On the train from Mannhein to Cologne, I had the pleasure of sitting next to a cargo-train driver who was on his way home, and then on to take a crash course in Dutch and Dutch train technology since his German company had just been bought by a French firm. He’d been born in Turkey, but had come to Germany when he was very young, and to me, he was as German as any other German. His German had no foreign accent I could discern and he helped me with my German; he had a state-of-the-art cell phone with which he showed me family movies including a funny prank his older son had played on the younger; and he wholeheartedly agreed with me that German sausage and beer is awesome.
So I was surprised when he also told me he wished Turkey was a more economically viable country so that he could make a good living there, instead of having to live in Europe. It took a while for his sentiment to sink in, but it floored me. Here was this man, who’d lived in Germany for most of his life, had a successful career, and a happy family: but he’d be much happier if only he could have the same thing in Turkey.
Later that same week, on the news came a story about how the Turkish government has banned women from wearing headscarves (hijab) in public university classes. Some of the young women, still determined to be die-hard Muslims, had taken to putting on wigs instead of headscarves, in order to get around the rule but still comply with their religious laws.
I’m fairly intrigued by “Eurabia” books like Mark Steyn’s The End of the World As We Know It, but it struck me that I’d been looking at the wrong place all along. The whole East versus West, Christian Values versus Islamic Fundamentalism, Istanbul not Constantinople, that whole thing’s been going on in Turkey for at least 600 years, if not longer. It used to be the center of the Roman Empire’s more successful (and longer lasting) Eastern End, became the Western end of a Muslim empire, turned into the Ottoman Empire that took on both Europe and the Middle East, and even now is struggling between being European or Islamic. Atatürk and most of the leaders who’ve followed him put in a decisive effort to westernize Turkey, which has included having Turks take off their ethnic headgear, whether that be fezzes or hijabs. And they’ve always faced passionate opposition from those who’d rather have Turkey fall in with the Arabs and Persians.
So I’ll be paying more attention to Turkey from now on. I think it’s more important to Europe than Europeans may even realize.