|A European Turkey stands to be a guiding light for the Muslim world|
|Is Turkey ready to officially become part of Europe? The world will know the answer in another 10 years. A decade may sound a long time, but the ball is finally rolling on Turkey's European Union membership after 40 years of wavering talks. This is the case because the EU's executive body, the European Commission, on Wednesday gave Turkey the green light to EU accession negotiations that successive governments of the mainly Muslim country of 70 million have coveted so passionately for so long.
This is certainly a major achievement for Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, his foreign minister, Abdullah Gul, and for his Islamically-oriented Justice and Development Party government. Erdogan, in fact, is now a historical figure - he has been bolder than any other Turkish leader in making hard decisions and pushing through the necessary reforms to open the door to the EU.
As a result of these significant events, Turkey will now be undergoing major changes which will eventually, inevitably, affect the region, Syria and Iraq in particular. Besides help from Europe, Turkey will also need help from the region, and the best way the Arab and Islamic worlds can help - and benefit themselves - is to participate in Turkey's economic, social and political transformation.
How Turkey develops as an incubator of Islam in the modern Western world will be one of the most fascinating aspects of the 10-year transition period to full EU membership - presuming the accession process is carried through to a successful conclusion. How a Muslim society and an Islamic interpretation of life germinate in the environment of the industrial world will be instructive for Muslim countries worldwide. Indeed, the challenges of post-modernism and post-industrial economies in an increasingly globalized world await politicians in Ankara as much as the Turkish population at large.
Being contemporary does not necessarily contradict a nation's history or its proud traditions - and Turkey certainly has a very long history both as an empire and as a nation. Change can enrich faith, and in this new journey to Europe, Turkey stands to be a guiding light in the region, a model that change and Islam are not at loggerheads.
Beirut,10 11 2004
The Daily Star