August 22, 2006: Turkish political cartoonist Salih Memecan discusses the significance of his cartoons, the relationship between Islam and the West, and the advantages Turkey can bring to Europe were it to join the European Union with anchor Daljit Dhaliwal.
DALJIT DHALIWAL: Salih Memecan, welcome to WIDE ANGLE.
SALIH MEMECAN: Thank you. Nice to be here.
DHALIWAL: What do you make of the film that you just saw?
MEMECAN: It’s very interesting. Here, I saw two different sides, two different lifestyles in Turkey. And if you belong to one side, you don’t really get to see the other side as often. But here in the movie, you get to meet, or you get to see, both sides, which is interesting.
DHALIWAL: And what are the two sides, the two lifestyles that you’re referring to?
MEMECAN: One is the secular side. The other one is the more conservative side. And in this movie, they do the same business. And they have to make money. That’s their purpose. But, you know, they have different lifestyles.
And they’re wary of one another. In a way they are afraid of the other lifestyle. They think that they would come over and change their own lifestyles.
DHALIWAL: Salih, let’s talk about some of the cartoons and how they relate to some of the themes that are raised in our film. They have this one here.
MEMECAN: Oh, that cartoon —
DHALIWAL: What’s going on?
MEMECAN: — that cartoon I drew for the conference of Muslim Leaders of Tomorrow, which was in Denmark last month. It shows the Muslim in the West. So they have this integration problem, okay. They would like to integrate. But it’s not easy. They have to change.
They have to make compromises. In this cartoon, there is this door to integration. It’s a very narrow door. And the guy has a turban which is very symbolic here in the cartoon. So he has to either take the turban off or —
DHALIWAL: So this is an imam, a mullah?
MEMECAN: Imam or mullah. Or actually it’s just an ordinary Muslim. It represents the Muslim. Somehow he has to change in order to integrate.
DHALIWAL: So, are you saying that there’s no room for Islam in the West?
MEMECAN: No. You have to make some adjustment. But you don’t have to really change that much. I mean, a Muslim has to make some concessions. But, on the other hand, European countries have to think it over. They have to make changes, too.
They expect Muslims to come and be like themselves, but that shouldn’t be the case. And they should accept the fact that a big percentage of the population is now made up of Muslims. So it’s not the same society it used to be, let’s say, 20 years ago. So they have to accept the fact and do things to adjust themselves. It’s a different society. For instance, you know, five percent of Germans speak Turkish or other languages.
DHALIWAL: And talking of European countries, Turkey has long been trying to get into the European Union. Is this one of your cartoons? What’s going on there?
MEMECAN: Yes. It’s a long process, Turkey’s entry to the European Union. And it’s still in the process. They say we have ten more years or so. So, here, the Turkish group, Turkish people are at the gate of the European Union.
And they say, “Open the door.” They open the door. But they get crushed. That’s a very pessimistic view, actually. I don’t think that way. Now, we are much closer than what is here.
DHALIWAL: So, here we see the European flag and this —
MEMECAN: That’s supposed to be European Union, European castle.
DHALIWAL: Oh, so it’s almost like a fortress.
It’s a fortress, which has a gate, which is very strong. So when they open it up, they get crushed. But they won’t get crushed. I’m sure they will get in sometimes. Or we will get in there sometimes.
DHALIWAL: And here, we have democracy. How come it’s a snowman?
MEMECAN: Well, because Bush is taking it to Middle East, which has hot weather. So this system may be good as it is, may be good for America or West. But when you take it to another culture, you have to make some adjustments. As it is, it may not work, which may be the case in the Middle East right now.
I mean, they have different — or we have different traditions, different cultural backgrounds and so on. So you cannot just take one system here and put it there. And they then say, okay, now this is it. It doesn’t work. You have to have some time, some adjustments, and so on. In Turkey, we are trying to adjust the new system of democracy for many, many years. It’s getting somewhere. But it takes time.
