Turks must learn sympathy comes with empathy

Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu has a vision of Turkey as a "leader country." By this he means a country that commands respect in the international community, and whose advice and assistance is sought over difficult issues. There are few Turks who would not share this vision. But whether they all understand the prerequisites for this is another question.

The leading prerequisite is of course to have a society that is at peace with the world. A survey conducted under Professor Yılmaz Esmer from Bahçeşehir University in Istanbul, and supported by the British Foreign Office, however, paints a woeful picture in this respect. One that belies many assumptions Turks like to have about themselves.

Without going into details, the results of the survey show the Turks as a nation that despises foreigners and which has no tolerance whatsoever for people of other faiths, lifestyles or appearances.

For example, of the nearly 2,000 people surveyed across 34 provinces most said they would not like an American, an Israeli or a Christian for a neighbor. Neither should it be assumed that Turks are only intolerant towards Westerners or Western orientated societies. Other surveys in the past have indicated that Iranians and Arabs are also among the least liked people in this country.

Intolerance is of course something you find in all societies. Western societies are certainly not exempt from this social disease. We see this from the currently ongoing elections for the European Parliament, where Turks have become the targets of right-wing xenophobes across Europe.

In the case of Europe, however, this seems to be more of a fringe rather than a mainstream phenomenon. This is natural for a continent that has been to hell and back in this respect in its recent history.

But research is increasingly showing the case in Turkey to be almost pathological, with a prevalent suspicion of all things foreign and the seeming inbred prejudice that the West is basically out to destroy this country.

As an aside here, it must be questioned under these circumstances whether Turks actually like themselves, let alone anyone else. We are nor referring to selfishness or egoism here either. The reference is to something more philosophical.

The fact is that for human beings to like others, they first have to learn to like themselves. Put another way, those who expect sympathy have to first learn the meaning of empathy. Reading Turkish daily papers, however, is usually enough to show where Turks stand with respect to this.

What we have is a society at war with itself. Put another way, Turks as a nation want to be loved, but without having to love in return. They then go on to question why Turkey is not loved.

To return to the survey in question, 76 percent of those questioned said that the European Union aims to divide and dismantle Turkey. We see irresponsible politicians, academics and columnist who feed this misperception every day.

No one appears bothered to sit back and consider who or what this "treacherous EU," that has been anthropomorphized in this way, actually is. The fact that the EU represents a collection of states that have come together with their free will, to legally and economically unite for the sake of increasing the well being of their people, and contribute to peace is never considered.

Listening to these people you would assume that 27 independent countries have come together merely for the sake of destroying Turkey. There is however ample evidence to show that Turks are not just paranoid but also schizophrenic.

When asked whether they support EU membership 55 percent also say they are in favor of this. On the other hand, if it is suggested that Turkey is not European, as the Sarkozy and Merkel’s of this world are doing, most people in this country react adversely.

Put another way, we are dealing with a nation that does not appear to know what is wants.

With all respect to Foreign Minister Davutoğlu and those who think like him, this is not the material from which a "leading country" can be produced.

For that to happen there is the need for a serious reform process, starting from the education system and a tangible social transformation. Otherwise we are dealing with a country that basically condemns itself, despite its vast potential and in spite of its political pretensions, to being a second rate power.
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