Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, December 2005, pages 40-41

European Press Review

Austria “Wants to Keep Muslim Countries Out of EU,” According to German Paper

By Lucy Jones

The day after Austria’s Sept. 29 attempt to block the opening of EU accession talks with Turkey, pedestrians walking along Istanbul’s Taksim Street pass a banner reading, “Europe in Turkey, Turkey in Europe” (AFP Photo/Mustafa Ozer).

FOLLOWING four decades of negotiations, Turkey officially began membership talks with the European Union on Oct. 4, after Austria dropped a demand that Ankara be offered an option short of full membership. Observers said Austria changed its stance in return for the launch of EU accession discussions with Croatia.

“Austrian opposition to Turkish membership is a toxic blend of historical prejudice and contemporary fear, of Ottoman janissaries at the gates of Vienna, of Hapsburg nostalgia, and Muslim gastarbeiter [foreign workers] flooding in from deepest Anatolia,” wrote the UK’s Guardian on Sept. 30. “But Turkey’s secular Muslim democracy has demonstrated that it is ready to join a tolerant, multicultural Europe,” the newspaper added.

“Austria’s opposition to Turkey’s membership is worse than xenophobic,” opined Britain’s The Independent on Oct. 2. “To be sure, history matters, and the Ottomans at the gates of Vienna means more to Austrians than others. But there is an alternative history, in which Turkey is home to the long estranged eastern part of a common civilization,” the newspaper noted.

In Germany, Die Tageszeitung of Sept. 30 suggested Austria’s position was the result of a wish to keep Muslim countries out of the EU while lobbying for the admission of Croatia as an “outpost of the Christian West.”

But France’s Le Monde of Oct 6 wondered whether the price paid for Turkey’s accession to discussions had been too high.

Reminding readers that Brussels originally insisted on Croatia handing over its alleged war criminals to The Hague tribunal before EU membership talks could start, the newspaper argued that “by giving in to what can only be called blackmail, the EU leaders have deprived themselves of a weapon which has been used effectively so far to oblige candidate countries to conform to a number of principles.

“If... the conditions laid down for Croatia are not treated seriously,” the paper warned, “it will not be possible in the future to use the Serbs’ unwillingness to hand over their war criminals—such as the former Bosnian Serb political and military leaders, Radovan Karadzic and General Mladic—in order to keep them waiting on Europe’s doorstep.”

According to Romania’s Romania Libera of Oct. 6, Austria has shown willingness “to throw European principles overboard only to introduce a former imperial subject through the EU’s back door.”

But Austria’s Die Presse of the previous day argued that the decision to open talks with Croatia never should have depended on its cooperation with The Hague. Croatia is clearly better prepared for EU membership “than Romania or Bulgaria, let alone Turkey,” the paper editorialized.

Germany’s Die Welt of Oct. 4 agreed, saying membership for Turkey has “no democratic legitimacy and does not make economic sense.”

Writing in the Oct. 3 London Times, historian Norman Stone questioned whether Turkey in fact needs Europe. “The Europeans arrive with health-and-safety regulations and much else that could just mean the end of much of what makes Turkey tick: those small shops and artisans working until all hours, ignoring silly rules in proper Mediterranean manner and keeping families together in a way that makes for a very healthy social atmosphere.

“Can Turkey stand the unemployment, bureaucracy and taxation that the EU really portends?” Stone wondered.

“Difficult Times for Those Who Backed Iraq War” Admitted

Following the Sept. 19 storming of a Basra police station by British troops to free two undercover UK soldiers, dramatically heightening tensions in the area, even pro-war newspapers and commentators in Britain questioned the need for British troops to remain in Iraq.

“For two years, we have been assured that southern Iraq was a beacon of stability and hope—assurances that turn out to be as misleading as every other claim made about this war,” wrote the UK’s conservative Daily Mail on Sept. 23.

“Even before this week’s rescue of SAS soldiers, it was apparent that official optimism was misplaced,” it continued. “Basra’s police chief has admitted that 75 percent of his men owe allegiance to extremist groups.

“The tragedy is that there is no coherent exit strategy, any more than there was ever a coherent occupation policy,” it concluded.

“These are difficult times for people like me who backed the war,” conceded former British Tory minister Michael Portillo in The Sunday Times of Sept. 25.

“We liked to say that however bad things were, they were worse under Saddam Hussain,” he wrote. “It seemed a safe claim after his reign of terror. But perhaps 100,000 Iraqis have died since liberation. Does the average Iraqi citizen feel more secure now?