DHALIWAL: And is this snowman also Caesar?
MEMECAN: No. That’s a symbol of democracy, a classical figure, you know.
DHALIWAL: Okay. Talk about this one. This is an interesting one. Uncle Sam on an elephant.
MEMECAN: Yeah, Uncle Sam is America. So, he’s getting into Middle East, which is glassware in the cartoon. So when you get him there carelessly, you create big problems. You break things.
And you may have a difficult time putting them back or fixing it. So that’s the case, what happened in Iraq. When you pull these things apart, it may be difficult to put them back. Because they’ve been as they were as a result of many, many years of concessions and traditions, whatever.
DHALIWAL: You also have Iran and Syria in this glassware factory.
DHALIWAL: Are they likely to get broken soon in your opinion?
MEMECAN: Well, who knows? Who knows? I hope not.
DHALIWAL: And Jordan and Israel, what do they signify here?
MEMECAN: They were already — some parts of it are broken, I guess. Yes, they are the countries in the Middle East, which may have gotten affected from this new situation. In fact, they really did get affected because Israel wanted to stop Hezbollah and Hezbollah answered back or stood back. Now, it’s become a bigger problem of the world.
Now Turkey for instance, has to make a decision whether we should send our soldiers there as part of the peace process there. And some people in Turkey are against it. Some people are in favor of it. But all of a sudden that became a Turkish problem.
DHALIWAL: So, Salih, if you were to draw a cartoon about what you just saw in the film, what would it look like? Why don’t you draw us —
MEMECAN: WOh, okay. (laughs) The way I see the cartoon, there are two worlds, okay. Actually there are two halves of worlds. This is one world, the wolrd for the secular person. This is the world for traditional or conservative.
DHALIWAL: That is Muslim Turkey?
MEMECAN: Yeah, yeah, Muslim Turkey with headscarf and everything. So it’s really two different worlds. But I suggest we should get together, or they should get together. Once they get together, they see that they could come along quite easily. In fact, in the movie, we see that model girl.
MEMECAN: She can manage quite well. I mean, she’s from a secular side, obviously secular world. But she can make business with the traditional side.
DHALIWAL: Does she represent what Turkey is all about?
MEMECAN: I guess she does. And she’s very comfortable with doing business. She has no animosity, or anything against that. Because she’s doing business. She knows that.
DHALIWAL: And how far away is Turkey from your ideal model?
MEMECAN: I think we are getting there. Because you see, those people from conservative regions, from Anatolia, now they are getting into the scene. They want their daughters to go get an education. They want their children to get into business and, you know, become big businessmen. So once they’re out there, the secular side worries that they are going to influence and change their lifestyles.
They may change some. But on the other hand they will influence. But they will get influenced as well. So there will be concessions. And I’m sure we can exist quite easily with people being as they are. They don’t have to change much. Or they don’t need to change at all. So, we should just accept the fact that there are different kinds of people, some conservative, some not so conservative and they should be living together.
DHALIWAL: Why do you think that those successful Muslim entrepreneurs that we saw in the film are flourishing in Anatolia?
MEMECAN: Maybe that’s because they understand people better than others. And, you know, if the people want headscarves, they sell headscarves. But it’s not only headscarves they sell. They sell refrigerators. They sell cars and other things.
But Anatolia is not enough for them. So obviously they would like to come and exist and do business in Istanbul and in Europe. And they will be doing that, which is good for Turkey and the Turkish economy.
DHALIWAL: So in the film we see Kayseri is for the free market, it’s also for the mosque.
DHALIWAL: How do Turks view this Islamic heartland?
MEMECAN: Okay. Mosque and business, I mean, they are not one against. In fact, they support one another. As in the movie, the guy said, you know, you have to have business so that you make money and go to hajj. That may be one reason to have money. But you make money to enjoy the other benefits of life.
