JOOST – Eurocentrism as a poor excuse

Eurocentrism as a poor excuseWhen they met in Ankara, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip ErdoIan decided, not surprisingly, to focus on their common interests (trade, energy) and agreed to disagree on what divides them (Syria, Crimea). Putinand#39s visit triggered two distinct lines of analysis on the growing similarities between the leadership style of both presidents and their relationship with the West.

In the pro-government press in Turkey, Putin and ErdoIan were presented as shining examples of strong leaders not afraid to stand up to the West. In that logic, Putin and ErdoIan are criticized by the jealous and perfidious West because they managed to put their countries back on the map.

Fully opposed to this first approach, many observers in Europe and the US have underlined the worrying resemblances between the two absolute rulers: authoritarian defenders of a new type of illiberal democracy, using religious references, nationalist sensitivities and anti-Western rhetoric to suppress every domestic opposition against their rule and present their countries as the victims of Western manipulations.In Russia pro-Putin intellectuals have been working hard in the last decade to construct the scholarly foundations for Russiaand#39s new confrontation with the West.

In Turkey, unfortunately, we are seeing the same tendency among academics and columnists close to the government.Last week, two respected Turkish thinkers, Etyen Mahcupyan and Osman Can, used their column in daily Sabah to explain and defend ErdoIanand#39s anti-Western diatribes.

Reflecting on the presidentand#39s suggestion that Muslims discovered America before Columbus, Mahcupyan described his remarks as andquotidentity-related self-confidence salvos from the East toward the West. The act of issuing such statements is itself more prominent than the reality of the contents of the statement.

andquot In other words, it is not important whether ErdoIan is right or wrong about Columbus (Mahcupyan seems not to be convinced himself). What counts is that ErdoIan positions himself as a Muslim leader who wants to reverse the Islamic worldand#39s passivity in the face of the West by suggesting that the accepted version of history is a Eurocentric construction that needs to be challenged.

So, according to Mahcupyan, forget the debate about this or that historical truth. What matters is the act of anti-Western subversion that makes ErdoIan so popular with his own electorate.

If Mahcupyan is right, we should expect more fake discussions with only one aim: to strengthen ErdoIanand#39s popularity and Muslim assertiveness.In his column Osman Can already suggested a suitable subject: European legal standards and norms.

After talking to some of his Russian colleagues, the former rapporteur of the Turkish Constitutional Court has come to the conclusion that both Russia and Turkey should not make the same mistake that many post-communist countries in Central and Eastern Europe did by simply imitating European standards dictated by the Council of Europe and the European Union. Instead, Russia and Turkey should go their own way, andquotconstructing mechanisms based on global pluralism and participation in setting standards rather than insisting on a Eurocentric standard.

andquotCanand#39s alternative remains a bit vague, especially because he is not clear on which points the new RussianTurkish standards should deviate from the European ones. Will separation of powers and independence of the judiciary be watered down as being incompatible with strong leadership? Do both countries yearn for a presidential system without checks and balances?Like Mahcupyan, Can tries to come up with the building blocks of a Turkish revolt against Europe and a Eurocentric way of writing history and defining standards and values.

No misunderstanding: Eurocentrism exists. It is the practice, conscious or otherwise, of prioritizing European (and generally, Western)oncerns, culture and values at the expense of other cultures.

It is related to European imperialism and colonialism in the past and feelings of European superiority that are still very much alive today. Eurocentrism and Western arrogance should be criticized based on good arguments, valid examples and convincing alternatives.

But that is not what we are witnessing in Russia and Turkey these days. Fighting Eurocentrism is used as a poor excuse to cover up a major democratic setback and subversion of the rule of law in both countries.

It is sad to see that intellectuals in Turkey are preparing themselves to follow the bad example set by their Russian counterparts by legitimizing a clear power grab as some sort of intellectual freedom fight.

SOURCE: Today’s Zaman