July 06, 2012

A Belated Birthday Present from our Turkish Friends

Yesterday, I caught up with some friends at IFRI* over lunch and scored an invitation to come hear the Turkish foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, speak later in the afternoon on the future of Turkish-French relations.

I don't think I've ever seen a foreign minister as confident as Davutoglu. With Europe in a financial crisis and the Arabic-speaking world in a political crisis, Davutoglu clearly sees his own country as flourishing when compared with its neighbors near and far. "The question for Europe," Davutoglu asked, "is: with or without Turkey?"

Davutoglu clearly feels Turkey has as much or more to offer the European Union than the European Union has to offer Turkey at the moment, which is a provocative thesis to introduce to a room full of western Europeans.

Accordingly, one of the distinguished guests in the room pushed back during the question and answer session. He proposed that Turkey was rather more like the American West -- nationalistic and religious -- than Western Europe, which is known for its culture of tolerance and inclusivity. He asked whether Turkey thus still needed Western Europe as much as Western Europe needed Turkey.

As I squirmed in my seat and bit my lip, Davutoglu proceeded to deliver one of the best smack-downs I have ever heard in a public forum. He began by remarking, "I don't know if there are any Americans in the room, but your question is a little Euro-centric."

He then bluntly stated that the American identity is more inclusive than French identity or German identity. He referenced the fact that the American president is the son of a Kenyan man and that the very name "United States of America" references a geographical location whereas the names of European states often reference a specific people or culture. He concluded by saying that when the Germans elect a man or woman of Turkish descent as its president then Europe could begin lecturing Turkey on matters of inclusivity.

I am not doing justice to how epic a smack-down this was. He must have spoken for five minutes, at least, about the virtues of American identity and inclusivity, and it warmed my heart. Although he teased America about how young a nation we are, he surely knew that the day prior was our birthday, and his words made for a wonderful belated birthday present.

Davutoglu had a lot more to say on Israel and Syria that would interest readers of this blog, but the above vignette was the one I most wanted to share.

*If you do not know the crew at l'institut français des relations internationales, you should. My friends Etienne de Durand, Marc Hecker, and Corentin Brustlein are doing some of the very best work in strategic studies in all of Europe. Ifri.org