I’m certainly no expert on the Cyprus question. But John Quiggin at Crooked Timber has made the claim that the upcoming referendum on the reunification of Cyprus is of monumental importance for the future of Europe, the EU, and the Middle East–so much so that the eventual fate of Iraq (very likely “an imperfectly democratic Islamist government dominated by Shiites,” in John’s opinion) will “fade into insignifance” in comparison. This has sparked a bit of a flame war between commentators, which I don’t intend to wade into. But it’s interesting to think about, nonetheless, and I’d be delighted to hear from Europeans who might have a different grasp on this issue than idea do. From my perspective (perhaps unconventional for an American), Turkey has of course always been more important, for the future of the Middle East, than Iraq or any other of the regions many deplorable criminal states. If the settlement of the Cyprus issue removes one of the most significant–perhaps the most significant–roadblock to Turkey’s joining the EU, then the referendum is of vital importance, because Turkey is more culturally locked into either working out or rejecting some sort of fusion of Islamic institutions and European secularism than any other state with a significant Muslim population (more than Egypt, more than Algeria). Turkey, in other words, is important not just strategically, but historically (if I may wax Hegelian), and anything done to help that history along is worth doing, even if the result isn’t at all what EU boosters might hope it to be. Whereas Iraq, whatever becomes of it, has gone from extremes of tyranny through war to colonization, neither of which provide much grounds for trusting in the “organic” authenticity of whatever innovations or failures historically emerge. (This, by the way, is one of the reasons many of us who study the politics and culture of East Asia are more interested in ideas and arguments about political life which come out of South Korea, Taiwan, China or Singapore, rather than Japan: the latter was an outright colony, with a constitution written for it by occupying powers, whereas the others, despite the many historical particularities, more or less worked out their current polities on their own.)
Anyway, for additional insight, this article on Turkey and Islamic democracy from the New Yorker last year is one of the best things I’ve ever read on the subject. It’s long, but worth it.