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Opinion: Could Turkey Be a Middleman in the Cartoon Conflict?

Turkey occupies a unique position among nations -- halfway between East and West. In the current row over Mohammed caricatures, which have outraged the Muslim world, Turkey could take on an important mediating role.

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Turkey might be the bridge between East and West needed now more than ever

Turkey, which once again finds itself between the battle lines, has taken a rational position regarding the caricature row. Leading journalists there have lined up on the side of large European papers to call for reason and to avoid jeopardizing the already difficult dialogue between the western and Islamic worlds. The Turkish government wrote to the leaders of several Muslim countries calling for moderation, while also calling on the Europeans not to exacerbate the situation.

While there certainly were protests in Turkey against the publication and the later reprinting of the Mohammed caricatures by European newspapers, they remained peaceful. However, in northeastern Anatolia, a 16-year-old was arrested for allegedly shooting and killing a Catholic priest out of revenge for the cartoons' publication. Political observers, on the other hand, expect that during the trial it will come out that the murder was a result of rather ordinary criminal motives.

Proteste gegen Karikaturen halten an

The cartoon row reached Turkey as well; police guard the Danish embassy

Turkey stands with one foot planted in the West -- politically, culturally and even historically -- but the other is anchored in the East. That unique position means it is able, like no other, to act as a link between the western and Islamic worlds. Turkey itself is a good example of how an overwhelmingly Muslim country can develop into a democracy modeled after those of Europe. Ankara is well represented in Europe's political and economic organizations; the country is a NATO member.

At the same time, its population makes it firmly a part of the global Islamic community. That the current secretary general of the Organization of the Islamic Conference is a Turk who was voted in unanimously is an indication of the will of Islamic countries to accept Turkey as an intermediary between the two cultures.

Realism necessary

But as a mediator in the cartoon row, Turkey should not be expected to do the impossible. The best mediation is condemned to failure from the outset if the two quarrelling sides aren't ready to at least look for some small patch of common ground. How ready the two sides really are to pursue a common goal remains unclear. In addition, while the protests in many Islamic countries are very real, they have also been exploited for political reasons.

Afghanistan - Gewaltprotest gegen Karikaturen

A truck was set on fire by protesters outside a US military base in Qalat, Afghanistan

Under these circumstances, we can only hope that the west will also differentiate between real and directed protests, and that press freedom -- one of the most important and hard-fought-for achievements of the modern world -- is not misused as an excuse to spread preconceptions about other cultures.

Turkey can certainly have a moderating effect on Islamic countries to which it has close economic and political ties. At the same time, Ankara will not be able to pull a perfect recipe for a solution to this conflict out of its hat. One also has to be careful not to link Turkey's success as an intermediary with its EU ambitions. That would not only be unfair, it would belie the fact that in the current cartoon row, Ankara, with its unique ability to work toward a meaningful East-West dialogue, is working very much in concert with Europe.

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