When Turkey knocked on the door of the European Union, the uproar was deafening. It would be an opening for Islamic infiltration in Europe! And yet, let's not delude ourselves: Islamism has dug its roots in European soil for quite a while already. No country, it was argued, could be part of Europe if it did not practice secular and republican values. This is forgetting that Turkey was the first Muslim country to call itself secular, thanks to AtatÃ¼rk, who, with good cause, used to say: "For the People, In Spite of the People." So Turkey's opponents invoked so-called violations of human rights in Turkey. And yet Turkish Islamism managed to surprise us on two key points: it has abolished the death penalty; and it dares to reform Islam.
In 2004, Turkey, by the hand of its Ambassador to the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, H.E. Numan Hazar, signed Protocol 13 of the Human Rights Convention, which outlaws the death penalty in any circumstance, including wartime. One year before, Turkey had signed Protocol 6 of the European Convention for Human Rights abolishing the death penalty in peacetime. This had followed an August 2002 vote by the Turkish Parliament abolishing the death penalty, save in wartime. That bill had been ratified with the explicit objective of bringing Turkey nearer to EU norm. At any rate, Turkey had since 1984 respected a moratorium on enforcing the death penalty.
Another key step has just been taken in 2008. The Turkish will to reform Islam is unprecedented. The essential decision to reform the Hadith (Islam's second most sacred text after the Koran) is of historical import, especially since it was taken by an avowedly Islamist state, official defender of Islam and Muslims. Turkey now intends to publish a revolutionary document that will include a re-interpretation of Islam angled at respect for human rights. This, to say the least, is astonishing - in a good way. A team of theologians from Ankara University have been officially commissioned by the Turkish government to produce a fundamental revision of the Hadiths. Even though this is a huge step in the right direction, more still remains to be achieved - and more countries and religious leaders should follow Turkey's example. Violence and hatred in God's name still dominate our world, even though the Prophets brought us messages of peace and non-violence. All were betrayed. It follows that scripture of all religions -not just Islam's - should be reviewed and updated in order to fit at last both the real message of the Prophets, and the Declaration of Human Rights.
Translated by Anne-Elisabeth Moutet