Europe’s Mistakes and the Rise of Turkish Ethno-Nationalism. Interview with Nilüfer Göle
Luca Steinmann 30 October 2018

Nilüfer Göle, is a well-known Turkish sociologist based in Paris. In the last 30 years she has been dealing with the development of the Islamic religion in Europe. Interviewed at the Festival of Mediterranean Culture of Cosenza, she explains that her studies are mainly concentrated on the disputes about the presence of islam in the European public space.

According to many analysts, Erdogan wants to be seen as a leader not only from his citizens, but also from the Turkish people and the sunni Muslims living in Europe. Which could be his strategies in order to bond the European Muslim to Turkey?

Migrations brought inside the European states some endemic Turkish social and political issues. The main one is the juxtaposition in Europe between Erdogan’s supporters and his opponents. It is wrong to believe that there is no opposition to the Turkish president among the Turks living abroad. Since many years we are trying to understand if and how deep the government of Ankara can exercise a leadership on them. It is sure that Turkey has been exercising a strong soft-power on many of its citizens abroad.
This influence should be divided into two different periods: between 1980 and 2010 the Turkish model appeared in form of cultural festivals, tv series, plays and different kind of publications and Erdogan was at that time promoting this kind of soft power; instead, in the last few years the Turkish model became ethno-national, using Islam as a political tool. For this reason, we started to use the word “Sunnification”. The probability of the European Turks to follow this model depends on their level of acceptance inside the societies of the countries they live in. The more they will feel excluded the bigger is their exposition to this ideology.

Which are the biggest mistakes done by the European countries to integrate the new people?

Many European countries did not succeed in integrating the Muslim and Turkish citizens before the Turkish government started to use this transnational strategy in 2010. It was a missed chance. Today we are seeing that the difficulties in finding a synthesis between the Muslim citizens and the European countries is bringing to the growth of opposed extremism: we have the neo-populism on the one side that refuse foreigners because they dream of homogeneous societies; on the other side we see the success of movements like the Millî Görüş, which is very strong especially in Germany and which offers to the Turks a nationalistic perspective which is dangerous and unproductive.
The less are the possibilities of inclusion for Muslims, the biggest are the chances of Millî Görüş to gain popularity. Another mistake was to think that the multicultural society could be established immediately. Its realization needs long time in which the European societies and the citizens with foreign origins should find on original way to live together.

Are there already successful models of this original way of coexistence?

An example is the Central Mosque in Cologne, that was projected by Gottfried and Paul Böhm, two German architects well-known for projecting churches. They created an original building complex that is in harmony with the surrounding landscape, thus showing how possible it is to find new ways of coexistence between Christians, Muslims and atheists.
The inauguration of this mosque was accompanied by many polemics, despite that a great number of citizens of Cologne went down the street to show their support to the coexistence. Another example are the movies of the German-Turk filmmaker Fatih Akin, in which he represents a new form of being Europeans, that is based on the interconnection of different identities which live inside the protagonists.

One of the most debated cases is the own of Mesut Özil, German football player with Turkish origins that had to leave the German Football Team after being pictured with Erdogan.

Özil’s case is symbolic because it is the story of a successful German-Turkish person that wants to be recognized as German without giving up all the legacy with his roots. His story shows how difficult it is in Europe to have different identities and belongings, even if this is something existing in lots of people, for instance among many Jews. If we ask these people to give up their origins to embrace the strong national identity of the country they live in, this brings to a forced assimilation.
On the contrary, we should find new forms of being European citizens without eliminating the heritage of our roots. If this doesn’t happen, many people with foreign backgrounds could feel excluded, as it sometimes already happened with young people of second and third generation.

Migrations are strengthening the links between Europe and Turkey, whose government is accused to use migrants as a political tool to make pressure on the European countries.

Turkey welcomed more than three million of Syrian refugees, making a very strong humanitarian effort. It is unfair to believe that this was done just for a political calculation, because the country is now facing very delicate challenges related to the integration and the assimilation of the newcomers. The arrival of the migrants is a test for the Turkish pluralism. Many of them deeply changed the appearance of entire regions and cities, opening many new micro businesses and deeply penetrating the local economy.
The situation is slowly changing and the more the emergency will be over, the more opportunities will have the Syrians to be successful. Their success could bring to the growth of racist episodes done by Turkish people, that are already taking place today. Some of them are accusing the government to take more care of the migrants that of the locals. Beside that, immigration is bringing new challenges that were not existing in Turkey before, as much as it is happening in Europe. This shows how Turkey and Europe are now facing the same tasks.


Photo: STR / AFP


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