Now, Islamic people or conservative people, now they would like to get education. They would like to have vacations and so on. So when they get out there and have education and have vacations, other people are somewhat concerned. As I said, because that may change or influence their lifestyles. That may, but that may not. And even if it may, it may not change negatively. Because then it will change in a way that they will learn how to live together with different cultures. And the same is true with the other conservative group. When they come to big cities; when they have vacations; when they go swimming. They have to find a way to swim, or something to wear. So these are new challenges that Turkish society has in front of them right now.
DHALIWAL: In your daily life, do you see secular–Islamic tension? And if you do, how does it manifest itself?
MEMECAN: I do. That head scarf issue is big one. You always come across women who cannot go to colleges, who cannot get jobs. In work places — right now, for instance, almost half of the Turkish population is covered or a woman wears a headscarf. And when you see the work environment in bigger cities, it’s not the case. So it will correct itself in time. People would be more tolerant. And they would accept the fact that everyone may not be like one another. There may be different outfits, different cultures.
DHALIWAL: And is it okay to poke fun at the headscarf issue or at Turkish women who wear bikinis or miniskirts? Or is it too sensitive an issue?
MEMECAN: It is a sensitive issue. But it’s okay to make fun of things. Because when you make fun of things, you know, people don’t take it as seriously. And a solution becomes much easier. Coming with a solution becomes much easier.
So I make cartoons of it, sometimes. I’ve drawn women in miniskirts, in bikinis. I’ve drawn women in headscarf. But I don’t really put one against the other one. Not really. I mean, you may not wear a headscarf, but that doesn’t mean that you will run around with bikinis. It’s not the same thing. But the headscarf issue is very serious, a very sensitive issue for one group. They cannot educate their daughters. So, what they do is, some of them, if they have the means, they send them away to European countries, to America. So, next generation we will have very well–educated women with headscarves coming back to Turkey.
DHALIWAL: Prime Minister Erdogan thinks that you need them.
MEMECAN: Yes, and he thinks we need them because that’s a good guideline. We’ll be better connected to the world and so on. But I’m talking about the people’s reaction. That’s why it’s going down. It’s not really that down. I mean, still it’s European average.
DHALIWAL: Yeah, I think one of the last surveys that was done was putting it at something like 57 percent.
MEMECAN: Yeah, that’s quite high. That’s —
DHALIWAL: Well, it’s been falling from 80 percent.
MEMECAN: That’s the trend in many European countries. That’s what happens, I was told. You know, first they are very anxious to get in. So it goes down to 50 percent —
DHALIWAL: No, this it the Turks. The Turks were at 70 to 80 percent. Now, they’re at 50 percent.
MEMECAN: Yes, but that was the case with Poland and other countries as well. I mean, first they didn’t want to part of the European Union. But when they were faced with the realities of the European Union, it went down. That’s all right. Okay, Turkey needs Europe. But Europe needs Turkey too.
So Europeans should realize that fact, then things would be much better. Without Turkey being a member of the European Union, Europe cannot be a world player. There’s the United States, there will be China, there will be India. So, they’re all big nations, or big societies, big players. Europe is not, or won’t be, as long as Turkey doesn’t get in there.
DHALIWAL: Do most Turks feel that it’s being kept at arm’s length by the European Union, by the E.U. because they’re Muslims? Because it’s an Islamic country?
MEMECAN: Yes, they do. In fact, I do feel that way, too. I attend World Economic Forum meetings and there I meet some European leaders. Unlike Americans, they’re afraid that Turkish people would come and change their culture. Whereas they shouldn’t be. Yes, Turkish people may go there.
DHALIWAL: But, they’re worried about 70 million Muslims.
MEMECAN: Yes, but –.
DHALIWAL: Migrant labor coming into Europe.
