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Britain Is Great, Indeed

[Originally published in Hurriyet Daily News] I have been a fan of many names that are British — from John Locke to Adam Smith, from Dire Straits to Pink Floyd. And now, if he stays the course, it seems that I might also add David Cameron to the list. The new British Prime Minister spent just less than an hour last Tuesday to win me over. His speech in Ankara, where he paid an official visit, was just brilliant. Some critics argued that he “pampered” us Turks, and “said what his hosts want to hear.” But so be it. He could have been rude and arrogant, as politicians from some other countries of the EU have been.Besides being polite, he was also smart. Just take this quote he made from a French leader who opposed the EU membership of a candidate: “Here is a country that is not European, its history, its geography, its economy, its agriculture and the character of its people… all point in a different direction. This is a country that cannot, despite what it claims and perhaps even what it believes, be a full member.” Willful misunderstanders You could have guessed that this was Monsieur Sarkozy speaking about Turkey. But it was General de Gaulle speaking about the United Kingdom, before vetoing the latter’s accession to the EU. The Brits, apparently, faced the fundamental problem with the mainstream French political mind — cultural racism — decades before us, the Turks. Another fundamental problem with another political mind, which keeps ranting about “Turkey’s drift to the East” these days, was also well captured by Mr. Cameron. “They think that Turkey has to choose between East and West,” he said, “and that choosing both is just not an option.” These people, he explained, see the world “through the prism of a clash of civilizations” and even “willfully misunderstand Islam.” On the latter point, I am not going to deny that some of the current manifestations of Islam are indeed troubling. (See: Al Qaeda, the Taliban, the “religious police” of the Saudis, etc.) The “willful misunderstanding” here is to extrapolate from these bad examples to decide not just what Islam is but also what it can be. A similar mistake would be to go back to the medieval times, and to look at the crusaders and the Inquisition to reach a verdict about Christianity. In other words, Islam is much more diverse than what its most radical forms manifest. Moreover, even mainstream Islam is open to evolving into more liberal forms — as it is silently happening right now in Turkey. The outcome is not exactly what some Westerners expect from “moderate Islam” — a stance they mainly test by having zero problems with Israel and her 43-year-long occupation of Palestinian lands. Nor is it a love affair with a “secularism” that is about banning religion in public life. It is rather something a little more pious, self-confident and unmistakably Muslim. And that is where its strength and appeal actually comes from. On the issue of Israel, too, Cameron spoke well. He noted, “The Israeli attack on the Gaza flotilla was completely unacceptable.” (The Americans who disagree might find the recent piece by Roger Cohen in the New York Times, “The Forgotten American,” interesting.) He also said, “Gaza cannot and must not be allowed to remain a prison camp.” The term “prison camp” raised some objections for its probable evocation of the Nazis. I agree that using a language that equates Israel with the Third Reich is wrong. The latter’s evil is unmatched — by either Israel or, for that matter, Iran. But probably some people are driven to this sort of language because they are understandably enraged by the maddeningly pro-Israel stance of the “international community,” which is, of course, led by the United States. Best of both worlds America, the other Anglo-Saxon county that I have always admired along with Britain, is indeed senseless when it comes to the Middle East. Instead of taming Israel’s expansionist ambitions, and forcing her to respect UN Security Council decisions, successive American administrations have rather given her full support. It is funny they then wonder why they are so unpopular in the Middle East, and keep discussing, “Why do they hate us?” To avoid the spotlight, the Israeli establishment insists that the only problem is the quintessential evil in the hearts of their enemies. So, they speak of nothing but “terrorists,” disregarding their own role in the latter’s making, as if it were a wild species that loves violence for its own sake. Meanwhile, they never recall the fact that some of their own leaders, including the ideological forefathers of Benjamin Netanyahu, were also “terrorists” who attacked British targets in Palestine in the late ’40s. Perhaps that’s one reason why the British have often been more balanced than the Americans on the Arab-Israeli issue. On matters of liberty, including religious liberty, they are already a beacon of light, especially when compared to the illiberal French. So, in the famous divide between the Anglo-Saxons and the continental Europeans, I call them the best of both worlds. Thanks for reminding us of that again, Mr. Cameron. And please just keep up the good line.
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