Esteemed Panel Members,
Host Committee and Distinguished Guests,
In addressing you and opening the discussion on a subject of such intimate and far-reaching concern to us, we think back to the two recent tragic terrorist attacks in Turkey and the words of the Prime Minister of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who said, shortly afterwards:
“ I cannot bear it when terrorism and Islam are spoken of in the same breath… the Religions of the Book want to protect life, not destroy it. In Islam, those who take human life are acting as if they are blowing up the House of God”.
These words resonate an attitude that goes to the heart of Turkish Islam, the nature of the secular state and the well-known European Values. They reflect the profound changes that have taken place recently in Europe and Turkey regarding Islam.
Today, The European Union has some 15 million Muslims; three million of whom are Turkish. While its history and culture is interwoven with Europe, contemporary Turkey faces one of the most profound challenges - its accession to the European Union. Turkey is, after all, the only Muslim society that came in close contact with and embraced the ideals of the Enlightenment and the French Revolution. In the Ottoman Empire the state took precedence over religion and Turkish Islam remained open to the influence of mystical traditions. While embracing the notion of the modern national State, it resisted incessantly and in so many ways the ideology of Political Islam. As a result, Turkey is unique because there is a harmony between traditional Turkish Muslim values and secularism. As a matter of fact, Turkey is “Islamic and secular” rather than “Islamic but secular”.
The Turkish model shows that the interaction of Islam and the modern world need not be on a collision course. The results of Atatürk’s goal for Turkey to join what he called “Universal Civilization” have been impressive, with greater opportunity and better conditions than in many countries where government and Islam remained conjoined.
But the roots of secular Turkish Islam go even deeper into the social fabric of the country. Turks themselves are committed to the secular path and a democratic future. Even if there was a period of divergence when the state promoted Islam vis-à-vis the challenges of the Cold War, today the desire is to fulfil the Copenhagen criteria and join the European family of nations. Thus, Turkey is getting itself ready to join the European Union.
European identity cannot be seen in terms of geography or even within the narrow bounds of a specific history and culture. It has a wider context and has to do with espousing the same set of fundamental values and principles - human rights, religious freedom, tolerance and the rule of law - which are mutually shared by the nations of Europe. Turkey readily subscribes to and closely identifies with these values and has repeatedly proclaimed its commitment to apply them equally to all its citizens regardless of race or creed.
The Turkish model of Islam seeks the legitimization of all religions and the freedom to choose now and forever without coercion from the State, whether with religious or secular leanings. In other words, the Turkish model envisages Islam as occupying in the Islamic societies the same position that religion does in the Western World today; a world far removed from the concepts of Jihad and Crusades.
Turkey shaped its modern identity out of a struggle with the new political order at the advent of nationalism and it is being tested again today with the emergence of the Post-Cold War era at the advent of a new geopolitical reality, unlike any we have known in the past.
In this period of transition, a new European model of relations between State and Religion may arise in the near future. The current events in France go a long way to reaffirm that current State-Religion models are borne of particular historical and cultural circumstances.
The incorporation of Turkey and the Turkish model into the European Union may well provide a concrete example and a powerful symbol of mutually beneficial cooperation between the Western and Islamic worlds and put an end to the talk of a clash of civilizations. This, in turn, would be a true strengthening of Europe and the European Ideals that converge with the values of “the Religions of the Book” spoken of by the Prime Minister of Turkey.
Today, we have before us an even greater challenge - to truly break down the wall between East and West, between Muslims, Christians and Jews, between all religions, all civilizations and all cultures, to bridge the great divide and recognise our common humanity and common values. This is God’s model for the world.
We must continue the European journey together, East and West, North and South to that appointed time and place in God’s Kingdom.
May the peace of God be upon each and every one of you, upon all participants and upon all who strive and struggle in love for unity, peace and justice.
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