MEMECAN: First of all, 70 million people won’t go there. In fact, people won’t go there because in order for us to get there, we should be at a certain economic level. When we reach that economic level, I don’t think Turkish workers would go there and work there. Instead, they would prefer to stay in Turkey, which is economically — then, we’ll be doing better. So —
DHALIWAL: Funny, because the French and the Germans don’t seem to think that.
MEMECAN: Yes, but they should change their opinion. That’s what I’m saying. They shouldn’t be thinking that way and they should see Turkish workers not as burden, but as agents to improve their economy. Otherwise, they could not compete with the world. Why don’t they want Turkish workers? Because they would work cheap. So that’s good. They should — they would have a more efficient economy. So why are they against it? If they don’t make their economy efficient, they cannot compete. So they should really look for Turkish workers to come.
DHALIWAL: How would Turkey being in the E.U. enrich the lives of Turks?
MEMECAN: First of all, we would prosper economically. That’s not because Europe would help Turkey — I mean, that Europe would send aid. I don’t mean that. What I mean is, we would have better standards, rules and regulations. And so if you go with the rules and regulations, then you would get rich and get prosperous anyway. So that’s number one. Number two — rule of law would be important in Turkey when we become European Union. So, that’s good for Turkish society. Human rights would be much better and it’s getting better already. So those are the things that would be affecting our lives. So, you know, it’s good for Turkey.
DHALIWAL: Well, the European —
MEMECAN: Its set of standards.
DHALIWAL: Right, well, the E.U. still has a lot of issues about the question of Kurds, Armenians and Greeks. There’s a lot of sensitivity about that when it comes to its human rights record. Freedom of the press is another big thing as well. As an ordinary Turk, how do you address that question?
MEMECAN: Okay, those issues we have to deal with anyway. We have to work on these issues regardless of the European Union matter. Even if we don’t get into European Union, those are the issues. Cyprus issue is there for many, many years — 40 years or I don’t know how many. So it’s an issue for so many years and it’s stopping Turkey getting richer or, you know, having better relations.
DHALIWAL: Cyprus is divided between Turkey and between Greece.
MEMECAN: So it needs to be solved. It’s a problem that needs to be solved. Same with the Kurdish issue. Okay, we have terrorism going on there, and you know, we have to fix that problem, solve that problem, stop that. And that’s why —
DHALIWAL: Are you talking about Iraq or about Turkey or —
MEMECAN: About Turkey. But, right now, it’s several issues related to the Iraqi situation as well. Right now America is controlling, or have a say, in Iraq. So we ask America to stop this terrorism, terrorist acts originating from northern Iraq. And when America cannot respond to this, or cannot respond in a way that Turkish people would like America to respond, this is hard feelings.
DHALIWAL: If Turkey was turned away from the European Union, what message would that send to the rest of the Islamic world?
MEMECAN: The message would be simple. Islamic people should stay in the Islamic block, which is not a good message. So it will be a very wrong message. I mean, Europe right now is against Turkey. Or let’s say not Europe, but European people or European politicians are against Turkey mostly because of these cultural reasons or religious reasons, which has a very bad message behind it.
It’s not good for the world. Turkey should be a part of the European Union and that is good for Europe because then Europe would be related with the Islamic world as well as Turkic nations of the central Asia and with Russia and, you know, it’s good for Europe. Europe would be a much bigger, much more effective community.
DHALIWAL: The current Turkish government has Islamist origins. Yet, Prime Minister Erdogan has made quite a lot of democratic reforms in Turkey. Do you see that as a contradiction?
MEMECAN: No, I was expecting that. Besides that, this is a very positive thing because these reforms are done with the support of people, with the backing of people. So, we have this Westernization movement in a way that we accept Western standards of life — you know, human rights issues and other things with the support of the people. Which is a very good thing for Turkey — making reforms with people.
DHALIWAL: Turkey also shares a border with Iran, Iraq, and Syria. How do they get on with their neighbors?
