I posted the full transcript of Obama’s remarks to Turkey’s Parliament earlier but wanted to highlight a few passages that I think were particularly significant.
For one thing, Obama strongly affirmed US support for Turkey’s EU membership:
The United States strongly supports Turkey’s bid to become a member of the European Union.
(Applause.) We speak not as members of the EU, but as close friends of
both Turkey and Europe. Turkey has been a resolute ally and a
responsible partner in transatlantic and European institutions. Turkey
is bound to Europe by more than the bridges over the Bosphorous.
Centuries of shared history, culture, and commerce bring you together.
Europe gains by the diversity of ethnicity, tradition and faith — it
is not diminished by it. And Turkish membership would broaden and
strengthen Europe’s foundation once more.
This is an implicit rebuke to the rising tide of Islamophobia and right-wing political movements that are sweeping across Europe.
Obama then segued from EU membership to reform, most of which were initiated as part of the application. He pointed out how far Turkey has come but was quite explicit that Turkey has far to go:
In the last several years, you’ve abolished state security courts,
you’ve expanded the right to counsel. You’ve reformed the penal code
and strengthened laws that govern the freedom of the press and
assembly. You’ve lifted bans on teaching and broadcasting Kurdish, and
the world noted with respect the important signal sent through a new
state Kurdish television station.
These achievements have
created new laws that must be implemented, and a momentum that should
be sustained. For democracies cannot be static — they must move forward.
Freedom of religion and expression lead to a strong and vibrant civil
society that only strengthens the state, which is why steps like
reopening Halki Seminary will send such an important signal inside
Turkey and beyond. An enduring commitment to the rule of law is the
only way to achieve the security that comes from justice for all
people. Robust minority rights let societies benefit from the full
measure of contributions from all citizens.
I say this as the
President of a country that not very long ago made it hard for somebody
who looks like me to vote, much less be President of the United States.
But it is precisely that capacity to change that enriches our
countries. Every challenge that we face is more easily met if we tend
to our own democratic foundation. This work is never over. That’s why,
in the United States, we recently ordered the prison at Guantanamo Bay
closed. That’s why we prohibited — without exception or equivocation
– the use of torture. All of us have to change. And sometimes change is hard.
It’s a mark of diplomatic etiquette that Obama frames this with the American example (using his own election as evidence that america itself is also continually improving).
Obama then grabbed a contentious issue by the horns – and alluded quite clearly and explicitly to the “events of 1915″; namely, the Armenian genocide:
Human endeavor is by its nature imperfect. History is often tragic, but
unresolved, it can be a heavy weight. Each country must work through
its past. And reckoning with the past can help us seize a better
future. I know there’s strong views in this chamber about the
terrible events of 1915. And while there’s been a good deal of
commentary about my views, it’s really about how the Turkish and
Armenian people deal with the past. And the best way forward for the
Turkish and Armenian people is a process that works through the past in
a way that is honest, open and constructive.
seen historic and courageous steps taken by Turkish and Armenian
leaders. These contacts hold out the promise of a new day. An open
border would return the Turkish and Armenian people to a peaceful and
prosperous coexistence that would serve both of your nations.
This strikes the right tone. Obama has been critiqued for not being provocative and challenging the Turkish parliament to recognize it as genocide right then and there; but really would that make any sense? Such haranguing would probably rset back such recognition aother decade, to say nothing of urkish-American and more importantly, Turkish-Armenian relations.
Finally, Obama alluded to the distrust between the muslim world and the US, exacerbated by the Iraq war – and made it absolutely clear that there is no quarrel with Islam:
I know there have been difficulties these last few years. I know that
the trust that binds the United States and Turkey has been strained,
and I know that strain is shared in many places where the Muslim faith
is practiced. So let me say this as clearly as I can: The United States is not, and will never be, at war with Islam.
(Applause.) In fact, our partnership with the Muslim world is critical
not just in rolling back the violent ideologies that people of all
faiths reject, but also to strengthen opportunity for all its people.
also want to be clear that America’s relationship with the Muslim
community, the Muslim world, cannot, and will not, just be based upon
opposition to terrorism. We seek broader engagement based on mutual
interest and mutual respect. We will listen carefully, we will bridge
misunderstandings, and we will seek common ground. We will be
respectful, even when we do not agree. We will convey our deep
appreciation for the Islamic faith, which has done so much over the
centuries to shape the world — including in my own country. The
United States has been enriched by Muslim Americans. Many other
Americans have Muslims in their families or have lived in a
Muslim-majority country — I know, because I am one of them. (Applause.)
It should be noted that President Bush also went to great pains to also deny any hostility towards Islam. Unfortunately the Iraq war undermined Bush’s credibility in the muslim world on that score. Obama’s Afghanistan policy will have a similar effect on his credibility if he does not execute that war differently; disavowing the use of aerial bombardment would be a great start.
That section of Obama’s remarks is also a likely preview of Obama’s more detailed foreign policy speech to come. I am looking forward to it; Obama’s remarks in Turkey were exactly the right tone of mutual respect for Islam and unyielding, non-apologetic defense of American values – an invitation to partnership.
UPDATE: the wingnuts are predictably outraged, claiming that Obama’s remarks were “apologizing” to muslims and a “criticism” of America. Larison is utterly merciless in response. To no avail, though, as Islamophobia has become a central GOP dogma and long predates knee-jerk ODS. Who can forget the Tom Tancredo “nuke mecca” comment? Redstate in particular has been ecstatically running with this particular ball, though once upon a time it was possible to have a healthy debate and dissent about Islam at that site.
Related – the muslim American umbrella organization AMT issued a press release praising Obama’s words of conciliation to the muslim world, but also called for him to address Islamophobia at home, especially in light of the recent poll findings that nearly half of all Americans have an unfavorable view towards Islam.