The EU's Istanbul Train

The Islamic and non-Islamic worlds now seem locked in a vicious circle of hatred, one that is convincing many moderates on both sides that the cultural and political divide is too large to bridge. This fatalistic vision is tragic and could become a self-fulfilling nightmare. In this context, Europe's dickering over Turkey's possible membership in the European Union takes on a special significance for the world.

Turkey's membership will likely be discussed at December's Copenhagen summit of EU leaders. Since the 1960s, there has been loose talk in Western Europe that Turkey might one day become a member of the European Community, now the EU. But no practical steps towards membership took place as Europe regularly - and rightly - pointed out that Turkey had failed to fulfill many conditions for membership, especially in regard to respect for human rights and the rule of law.

Yet lurking beneath those specific issues is a more general worry: whether Europe would accept Turkey, an Islamic society, into the European fold under any conditions. Anti-Islamic feelings run deep across Europe, reflecting 1,000 years of rivalry, war, and cultural clashes. Many Turks fear that their country's exclusion from the EU has nothing to do with specific policies or institutions, but rather with Europe's permanent hostility to Islamic societies.

With eastward enlargement of the EU now poised to happen, it is no surprise that deeply felt and dangerous notions are rising to the surface. Former French President Valery Giscard d'Estaing, currently the President of the Convention on the Future of Europe, recently declared that "Turkey is not a European country," and that Turkey's admission to the EU would be "the end of Europe." Advocates of Turkey's admission, he continued, are "the adversaries of the European Union."