MEMECAN: Recently, especially with this government, we are doing all right. Now, we have friendships going on. It used to be — this has nothing to do with the government because of the Cold War era situation — we were all enemies. We were all scared of one another. You know, we were all watching one another. But, right now, we are having better relationship, especially with this government’s Islamic roots, as they say. Gives us a chance for better relationship.
DHALIWAL: Do you think that it in some way upsets Turkey’s relationship with the United States because Syria and Iran are pariah states to Washington?. There’s no dialogue there.
MEMECAN: Okay, you see America may not have dialogue with Syria or Iran. But, in our situation, they’re our neighbors and they’ve been our neighbors for many, many years. And we’ll be living there and they will be living there. So we are not as free as America to take actions like that. We have to be very polite, very careful with them and respectful to their ideas or whatever. We have to take all these things into consideration.
They’re our neighbors and we share the same religion, and there are so many people who are related to them.
DHALIWAL: Do you see Turkey sort of charting an independent foreign policy in the Middle East? Even if it contradicts America’s foreign policy for that part of the world?
MEMECAN: I don’t think so. But, on the other hand, this government, maybe — certain things that America is doing may not be correct. That doesn’t mean that they are having different foreign policy. But, you know, we are all good. I mean, we are related with America historically, you know, very closely.
But, America, for instance, the Iraqi war, that wasn’t a very good idea to me and to many Turkish people. So, our government, our Turkish people’s decision to not get into the war was a good idea, for me. I mean, I wouldn’t be very happy if the Turkish army got into Iraq with America and England because as I said before, we lived there. So we are related. We share the same religion and, you know, that animosity would stay for many, many years.
DHALIWAL: Well, what happened in Iraq really damaged the relationship between Washington and Ankara. What’s the relationship like now?
MEMECAN: I think it would get better. I mean, I’m not worried about that. Because, historically, again, Turks and Americans, they like one another. I personally feel that. I mean, Turkish people do not have any animosity against American people. They admire their multicultural society and they even take American living as a model, you know? It’s good.
DHALIWAL: There’s no anti-Americanism —
MEMECAN: No anti-Americanism. Right now, Turkish people are not very happy with the with the things going on in Iraq because they see on television young American soldiers kicking the doors, getting into Iraqi rooms and, you know, harming people. You see, when you watch those scenes from Turkish TV, Turkish people associate themselves with Iraqis. You know, they look alike — dark skin, moustache. You know, same religion. And they really feel bad. But that is nothing to do with American people in general. That is just that Iraqi war —
DHALIWAL: It’s the policies that they —
MEMECAN: It’s the policy they’re objecting to. Otherwise, if you, as an American, if you come to Turkey, you know, you are very welcome and, you know, you will be treated very well.
DHALIWAL: And how do they feel about the conflict in Lebanon?
MEMECAN: Okay, popular opinion is that they were not very happy that Israel got in there and, you know, bombed because there were all those pictures of children killed and so on. They were not very happy.
DHALIWAL: Do you think it increased support for Hezbollah in Turkey?
MEMECAN: You mean Turkish people’s support of Hezbollah?
MEMECAN: No, because Turkish people are generally secular people. It’s not the Hezbollah. It’s the Muslim people dying there that would hurt Turkish peoples’ feelings. It’s not the organization Hezbollah. Yes, that would hurt — you know, they were not very happy about it. But, it’s not the Hezbollah issue.
DHALIWAL: Well, how do ordinary Turks feel about the United States?
MEMECAN: Oh, they envy Americans. America is a positive image on Turkish people. This war somewhat negatively affected it. But, it will correct itself soon I believe. You know, every Turkish person would like their children to go and get educated in America. And American economic model is good for Turkey. I mean, they like that. You know, free enterprise and so on.
Also, the tolerant society is very nice. Turkish people are well aware of it. Which, I mean, America and Europe are both West. But, America and Europe are different in that respect. When you go to Europe, you are a foreigner. But, when you come to America, you are not. You can easily be part of community. Even Islamic people, when they learn about America, they are happy when they find out that, as in Islam, you can be very happy living in America. You can practice your religion there very easily.
