Culture, Religion, EU-Turkey and Cyprus: Dilemma


Cultural differences have become, in the eyes of some, an impediment to Turkish accession to the EU. French sociologist Amaury de Riencourt makes a clear distinction between culture and civilization. From his perspective, “..Culture and Civilisation are two expressions that have been used more or less indiscriminately and interchangeably in the past. The distinction between them is of organic succession. They do not coincide in time but follow each other during the life span of a particular society: each Culture engenders its own Civilisation…”



He says, “Civilization represents the crystallization on a gigantic scale of the preceding culture’s deepest and greatest thoughts and style. Civilization aims at the gradual standardization of increasingly large masses of men within a rigidly mechanical framework.”1 If this logic is correct, the world is increasingly becoming one civilization. Indeed, the author states that “the 20th century is the dramatic watershed separating the culture behind us from the civilization that lies ahead.”

The Turkish people throughout history have met different cultures, have been influenced by them and have accumulated various customs and mores in their journey. Nations, in time, adapt to influences in differing ways.

Today many in Europe consider that Turks come from a different culture and focus on issues such as “honour killings” and violence against women. It is true that there are cultural differences. But I submit that such unfortunate issues are not peculiar to Turks. “Crime de passion” is not alien to the Mediterranean nations; nor is violence against women as witnessed by Spain trying to grapple with this problem. Turkey should indeed eradicate such practices.

Differences in the European Union exist even within nations; and there are of course differences between city dwellers and the rural folk. The differences between the northern and the southern parts of a country are notable. The differences between Nordic culture and the Mediterranean outlook are not minimal.

Nations’ behaviour and attitudes depend on and change in relation to their environment and events. During the 1990’s when Turkey was fighting against terror groups on its soil, European partners were admonishing Turkey for some of the more stringent laws. Yet, after 9/11 and when Europe faced terrorism, some EU members had to take similar stringent measures. When it comes to Turkey, to use the words of an American poet and lecturer, Ralph Emerson, “people only see what they are prepared to see.”

When one looks at the issue from afar, I would venture to say that differences between an average American and an average European are quite wide, perhaps wider than those with Turks. Certainly, there are religious underpinnings in every society. As the European Union’s motto is integrating diversity, then religious difference should not be an insurmountable obstacle. French sociologist, Edgar Morin put it aptly. According to him Europe is “a complex whose attribute is to bring together the greatest diversities without confusion, and to associate opposites in a non-separable manner… there is nothing that was hers from the beginning, and nothing which is exclusively hers today…That which underlies the unity of European culture is not the Judeo-Graeco-Roman synthesis, but the not only complementary but also the competitive and antagonistic interplay between these separate traditions, each of which has its own logic.”2 In this context, it is worth mentioning an article by British historian Eric Hobsbawm in Le Monde on September 25,2008 called l’Europe; mythe, histoire, réalité. One paragraph illustrates the complexities of Europe :…The values which dominated Europe in the 20th century-nationalisms, fascisms, marxist-leninisms are also purely European make as much as liberalism and laisser-faire. In contrast, other civilisations have practiced some of these values said “european” before Europe. The Chinese and Ottoman Empires practiced religious tolerance in favor of Jews expelled by Spain. It is only at the end of the 20th century that the institutions and values in question have spread, at least theoretically, in all of Europe. The “European values” have gained currency in the second half of the 20th century. That the institutions and values in question have spread, at least theoretically, in all of Europe. The “European values “ have gained currency in the 2nd half of the 20th century..” Turkey has long been preached to by our partners that cultural diversity is richness. If this is true in a country; it should also be true continent-wide and Europe should not deprive itself by refusing Turkey on the basis of religious and cultural differences!





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