|Ambassador Abdurrahman Bilgiç addressing the conference|
By John Oakes
Turkey in Europe: the dilemma of Islamophobia – Istanbul's Aydin University presented these two themes for a public panel-debate in Cambridge on March 12th. Opening the discussion, its President, Dr Mustafa Aydin said: "Islamophobia dates back to the Crusades. But the world is now a global village. We must all learn to live together."
Lord John Sharkey, Chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Friends of the TRNC Group, expressed the view that anti-Muslim sentiment had increased partly due to "the failure of Islam to create an identity separate from Islamophobia” and that “Islam needs a champion in its mainstream form, and Turkey is ideally suited to that role."
An active politician and committed friend of Turkey, Lord Sharkey also said, "When I first visited Turkey over 40 years ago, she was agrarian, poor and secular. But she is now a developed nation with a huge manufacturing base, and less secular under the AK Party – something which I'm sure has made a difference to its perception in Europe."
He added there was also "deepening concern" over Turkey’s increasingly authoritarian government, over corruption scandals, and “whether Turkey was heading towards, or away from Europe.”
Abdurrahman Bilgiç, the Turkish Ambassador to London, said that Turkey looked to Europe for lessons in democracy, but had never allowed anti-Semitism to develop, even during World War ll. She was also currently providing for hundreds of thousands of refugees, without domestic tension.
"Terrorism is not part of our understanding of Islam.....We need to upgrade our political dialogue, and stress the need for tolerance and mutual understanding. The history of Europe cannot be written without Turkey," said the ambassador.
|Dr Julian Hargreaves, an expert on |
British Muslim communities
Panel member Dr Franck Düvell, from Oxford University's Centre on Migration, Policy and Society, said European views of Turkey were outdated, that she was now "an economic star", and unlikely to swamp Europe with cheap migrant labour.
“The EU blames Turkey for the influx of people from countries like Iraq, Somalia and Afghanistan. But this should be an international responsibility."
Dr Düvell also stated that "The Turkish community in the UK is a small, under-researched minority of about 140,000 with twice the national unemployment average. It seldom hits the media, and is not involved in gangs or gun-fights."
Dr Julian Hargreaves, from the Cambridge Centre of Islamic Studies, said Islamophobia was a form of cultural racism, and that – as opposed to anti-Semitism – it was widely under-reported, despite the existence of groups like Tell Mama: "My findings are that the media create a widespread climate of anti-Muslim discrimination, although not much of that is directed against Turkey."