Turkey Pleases France, Almost

December 15, 2004

Notwithstanding any anti-headscarf laws to the contrary, Jacques Chirac is willing to concede that it is in Europe’s and Turkey’s interest to bring Turkey closer–perhaps even integrate it–into the EU. Specifically, he is pleased that Turkey is politically a secular humanistic country (using the terminology of French laïcité):

Répondant à ceux qui craignent de voir un pays musulman de 70 millions d’habitants rejoindre le grand ensemble européen, il a fait valoir que la Turquie était “un pays laïc” depuis 1923 et mis en garde contre “la guerre des religions, des civilisations, des cultures”.

Chirac has one problem: the French people and their government (whom Prof. Grace Davie, Chair of the Sociology of Religion and Director of the Centre of European Studies at Exeter University has described as a “fundamentally intolerant” people) are “hostile” to the idea.

Personnellement favorable à cette adhésion, Jacques Chirac est confronté à une opinion largement hostile jusqu’à l’intérieur du gouvernement. La position du chef de l’Etat crée une “difficulté incontestable”, a d’ailleurs estimé le président de l’UMP Nicolas Sarkozy.

Reminiscent of Chirac’s imperialistic judgment that those Eastern European countries that supported the United States in the run-up to the Iraq war were “poorly brought-up” and missed “a good opportunity to keep quite,” Chirac notes that Turkey is still a long way from espousing European “values,” despite any progress they might have made in the last couple of years.

Toutefois, a-t-il observé, la Turquie qui a fait “un effort considérable” pour se rapprocher de l’UE, est “loin du terme de cet effort” pour se conformer aux règles et aux valeurs européennes.

This is why, ever the politician, Chirac goes on to say that despite his ostensible support of Turkey’s desire to become part of the EU, the time frame for the negotiations needs to be a period of between 10 and 20 years, and any single EU country, according to Chirac, should have the ability to completely stop the process of Turkey’s application:

Jacques Chirac a aussi insisté sur la longueur des négociations d’adhésion (“10 ans, 15 ans, 20 ans”) et sur le droit de chacun des 25 membres de l’UE de “tout arrêter” à tout moment.

This, I think, represents the true position of France towards Turkey: either erase your own identity and espouse French (anti-religious) values or forget membership. From my perspective in keeping up with the news on this and other related issues, France is deeply worried about the idea of circa 70 million Muslims joining the club. With good reason they are apprehensive about militant or fundamental Islam (which the French, like the fundamentalists themselves, blame on the United States) entering their society. But the problem comes in when their concern about the non-fundamentalist yet still pious Muslims surfaces, for example in the anti-headscarf law and resulting litigation that forbids schoolgirls from living their religion by wearing a headscarf to school. This is indeed a severe curtailment of civil liberties in a country where most behavior of any kind is allowed, as long as it is not overtly religious. It is true, apparently, that in France, a woman is free to go about naked but not to cover herself up (if that is her choice).

I think that Chirac disingenuously oversimplifies France’s posture towards Muslims generally (not just fundamentalist Muslims) based precisely on the fact that their religion determines much that happens in their lives.