"Turkey is already part of Europe"
Exclusive interview with Yusuf Kanli, Editor-in-Chief of the Turkish Daily News
WSN: Do you think that Turkey belongs to the European Union club of nations?
YUSUF KANLI: I do not know whether or not Turkey should belong to the EU, or if the EU should take Turkey in, but definitely Turkey belongs to Europe. Turkey is already part of Europe.
WSN: I am well aware of that, but my question was whether Turkey's place from a socio-political perspective is in the EU?
YK: Socially, culturally, economically, militarily and politically to a great extent, Turkey is part of Europe. But, will it become a EU member? That’s something else. The EU is a political formation, and the members of the club will have to decide themselves whether or not they see potential in having Turkey as a member or if there are merely disadvantages.
If they see disadvantages, they will not take Turkey in, but this would not be a big problem.
WSN: Is there an internal tension in the Turkish political arena between the seculars and those who would wish to see Islam or anything else other than secular democracy as dominant in politics?
YK: Yes there is.
WSN: What would the alternative be, if any?
YK: I think there is not any viable alternative to secularism in Turkey, if you take into consideration the composition of the society. Turkish society is neither like in Iran, nor Iraq, or any other country like these two. We have had pluralism all through our history. We never had the domination of one religion over the others, including in the time of the Ottoman Empire. Regardless of what some say, in the Ottoman Empire, although the sultan was a caliph, there was more or less a secular state. Just take the fact that none of the Ottoman sultans performed the pilgrimage - with one exception, the one who conquered Mecca.
WSN: While I do understand your point of view, there is an open discussion on the possibility of seeing a different political approach in Turkey, ever since the Islamists took power in the country. Can we talk about a possible revival of the caliphate? What are your thoughts on this?
YK: I do not think that in Turkey we can talk about the revival of the caliphate. The caliphate is a dead establishment, but of course there is a place in Turkish society for wider religious support and rights, and I think that this is right. I do not like the way the Islamists are living, dressing, the way they are thinking, but in democracies, people are not obliged to conform to my expectations. And in their private lives, they can do whatever they like.
The state is secular, the system is secular and this system guarantees the freedom of religion.
Without secularism, it would be impossible for Turkey to be a democracy. Secularism is the key element for the successful coexistence of democracy and religious people. Otherwise, we would not be able to sustain democracy. That’s why secularism and democracy are interrelated. Maybe less in Europe, because they have lived through the enlightenment age, and they lived through the separation of church and the state - so hundreds of years ago they completed the cycle. However, in Islam, there weren’t any reforms, there was no renaissance, and in essence Islam is a religion regulating every aspect of life. If you let it dominate the state, then how will you have a national will when you already have a will that is superior, and divine? So, this contradicts with the norm itself.
WSN: Where does Turkey stand on the war on terror? What is Turkey's relationship to Iran and Syria, knowing that these two Middle Eastern countries support terrorism (Hezbollah) and Iran might be facing UN sanctions in the immediate future?
YK: Saying that these states are supporting terrorism is in itself a prejudice, in my opinion.
We all know that the neighborhood of Turkey is not an easy one. We all know that countries in this region have the habit of using illegitimate means to promote their national goals - be it supporting the opponent, other countries' governments, terrorist groups, Islamic terrorists, traffickers, etc.
Turkey is one of the few countries in the world that fights intensely against the terrorist threat. For about three decades, we had terrorism and we lost about 37,000 thousand people and I do not distinguish between those killed by the terrorists, or those killed by the security forces operations that hunted the terrorists. At the end of the day, all of those killed were our own people, irrespective of fighting against the state or the state defending itself.
It is a big trauma, and that is why we are so aware of it. We know what terrorism is and the pain it can cause and we want our neighborhood, rather than becoming a terrorism free area, to become an area free of terrorism. For this to happen, we need several things: First of all, we need the countries of the region to conform to international laws and the basic conduct of diplomacy: Noninterference in the internal affairs of a respective country, respect of territory, borders and sovereignty.
WSN: What about the Kurds? What is their status?
YK: The Kurds of Turkey are not a minority, they are part of the majority -- minority in the traditional understanding in this country is that of a group of people who are different from the main majority, and who while enjoying most of the rights others enjoy, are denied certain liberties.
