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Despite all the obstacles ahead, the decision hammered out in Brussels on Friday to set a date for Turkey's EU membership negotiations is historic.

It is based on the willingness of Christian, white Europe to attempt to absorb a state that is culturally and economically different, which in the heyday of the Ottoman empire had conquered parts of Europe and stood at the gates of Vienna; a state whose territory lies mostly in Asia and is the poorest of all the European states - including in Eastern Europe - that joined the EU in May.

On the face of it, this is a first attempt of its kind to undermine the theory about the clash of civilizations. Turkey is the only Muslim state whose constitution defines it as secular. Therefore, it is also the only Muslim state regarded suspiciously by other Muslim nations, because it is not religious enough despite the incumbent government. At the same time, non-Muslim states fear it, due to its huge number of mosques.

Turkey presents a political dissonance for Europe: As long as the army continues to uphold the constitution and preserve the state's secularity, this will guarantee Turkey's European character. But the army's dominance is exactly the component that Europe wishes to eradicate. Reducing the army's influence on politics is an essential condition for Turkey joining the EU. Therefore, fulfilling all the EU's conditions may be the factor that will close the door in its face when the time comes.

Practically, the decision to begin the talks on October 3, 2005, is not expected to change the reality in Turkey or in Europe in the foreseeable future. Turkish laborers will not be able to throng to Europe's rich capitals next week in search of work, and the EU's budgets, which must bridge the huge economic gap with Turkey, will remain for the time being in Europe's locked coffers. But a new political process, mainly new political struggles, may indeed begin in the near future. The conditions for being admitted to Europe will require Turkey to undergo a second cultural revolution, after the secular nationalist revolution dictated by Ataturk.

Turkey has come a long way, but the large obstacle is still ahead. It will have to become a multicultural Kurdish-Turkish society before it becomes European. The book of rights of women, journalists, workers and even criminals will have to be rewritten on the basis of a new worldview. The army barracks will be moved further away from politics and the Turkish foreign policy will have to toe the line with that Europe rather than the Middle East.

To keep up with these major challenges, Turkey will need a series of stable governments, which will see the partnership with Europe as a strong enough motivation to change the way in which the state is run. These governments will also need a European policy that is consistent in the long term, which will persuade the Turks that the effort was worthwhile, and that, at the end of the road, after 10-15 years, it will also bring a reward sufficiently valuable to justify the investment.