the EU membership bid is one of the factors exacerbating tensions between Turkey and the West, simmering since 2003, when Turkey refused to allow US forces to use Turkish territory to open a northern front against Iraq. These tensions, in turn, hamper the reconciliatory role that Ankara wants to play between the Middle East and the West.

“Turkey is trying to play an intermediary role between Europe and the Middle East, which is a good position to maintain, but it’s difficult. And it’s particularly difficult because the US wants to make sure that it remains difficult,” said the renowned intellectual, giving the US reaction to a compromise deal on Iran’s nuclear enrichment brokered by Turkey and Brazil as an example. When Iran said it agreed to ship some of its low-enriched uranium to Turkey in return for uranium enriched to higher levels, the US dismissed the agreement and pushed, successfully, for sanctions at the UN Security Council against Iran.

According to Chomsky, the sanctions did little to force Iran to a compromise but they eventually left the US in charge. “It does not want anyone else to take charge,” he said. “So, the US is angry with Brazil, angry with Turkey, even more angry with China because China is paying no attention to the sanctions. All of these are the signs of diversification of power in the world. The US is still by far the most powerful country, but it does not have the authority that it had not long ago. And Turkey is playing its role in this in a very crucial region, which has the world’s major energy resources. I think Turkey can proceed on a path that is constructive and helpful for reconciliation, remedying some of the many internal problems of the region. It’s not easy, but is possible.”

On another development that strained Turkish-US relations, namely the Israeli raid on an aid flotilla on May 31 which killed eight Turks and one Turkish American, Chomsky was straightforward in condemning Israel.

“This is clearly a serious criminal attack,” he said. “It is hijacking in international waters and there were quite brutal murders.” But, although this case is more extreme than others, he said, Israel’s “hijacking ships in international waters, kidnapping people, killing them sometimes, bringing them to Israel, keeping them hostages in prisons for long periods” have been going on for at least 30 years, and Israel can continue those actions because it is tolerated by the United States.

Visible improvements in Kurdish issue

The MIT professor, who traveled to Turkey in 2002 to support a publisher tried for publishing one of his books, also said he has seen major improvements in Turkey’s human rights practices, particularly concerning the Kurdish issue.

“There has been slow improvement and opening up of some opportunities. Not enough, but it’s something. Unfortunately, after the municipal elections, it has regressed. I hope that won’t continue because there are opportunities to carry reconciliation further,” he said in the interview.

Chomsky, a strong critic of Turkey’s treatment of Kurds in the 1990s, celebrated those who struggle for human rights in Turkey during a speech at Bilgi University on Saturday and said there have been substantial gains since his 2002 visit in regards to Turkey’s human rights situation.

The complete IOA coverage of Noam Chomsky

The complete IOA coverage of the Gaza Flotilla

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