Last edited: October 31, 2004

EU Challenges Turkey to Lose its Religion

Chicago Sun-Times, October 26, 2004

By John O’Sullivan

I have to admit that when I was told that Turkey would not be admitted into the European Union unless it withdrew a law making adultery a criminal offense, my first response was to burst out laughing. We might all have enviously suspected that adultery was a “European value,” but who ever expected to get official confirmation of it from the European Commission?

There are strong prudential arguments that adultery should not be a crime. It is a sin better left to the correction of shame and social pressure. Enforcing such a law would require an intrusive police force—and that would be a greater social evil than widespread infidelity. Punishing the offense might inflict heavier damage on the family than turning an official blind eye. And so on.

As it happens these are my views. Surely, however, such judgments are matters on which different nations with different moral and religious traditions should agree to disagree. Laws are more likely to be respected and upheld when they reflect the moral sense of the community.

Yet the Turkish government has been required to withdraw a law that probably represents the moral consensus of Muslim Turkey because its people wish to share the economic stability of EU membership. This concession, moreover, is the latest of a series of reforms that Turkey has introduced to show that it is liberal and democratic enough to be worthy of EU membership.

Despite reducing the political influence of the Turkish army, allowing Kurdish-language radio and TV programs, cutting industrial subsidies, and making Istanbul safe for a weekend with thy neighbor’s wife, however, the Turks are far from certain to gain entry into the EU. The main (if unspoken) reason is that Europeans are nervous about adding a large Muslim country and new Muslim immigrants to their already large Muslim minorities at a time when Islamist terrorists are waging a jihad against “the Christian West.”

Turks have two answers to this nervousness. The first is to argue that al-Qaida can be defeated only with the cooperation of moderate Muslims like the Turkish government. Turkey should therefore be welcomed into the EU.This may be good advice. I have written similar things. But Europeans would hear these arguments with greater sympathy if more Muslim religious authorities were to condemn Islamist terrorism in unequivocal terms.

The second argument, echoed by many Muslims outside Turkey, is to treat the terrorism argument as nothing but camouflage for Europe’s real objection to Turkey: namely, that Europeans want to keep the EU as a “Christian club.” At this point the stakes become very high. If Turkey were to be rejected by Brussels, and if Muslims worldwide were to believe Christian hostility to be the reason, then the present limited jihad might then become a full-scale clash of civilizations. So it may be important to stress an apparently obvious point: It is not devout Christians who want to make adultery a pre-condition for entry into the EU.

Insofar as there is fundamental hostility to Islam in the West, it comes not from Christians but from post-Christians. Most European institutions are in the grip of secular fundamentalists who have no qualms about imposing upon society moral principles that clash with Christianity as much as they do with Islam. Their bedrock principle is that religion has no place in political debate which must be decided on exclusively secular grounds.

Hence, at almost the same time as Turkey was asked to withdraw its criminalization of adultery, a committee of the European parliament rejected a distinguished Italian politician, Rocco Buttiglione, as European commissioner for justice. His offense was to have supported the traditional family and described homosexual behavior as a “sin” in his writings. In vain did Buttiglione argue that he accepted homosexuality was not a crime and that as justice commissioner he would faithfully observe laws permitting it. The secular fundamentalists in the EU parliament treated his private moral convictions—convictions shared by most Europeans—as a heresy requiring his exclusion from office.

That in turn implied a de facto religious test for political office: No traditional Christian can now hold an EU office that deals with sexual, moral or religious affairs.

Buttiglione’s humiliation is not an isolated incident. It followed closely on the refusal of the governments drafting the European constitution to include any reference either to God or to the continent’s European traditions in its preamble.

Nor are Americans immune to this secularizing trend. Take the idea that support for an unlimited right of abortion under Roe v. Wade should be a “litmus test” for judicial nominees to the Supreme Court. Since Sen. John Kerry endorses this idea, no evangelical Protestant or orthodox Catholic could apply for a seat on the nation’s highest court if he were elected president.

Indeed, such a litmus test would rule out the great majority of Americans who, according to opinion polls, believe that there should be some limitations on abortion—for instance, parental notification laws and restrictions on very late abortions, especially partial-birth abortions. Needless to say, it would also rule out any Muslim judge as well.

Christians and Muslims in Europe and America will not always agree on moral and legal questions. Christians will be more willing to distinguish between “sin” and “crime,” like Buttiglione, and less confident about legislating virtue. But they can both oppose the secular fundamentalism that makes religion a bar to political office and is well on the way to legislating vice.

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