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Don’t shut Turkey out

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KAI RYSSDAL: Pope Benedict visited the Blue Mosque in Istanbul Turkey today. Another sign the Vatican is trying to mend Muslim fences. Benedict has already changed his mind about Turkey joining the European Union. He’s in favor of it now. But even a secular papal blessing might not help. European concerns over Turkey’s human rights record and its relationship with Cyprus brought negotiations to a standstill on Monday. Commentator Reza Aslan says the E.U. should reconsider.

REZA ASLAN: Islamophobia is sweeping across Europe. And that’s precisely why it is so important that the European Union to open its arms to Turkey.

Turkey’s rapidly growing GDP has already made it a vital economic partner for the E.U. Warmer ties with Ankara would only strengthen Europe’s lagging economy.

At the same time, an alliance with a moderate Muslim country like Turkey will only help to ease tensions between Europeans and their own rapidly expanding Muslim immigrant communities.

The Turkish government has jumped through several of the hoops set up by the E.U. Turkey has dramatically reformed its economy by making its central bank independent. Inflation and unemployment are falling.

But a series of setbacks and some deliberate foot-dragging among certain E.U. members has complicated membership talks with Turkey.

Members point to Turkey’s refusal to recognize the Armenian genocide and it’s infringement on freedoms of expression.

Certainly these are all important issues worthy of debate and discussion in Europe. But there is a growing sense in Ankara that no amount of political or economic reform will satisfy countries like France, Austria and Germany. Those countries appear to be ideologically opposed to Turkey’s membership in the E.U.

Meanwhile, Islamists throughout the region are using the growing divide between the E.U. and Turkey as proof that Europe is unapologetically anti-Islamic. It is a message that is gaining ground every day, even among moderate Muslims in Turkey.

The window of opportunity to assimilate Turkey into Europe is closing, and with it a wonderful opportunity to make inroads in relations between Islam and the West.

RYSSDAL: Reza Aslan’s book is called “No God but God.”

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