DHALIWAL: It’s interesting that you say that because there was a recent survey done in the United States which said that only 12 percent of Turks had a favorable view of America. And that’s a very recent survey.
MEMECAN: You see, that’s wrong in a way. If you ask ordinary Turkish people, what do you think of America? They would say, well, they don’t like it because of this war. Otherwise, ask them if they would be happy when they had an American friend. Yeah, they would be happy to have an American friend. Would they like to go to come to America? Yes, they would love to come to America.
It’s not just — you know, they see those movies, that news on the television. They read about it. They see those pictures — children dying in the Middle East — and, you know, they blame America for that. But that doesn’t mean that they don’t like America. It’s just this policy.
DHALIWAL: But do they also blame Hezbollah for it, too?
MEMECAN: Yes, some people do. I mean, some people do. But, on the other hand, majority blames foreigners — foreigners being non-Muslims. I mean.
DHALIWAL: They’re looking for scapegoats?
MEMECAN: Yeah, people do. It’s easy to find scapegoats and, you know, find solutions to problems. It’s easy. I mean, there is this problem — America came and things got worse. You know, you can think that way and that’s an easy solution, easy way of looking at things.
DHALIWAL: Well, you know, the United States is doing a lot of public diplomacy trying to mend fences in the Middle East. What kind of a job do you think it’s doing? Is it working?
MEMECAN: Oh, I think America should do that and should emphasize that because it is — the situation as it is right now in Turkey is unfair to American people. I mean, that 12 percent, that’s quite unfair to American people. And it’s not the real thing.
DHALIWAL: Well, the survey before that was at 23 percent. So it’s falling.
MEMECAN: Even 24 percent is (laughs) — is low to me. No, I think more Americans should come to Turkey and more Turks should come to America. Because once they know one another, relationship would be much better. I have never seen any American going to Turkey and coming back and saying any bad thing about Turkey. They all love Turkey and Turkish people. It’s the same with Turkish people.
I’ve never seen a Turkish person who didn’t like an American friend of mine that I introduce. They all like him, or they like the American ideology, American system, American movies, American songs and so on —
DHALIWAL: Rock and roll?
MEMECAN: Yeah, they like many things American. But, as I said, this war in Iraq changed many things. But those many things can change very easily.
DHALIWAL: And it’s not widely known perhaps that Turkey is also an ally of Israel. Talk about that.
MEMECAN: Historically — I mean, okay, the strange thing about this Israeli hating, or Muslims hating Israelis or Jews. I mean, this animosity between Jews and Islam is wrong because Islam is the protector of Jewish people historically. In Muslim Spain, Jewish people were living there quite happily. When it was taken over by Christians, they ran away and came to the Ottoman Empire — I mean, to Turkey under the Ottoman rule.
So they lived there for 500 years, under the protection of Sultan. So there is no hatred against Jewish people or there is no anti–Semitism against Jewish people. There were Jewish pashas and so on. They ruled, they functioned in Ottoman governments, and so on.
DHALIWAL: I mean, it’s not widely known though that Turkey has a unique relationship with Israel — its only Muslim ally in that part of the world —
MEMECAN: Yes, as a result of this historical fact, we still have a good relationship with Israel. We have Turkish government and Israel… we have so many military pacts and so on.
DHALIWAL: So Turkey wants to be all things to all men?
MEMECAN: Yes. (laughs)
DHALIWAL: Well, you know, you were recently a panelist at a conference of a 100 young Muslim people who were talking about how they could make a difference and improve relationships with the West and with the United States. Did you come away with any new insights?
MEMECAN: This was a meeting of young Muslim Leaders of Tomorrow. They were young people of age 25 to 35 from European countries and America. They were basically Muslim in Western countries. So they had their own problems — problems of integration, problems of being labeled as terrorists, and so on. The ones from America were much happier than the ones from Europe, obviously.