The Kurds must be given additional rights. They must have rights and liberties as any other citizen of the state. However, the problems of Kurds are a bit exaggerated; their issues are not only theirs; others have the same issues. This is not a minority vs. majority problem; this is the democratization problem of Turkey. We have to continue the democratization trend, with or without the EU perspective.
Of course, having problems cannot be the pretext of resorting to terrorism. A gang cannot be the protector of a community. Otherwise, if we start using this, it provides an excuse for terrorism and we will not be able to successfully fight against terrorism.
It is the state's duty to solve these problems, but at the same time, it is the state's responsibility to protect the fundamental rights of people, and the most important one is the right to life. If the state is unable to protect its citizens, then whatever other rights it can provide will have no meaning. If necessary, the state must ruthlessly combat terrorism - no comprise, no mercy.
I want to tell you that the state (any state) has the right to protect itself, but that does not mean that Israel has the right to use excessive force. This is a very delicate area. When combating terrorism, no state should be allowed to force people off their land and out of their homes, to demolish their houses and treat them as terrorists without sufficient evidence. This is another subject, but we have to differentiate between one thing and another. For example, I am one of the strongest supporters of Israel’s right to exist. 50 years ago, we were against this idea but now Israel is a reality of the region. If we are going to have peace, peace must be based on that reality. Another reality is the legitimate rights of the Palestinians, the rights of the refugees, the right to have a state of their own. We have to acknowledge this reality, too.
However, this does not mean that I approve of suicide killers that blow up buses in Tel Aviv or the state terrorism that Israel uses against the Palestinian civilians. Both are wrong and I condemn both of them.
WSN: I think the refugees should be allowed to return to the state of Palestine, not in Israel. You seem to have a different opinion here, so please explain it a bit further.
YK: I strongly believe that the Palestinians must have the right to return to their previous territories and homes, from where they have been evicted by force. Peace is a very painful task. If Israel can compromise in other areas, and that can satisfy the Palestinians, who am I to complain? If they agree on having new settlements as compensation, and they draw a line in history and say the past is past, the future is ours, I will respect that. But, for that to happen they need dialog, but first the two sides must recognize each other.
I hope that people all over the world will see this basic requirement and try to fulfill it. One side is recognized as a state, and the other side as a community asking for its rights.
If you are going to have a two-state settlement or a federation or whatever, these are (mutual recognition and dialog) initially the necessary elements, and let them solve the problem on the basis of equality.
WSN: Recently in Europe, we had the Madrid bombings, the 7/7 London bombings, the cartoon riots and a general ascendant trend of Islamic fundamentalism. Why is Europe a target?
YK: We have to look at the root cause, and I differentiate here, between the Islamic rise, and the Islamic terrorism rise. I believe that the Islamic rise is good, because as other religions, Islam preaches tolerance, peace and love for man and woman. It is a religion based on love for humanity. According to Islam, killing one person is like killing all of humanity; you cannot give or take life. This is the mentality of Islam, but when you use it in staging terrorism and you use Islam as the pretext to achieve some political aims, this is the biggest threat -- and it is an insult to Islam. Therefore, the first to feel insulted and act firmly against terrorism is not the Christian world, or the international community, but the Islamic states.
Islamist terrorism, or whatever you call it, it’s like a cancer in today's society, and we have to cure it. The illiteracy so widespread in the Muslim world is a big thereat, and of course to overcome the problem, you need to consolidate education and democratization. Democratization without proper education ends up in catastrophe, as we have seen elements of it in Egypt. The first stage should be education - not only teaching people how do read their rights, but also teaching people values, morals, gender equality, all those things that constitute the fundamentals of a modern society. If the budget were increased for education, then in 20-25 years we would see a real change.
The more educated the society, the more the society will demand democratic rights.
WSN: But, can Islam and democracy go together well?
YK: They can if the Muslims accept the concept of secularism. This is fundamental; without it you cannot have democracy in any part of the Islamic world.
Secularism is the essence, the key, the magic wand, if you want; without it, you cannot have democracy. What is democracy? People ruling themselves by themselves is the basic definition.
