More CatholicThan The Pope

The last of a series of interactions with international journalists and communication experts called Cronkite Global Conversations at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism took place on Tuesday in what was in fact the most widely attended of all the sessions. As an impressive number of students and professors showed up, the theme of today’s Conversation was “Bridge Building through Communications: Creating Opportunities for Development in Bangladesh and Promoting International Relations in Turkey”. Two Humphrey Fellows Mohammad Alauddin of Bangladesh and Sevgi Serpil Atalay of Turkey enlightened the audience about their respective countries.

The development model adopted by Caritas in Bangladesh by seeking development proposals from the local community was something very interesting to learn about. Over there, the non-profit organization does not impose an international development model on the communities but it, on the other hand, acknowledges the fact that every country and locality has its own varying problems and needs. For instance, I contributed to the conversation, that in Pakistan we see a lot of international organizations which are working on sectors, such as HIV-AIDS, are richly funded.

Organizations that work in this sector spend a lot of money to pursue their own goals. Though their objectives tasks are legitimate, they are not urgent. HIV-AIDS may not be the biggest problem in a country like Pakistan. There is a greater need for the non-profit sector to invest in education and neglected areas of basic health. If  more NGOs in Pakistan adopt the Caritas-like approach, it will definitely  help us to a large extent to listen to the problems of the communities rather than imposing projects that some donors sitting in a more developed and happier country with totally different ground realities.

The discussion about Turkey started with an excitement but ended with a lot more confusion as the issue of Turkey’s membership in the European Union dominated the  entire session.  The jest of the ending remarks was: nobody knows what actually is in the minds of the policymakers who refuse to grant membership to Turkey in the 27-member elite European club as the speaker, Serpil Atalay, rightly and somewhat proudly argued “Turkey is not Middle East”.

According to the the presentation, Turkey has always wanted to get closer to the the West because its founding father of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, was a highly secular and progressive leader. However, the vastly Muslim majority country’s enthusiasm to become a member of the EU has gradually faded away because of delaying tactics, continious rejections and (what others view as) frequent contempt for the country of 77 million.

“If 80% Turks wanted to join the EU some years ago, today the level has sharply decreased to 40% by now,” said Serpil.

A couple of other interesting points she made included the speculation among the people of Turkey that they were being denied membership to EU maybe because of their religion ( Turkey is 98% Muslim).  This notion was abruptly brushed aside by one of our friends from Croatia.

“If Christianity is the sole benchmark to become a EU member then why not Croatia?,” she said (sarcastically), “We are even more catholic than the pope!“.

If Europe fears Turkey’s inclusion in the EU mainly because of its Muslim population, then it is perceiving the  false threat, said the speaker from Turkey.

“The more Turkey gets rejected and snubbed, the more it is likely to get closer to revert to the East. It is better to integrate Turkey  into the EU to reward its people for being the progressive and secular people that they continue to remain.”

I fully agreed to this point. In my opinion, the more EU distances itself from Turkey, the more anti-EU sentiments will rise among the youth in a country that is still a great model for the rest of the Asian and Muslim countries.


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