They discussed their problems and came up with some suggestions, some solutions and so on. I was in one of the panels, the one where they discussed the cartoon issue and the editor of that newspaper was there. So we had a discussion, which was very positive discussion.
DHALIWAL: And one of the cartoons that you did do at that conference was this one.
MEMECAN: Yes, that was a discussion, a panel on labeling Muslims. This cartoon, the first one is labeled for Muslims and then you have a close–up, you see that Europeans — or some Europeans — see Muslims as terrorists. So you can easily be labeled as terrorist, which is quite unfair because there are terrorists of all kinds, from all religions. But once you start labeling Muslims as terrorists, that’s bad.
DHALIWAL: And is that the predominant image that these young people had about what it means to —
MEMECAN: Yes, they were —
DHALIWAL: — be a Muslim living in the West?
MEMECAN: — very disturbed about that. You see, as a Turk living in Turkey, I have no such problem or as a Turk living in Scarsdale, America I have no problem also. But, you know, they may have some problems. They have quite a lot of problems in European countries, living as Muslims.
DHALIWAL: And what other kinds of things did you learn at this conference? Especially where there’s so many young people?
MEMECAN: First of all, they are a very diverse group of different people. For instance, I met a woman, she’s 25. She’s the head of her mosque in Holland. She’s from Turkey — actually she was born in Holland — her parents are from Turkey. She speaks funny Turkish because she took away her parent’s accent and mixed it with Dutch and came out with a strange accent. But she’s a very Western looking woman; on the other hand very religious. That’s something we don’t see in Turkey.
DHALIWAL: Did you go away feeling optimistic?
DHALIWAL: And hopeful?
MEMECAN: Yes, very, very optimistic, and I met another woman who had a headscarf. She was a lawyer. Her father came to Holland as a construction worker and, you know, right now she has her own law company, and you know, I felt very optimistic. And in fact, I met so many different people that I myself didn’t know that we Muslims could be so different.
There was this Italian family, real Italian family. They converted to Muslim and they were interesting. There were, of course, African American Muslims, and some French Muslims from originally northern Africa.
DHALIWAL: So, when you spoke to African Americans, what did they tell you about why they had picked Islam?
MEMECAN: You know, I didn’t get a chance to talk that issue. But, for instance, the American woman there, she was very American. Like anyone from this Scarsdale neighborhood, you know, except she was Muslim and she was covering her hair. But, I mean, it didn’t make her any different than anybody in America.
DHALIWAL: Why does it show Turkey being crushed by the door?
MEMECAN: Okay. That cartoon was done some years ago. That was the time when Turkey was doing all the concessions — I mean, was doing her homework in order to get into European Union. But Europeans were reacting with all those negative attitudes or reactions. So whatever we do, I mean they were not happy about it, so it was like at the door, at the gate of the European Union. Turkey was being rejected or Turkey was being crushed. But right now, the situation has improved. I mean, we are almost there.
DHALIWAL: And —
MEMECAN: We are not crushed, actually. (laughs)
DHALIWAL: And how does democracy have to adjust in the Middle East?
MEMECAN: It needs time. It doesn’t just come there and okay, here you have democracy now, alright, you go out and vote. It doesn’t work that way. We need time or they need time. Okay, when they go out and vote, they don’t vote for ideas. They would usually vote the people or the chief of that tribe. Okay, they go for that. If your tribe has, let’s say hundred thousand people, then you get hundred thousand votes. And it’s not your ideas that count. It’s your religion, your background, the tribe that you belong to.
DHALIWAL: But we can’t impose American democracy in Syria, Iran, Iraq, Turkey —
MEMECAN: Right, right. Democracy — America has developed in a different way. People came here with votes, and they elected their leaders, and kept electing them for the last two hundred or three hundred years. Not Turkey, but in the Middle East, there are chiefs, there are leaders, they have followers, that’s how it worked. But in Turkey, we improved. We have come a long way, so we are doing alright. We have just a little more way to go.