What is the fundamental element here? Sovereignty, the right to decide and to make errors: If you have a basic as the constitution and the book of the believers as the supreme book of the country, and if that book says that the only sovereign is God, and if that book defines everything in that society, how are you going to have civil law? How are you going to have a sovereign people? Or, how are you going to have democracy without people being sovereign? This is the key. That is why we are so sensitive about it in Turkey. I am not a secular, and I am not an Islamist either; I am a social democrat, committed to democracy, to freedom and values, in all aspects of life. To me, accepting a divine will over a popular will is the end of the game. We may have elections and an elected government. In Iran they have elections, and an elected president, and government, but is that democracy? Elections are not democracy; the worst government can come to power through elections. Do not forget this. It is the mentality that makes the difference.
WSN: Can you please go back to my previous question on Europe and expand your perspective a bit?
YK: The situation in Europe and in the world is the by-product of two major failures: The green belt that not only created today's problem of terror, but it also produced the Islamists to contain the Soviet expansion into Afghanistan, Iran, and Turkey that was the policy, and we see the results. It produced terrorists to fight Soviets, and those terrorists are now fighting the West. The second one is connected with the Palestinians on the one hand, and the situation in Iraq on the other. Both are feeding terrorism. It is also important to notice the flawed manner that Europe and the West handle these two issues. However, in this framework, Turkey is a more important target than Europe itself.
We are the sole Muslim country with democratic rule. Indonesia as well, with its own type of democracy and secularism, is a target. There was no difference between the attack in London, or Spain and the one from Istanbul, and the attacks on hotels in Bali. It was the same mentality.
WSN: Can we do something to change it?
YK: Yes, drop the "ifs and buts" in describing terrorism. If you continue with attitudes like "my terrorism is good, yours is bad," then we will never succeed. If the PKK is a terrorist gang, then that's it, end of conversation, and there are ways and means of fighting a terrorist gang.
You have to be determined and clear, and as media we have a duty here. We have to stop violence from appearing on the first page. The more we report about the humane sufferings on the front page, the more we promote terrorism. We have to report the stories, but the humane aspect - the sufferings - should not be exploited as much. Media must report the issues, instead of showing how many people were killed, just show the impact of the attack and leave it at that. It is our public duty to report. It is our right and the right of the public to be informed, but we have to draw a line, we should not allow ourselves to be used by the gangs, we must be aware of that.
WSN: What is terrorism in your view?
YK: Any act, any use of force on the civilian population that is politically motivated.
WSN: But do you include here the so-called resistances? Like Hezbollah?
YK: The right of resistance is something else. I am coming from a resistance. I am a Turkish Cypriot and we fought the Greek Cypriot attacks on our population, but we defended ourselves. The difference is that we did not kill civilians. If a resistance movement starts kidnapping and beheading people, than it is terrorism and not a resistance movement.
Resistance is a legitimate right. If you are under occupation, you have this right to resist. But how do you resist? You resist domination, occupation, you blow up their army's military installations, etc. I mean that is war, but you don’t kill civilians.
I respect the right of the Palestinian people to reject the occupation of their territories, but how can I define a boy who blows himself up in a bus, as a freedom fighter? That is criminal, pure terrorism, no question about it.
Resistance movement is a noble act, against foreign occupation and pressures, with legitimate means.
If a noble resistance movement starts developing terrorist tactics, it is a terrorist organization - it’s the end of it. We have to be clear. This is why there is such a difference of opinion with the West. They are hypocrites. When it comes to their sufferance, they see; when others are suffering, they sympathize. But, they do not act, they start talking with ifs and buts, and that is something we cannot afford when we fight terrorism. We are either for, or against it.
WSN: Finally my last question: What do you think about the US relationship to Turkey?
YK: Credibility is the problem, for both countries, for both sides. Turkey has lost credibility in the US, and the US has lost credibility in Turkey. They say something, do something else; they have severe credibility problems. We have to start developing skills of action, not of rhetoric. This has happened largely because the interests of the US and Turkey are no longer the same. The Cold War is over. In the past, we had common enemies, interests, strategies and policies. Now, we need to develop separate strategies, policies and interests. Of course, we can still cooperate. Now, we are in the process of learning this.
WSN: Thank you, Sir.
Ms. Paraipan's trip to Turkey was sponsored by the European Cultural Foundation. (www.eurocult.org)