Turkey offers West gateway to new future with East, Clinton says

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Turkey offers West gateway to new future with East, Clinton says
FATMA DEMIRELLI
More than a decade after he first presented Turkey as key to shaping the 21st century, former US President Bill Clinton said in ?stanbul this weekend that Ankara’s success in reconciling religion and modernity in a prospering society will help build
 

 

 

 

 

 

Former US President Bill Clinton went on a tour of ?stanbul’s historic Sultanahmet neighborhood on Sunday.

More than a decade after he first presented Turkey as key to shaping the 21st century, former US President Bill Clinton said in ?stanbul this weekend that Ankara’s success in reconciling religion and modernity in a prospering society will help build bridges between the East and the West, creating new alliances and pulling the divided world together like a magnate. “Nothing has shaken my conviction that your success is the world’s success,” Clinton said in a speech on Saturday at ?stanbul Bilgi University, repeating a past argument of his that whatever happens in Turkey and another key country, Ukraine, will have an   enormous impact on the world given their history, geography and potential to unite or divide and to reopen the old wounds of the 20th century. “Your ability to build a modern economy and hold on to your cherished heritage will show whether the world can do it.” In an address to the Turkish Parliament during a visit to Turkey in 1999, Clinton said: “Turkey’s past is key to understanding the 20th century. But, more importantly, I believe Turkey’s future will be critical to shaping the 21st century.”

 

That visit, which came in the aftermath of a devastating earthquake in northwestern Anatolia, made Clinton perhaps the most popular US president ever among the Turks. Speaking at ?stanbul Bilgi University on Saturday, he praised Turkey’s accomplishments since then, saying it has maximized its geostrategic position along with its human and economic potential. The former US president even said Turkey may soon begin to worry the economies of Europe if its economy continues to grow at the current speed.
“You have shown enormous respect for religion without being paralyzed by it, without using it as a political weapon. You offer the West, and Europe in particular, a gateway to a new future with Muslim countries to the east,” Clinton told an audience of university students, education and business representatives and journalists. State Minister Egemen Ba???, the chief negotiator for European Union talks, also addressed the crowd.
Turkey’s growing foreign policy activism in the recent years has brought it an international reputation as a key player in the world politics and a peace broker in the Middle East. But criticism is also abundant that this new-found activism is moving Turkey away from the West towards Islamic extremism. Clinton said he disagreed.
“There are people in the West saying that maybe Turkey is moving away from us, maybe they are going to cozy up to extremists elsewhere. I don’t see that. I think that what Turkey is doing is pursuing an independent course, looking for possibilities of building bridges and keeping bad things from happening. It reminds skeptics in the West that turning your back on Turkey would be counterproductive. If I were in your position, I would have done the same thing,” he said in his speech.
Provided that things also improve in the Middle East, most notably through progress in the Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts, Turkey will be “the gateway to a whole different world of understanding,” said Clinton. “If you continue on this path of modernization and reconciliation you will prove to the world that it is not about religion, it is about making good decisions or bad decisions.”
But he also warned Turkey against letting some developments, such as EU reluctance to let its membership process proceed or a deadly Israeli raid on an aid flotilla that killed eight Turkish and one Turkish American activists on one of the ships in late May, cloud its “vision for ultimate reconciliation.” He said: “Look at your economic model, look at your religious model, look at your social model; you need a world where things are coming together, not being torn apart. It is OK not to put up with what you think is unfair treatment. But in the end people are fascinated by Turkey because they think it is a metaphor of what the world can become. … That’s a magnate that can pull us all together.”
Prior to his speech, Clinton had talks with President Abdullah Gül in ?stanbul, telling Gül that efforts to bring peace to the Middle East need Turkey’s contribution, according to the Anatolia news agency.
Clinton is the honorary chancellor of Laureate International Universities, a global network of more than 50 leading institutions of higher education of which ?stanbul Bilgi University has been a member since 2007.
In his speech, Clinton also called on people in the West to read Quran and try to understand conditions when it was first disseminated. Noting that there is no papacy in Islam or a governing council that sets guiding rules for the Muslim world, the former US president said thus the fact that people who flew planes into the twin towers in the Sept. 11 attacks were Muslims does not mean all Muslims support terrorism. And he recommended that people who want to understand more about Islam look at Turkey, where a government run by pious Muslims is supported by majority of voters when it wants to change the Constitution and where that government repays the trust by allowing religious services for the first time in decades at a Greek Orthodox monastery.

 


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