DHALIWAL: And how would Turkey help Europe become a big player?
MEMECAN: You see we have a young population, and they’re eager to work, and they’re well–educated. On the other hand, the European population is all done and the birth rate is not very high. So young work force would be quite helpful for Turkish economy. Also, culturally speaking — infusing such a culture — Islam — you know, Turkey has different relationships than Europeans. We are related to Turkic countries in Central Asia. We are related to Islamic countries. So Europe will have the advantage of relating to them through Turkey, that’s something. And a 70 million population is not something negative; I think that’s something positive. So, Europe will be a bigger —
DHALIWAL: And not all of them would want to go to the European Union countries to work.
MEMECAN: No. I mean, most of them won’t go, because Turks are happy in Turkey. I mean, instead they would work at their home country and produce things there. It would still be good for the European economy. But Europeans are worried for nothing, about Turks coming to Europe. They shouldn’t be worried about it. Instead they should come to Turkey. Really. I mean, that’s a great place for vacationing. So once Turkey becomes part of Europe, it will be much easier for Europeans to come out and buy houses, summer houses.
DHALIWAL: That’s already happening, though, right?
DHALIWAL: I mean, south of Turkey, a lot of people are coming and buying vacation homes.
MEMECAN: Yes, and it will be much easier with the new regulations to own houses. So that would be a big advantage for European people — you know, many nice places to vacation.
DHALIWAL: At the end of the film, we see Turkey’s foreign minister, Abdullah G
Abdullah GŸl, talking about how there are so many similarities between the United States and Turkey, implying really the shared importance of religion and family values. What do you think of that? Does he have a point?
MEMECAN: Yes. He has a point. He is very correct on that. Based on my experience — I went to high school for a year in California. I did a Ph.D. in Philadelphia. I’ve been living here for many, many years right now. And I have the same experience, or the same things to say as Abdullah GŸl. Americans are nice people. They are very tolerant and they’re very respectful of other cultures. And so I’ve been living here as a Muslim and I am very well accepted within the community. And there are so many Jewish people in this neighborhood and they are the best ones to understand my culture, and so on.
DHALIWAL: Even after 9/11?
MEMECAN: Even after 9/11. It didn’t matter here, at least for us. And historically — Turkish history — Ottoman Empire, so many cultures lived together — coexisted — for many, many years. So we have that in our culture. In my neighborhood in Istanbul, you know, church bells ring and nobody gets disturbed. It’s 99 percent Muslim. Nobody questions, “Why are they ringing these bells?” That’s the cultural thing, the richness. And we value that richness in Turkey, and we should value it more. And America is a good model for that in the world.
DHALIWAL: So what made you want to become a political cartoonist?
MEMECAN: I wanted to be a cartoonist to begin with, whether that was a political cartoonist, because I had these speech problems. I was stuttering. So cartooning was a good way of coming over it. However, I wasn’t sure I could make a living out of it, so I became an architect.
I was trained as an architect, so I overdid it. I got my Ph.D. and everything. But after I got my Ph.D., I became a cartoonist, a political cartoonist.
The reason I became a political cartoonist: because after all these years of architectural education, it had to be something serious. Not children’s stuff, so political cartooning is serious enough. But, you know, you make comments — political commentary about all those big politicians and so on. You know, it’s very serious stuff. So I was also interested in politics, about what’s happening around the world and so on. That’s why I became a political cartoonist.
DHALIWAL: You think you’ll ever run for political office?
MEMECAN: No. It’s not my style. I mean, I’d rather make fun of it, rather than run in it.
DHALIWAL: Salih Memecan, thank you very much for joining us and WIDE ANGLE.
MEMECAN: Thank you.