“The United States and Britain intend to withdraw when the constitution is in place and the Iraqis can handle their own security,” Portillo noted. “The problem is not that there is no strategy, but rather that it looks unachievable.”

The Daily Telegraph of Sept. 25 agreed, saying that, while there is an exit strategy, “sadly it is too soon to implement it.”

“To withdraw [British troops] prematurely, leaving Iraq to an unknowable fate, would send a terrible signal to other peoples laboring under tyranny, and to the bands of Islamist terrorists who rove the planet seeking to impose their brand of theocratic fascism wherever they go,” the newspaper editorialized.

Indonesia Said to Have “Historic Chance” to Combat Terrorism

Following the second wave of bomb attacks in Bali on Oct. 2, killing 26 people, the London Times the following day urged Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono not to ignore the threat of the militant group Jemaah Islamiyah.

“The international business community in Jakarta, which exists behind metal detectors and concrete blast walls, may be resigned to the threat of violence,” the newspaper wrote. “Mr. Yudhoyono cannot afford to be. His clear popular mandate gives him an historic chance to tackle the causes and perpetrators of Indonesian terrorism without the paralyzing fear of a grassroots backlash that prevented his predecessors from acting decisively.” 

The Independent of Oct. 2, however, argued that the bombs in Bali were linked to the war in Iraq. “It is no coincidence that Australia, whose citizens are likely to be the majority of the victims, is fully committed in Iraq,” the newspaper pointed out. “[The] terrible bombs should be a warning against complacency, and a salutary reminder that, until the mistake of the Iraq war is acknowledged, there can be little hope of reducing the threat from jihadist terrorism.”

Britain Said to Be “Playing With Fire” Over Growing Segregation

“It is British Muslim communities where the process of segregation is accelerating fastest, even if it’s absolutely highest in Jewish communities,” noted Will Hutton in The Guardian of Sept. 25, following a warning by the Commission for Racial Equality that Britain is becoming more segregated and that some areas may turn into “fully-fledged ghettos.” According to Commission head Trevor Phillips, most people in Britain cannot name a single friend of another race. Even in London, Phillips added, where a third of the population is black or Asian, most whites have no non-white friends.

“We have to be clear; it is outrageous that two-thirds of Muslim women are economically inactive and discriminated against, so that poverty reinforces race as a source of disadvantage,” Hutton wrote. “But equally, the wearing of full-length hijabs makes their integration much more difficult, and like Ataturk in Turkey and today’s French government, we should object, and insist our objection holds in public spaces, such as school and hospitals.

“[Britain] is...playing with fire,” Hutton warned, “in not recognizing the scale of the change that needs to be undertaken by whites, non whites but also Muslims to secure the alternative and imperative process of integration.”

In a Sept. 24 editorial, Britain’s Guardian wrote, “Mr. Phillips has sometimes been too sweeping a critic of multiculturalism. Nevertheless, there is some truth in his view the policy has concentrated too much on celebrating diversity and not enough of emphasizing our commonality.”

Britain needs to “bring about a new unity around common values,” the London-published Sunday Times opined Sept. 18. “Schools and workplaces should be integrated, although this is not easy. Arranged marriages should be discouraged. Ethnic minorities have to be convinced that they can succeed in Britain with hard work,” the newspaper argued.

Italy’s Lampadusa Island Said to Resemble Abu Ghraib

Muslim would-be immigrants held on the Italian island of Lampadusa are being forced to watch pornography on guards’ mobile phones and sit in urine, alleged an Oct. 11 report in France’s Le Monde. The Italian journalist who smuggled himself onto the island using an Arabic name likened the situation to that in Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison.

Lawrence of Arabia’s Map to Go on Exhibit, Reports BBC

A map showing Lawrence of Arabia’s vision for the Middle East following the First World War is to go on display at the Imperial War Museum in London, the BBC reported on Oct. 11.

The newly discovered map shows that T.E. Lawrence, the British colonel who encouraged the Arabs to rise up against the Turks, proposed a state in northern Iraq similar to the one now demanded by Kurdish separatists, and a large territory uniting what is now Syria, Jordan and parts of Saudi Arabia.

Lawrence was thwarted by a secret Anglo-French plan to carve up the Middle East to suit imperial ambitions. That plan awarded Syria and Lebanon to France and Palestine, including modern-day Jordan, to Britain. 

Lucy Jones is a free-lance journalist based in London.