The "Challenge" of Turkey

Samuel Huntington did alert us to the danger. In his now famous thesis on the "Clash of Civilizations" he gave Turkey as an example of a " torn country," one divided internally, according to him, between East and West, a country neither in Europe nor in the Middle East, with a fault line running within rather than at the border.

The recent bombings in Istanbul underscore, once again, the importance of Turkey's overcoming Huntington's fault line to emerge firmly as a prosperous, secular and stable democracy. If Turkey succeeds, it will show that there is nothing inevitable about the 21st century becoming one of a "Clash of Civilizations," during which the Cold War's divisions are replaced by new religious antagonisms that resemble the Middle Ages. The concept of borders itself must be rethought in today's world: borders that run in minds and on the internet are as important as lines that divide geographical space.

Turkey's success in moving forward as a modern democracy will depend, of course, on many factors, most of them internal to Turkey and having to do with domestic leadership and decisions that political and economic actors will make in Turkey. But the terrorists who struck with such deadliness understand the global, not just regional, nature of the struggle for Turkey's soul.

External factors will be critical in determining where Turkey ends up. Indeed, the single most important factor, which will have a decisive impact on developments to come and could set the stage for a remarkable success story, or, on the contrary, lead to failure, is the European Union's forthcoming decision on whether or not to start negotiations towards Turkey's full EU membership in 2005.