Friday, 25 April 2008

Turkey and its Islamic enemies

What's interesting about the opinion pages of the Turkish Daily News is that they can freely give their opinion and criticise the government without the fear of coming to physical harm.

Here's
the always interesting Mustafa Akyol in which he reveals to those unaware of the country that Turkey is a robust nation with opposing views with a strong desire to maintain its secular government structure.
WASHINGTON - Every country has its own towering figures of intellect, and as a nation torn between several conflicting political philosophies, Turkey has quite many of them. There are prominent liberals, conservatives, socialist, or nationalists. Even the official ideology, i.e., Kemalism, has distinguished supporters, and quite a few of those figures would be as erudite and sophisticated as the eminent law professor, the 79-year-old Mümtaz Soysal.

Prof. Soysal’s life is a real success story. Born in Zonguldak, a small town on the Black Sea coast, he studied law first in Ankara and then in high up Western universities such as London School of Economics, Berkeley and Princeton. In 1961, he became one of the architects of the then new constitution, which was prepared under the auspices of the generals who had launched a military coup a year ago. In the ‘90s, he joined politics on the center-left Social Democratic People's Party’s ticket, and, for a brief period in 1994, he served as foreign minister. Over the years, he emerged as one of the leading defenders of what some call “left-wing Kemalism” and came to the fore by his resistance to privatization of state companies and other steps that center-right governments have taken to liberalize the Turkish economy. Currently Prof. Soysal is the leader of the Independent Republican Party, whose big issue is to promote a “fully independent” Turkey, which will move on with the original Kemalist project without being distracted by the global forces of economy and politics.

Notes from a Jacobin heart:

I had the privilege of speaking at the same panel with Prof. Soysal a week ago at the Brookings Institution in the U.S. capital, and thus had the chance to get a grasp of his “Jacobin heart,” as he called it. It was interesting and revealing.

Jacobins were, of course, the leading and the most radical party of the French Revolution. Yet more recently their name has become a household term in Turkey in order to define the political cadres and intellectuals who believe in authoritarian ways to “modernize” the nation. It is actually the conservatives or the liberals who call these autocrats “Jacobin,” while they prefer to define themselves as “Kemalist” or “Atatürkist.” Prof. Soysal was, however, apparently unreserved about the imported term.

The crust of his argument was that the Turkish Republic had an “enemy” from the very beginning, and thus a “war” was inevitable. He was also quite frank about the identity of this enemy: The religion of Islam, which “has insisted on its claim to influence this world, as well as the next.” Had Islam undergone a “reform,” Prof. Soysal added, there would not be any problem. It would be a religion with only spiritual claims, and thus would not interfere with the works of the Republic.

The insistence of Turkey’s conservative Muslims to assert their faith in “this world” was, according to Mümtaz Soysal, the root of the problem – and the Republic had all the right to fight against this “enemy.” The headscarf, a symbol of religious observance, was the most visible symbol of this religion-that-defies-limits, and Turkey’s incumbent Justice and Development Party (AKP), by trying to set the headscarf free in the public square, had gone too far. “It is only natural that the Republic will protect itself from threats,” Prof. Soysal confidently reminded. “If AKP is a threat, it will be closed down.”

A war with the people?:

Another way of putting Prof. Soysal’s argument is that the threat to the Turkish Republic is about a half of the Turkish people. That is roughly the political support that the AKP has. Moreover, if we recall the public polls which show that about 80 percent of society believes that headscarves should be free in universities, the “enemies” of the Republic will amount to four out of every five citizens – most of whom are, ironically enough, taxpayers who finance this interesting political system.

Here lies the fundamental dilemma of the Turkish Republic. On one hand, it calls itself “democratic,” which implies a rule by the people. On the other hand, it is at war with its own people. That’s why the Ankara establishment has actually no sympathy for real democracy, and it would hardly approach it if international dynamics did not force it to do so.

All this might sound a bit odd to foreigners, but it is quite reasonable and justified for Turkish Jacobins. “This is a war that will go on for a very long time,” Prof. Soysal noted at Brookings. “And it is a healthy war.”

I tend to disagree. I rather think that the war between the Turkish Republic and its “internal enemies” – the citizens who doubt the official ideology – has been disastrous enough. It has traumatized many lives and has set us back as a nation. We really need to give peace a chance.

To be able to do that, our Jacobins should reconsider their doctrine, especially with regards to religion. Their demand, that Islam should stop “influencing this world,” is actually ridiculous. Almost all religions, especially the Abrahamic ones, aim at influencing this world, and there is nothing wrong about that. The crucial question is the way this influence will be exercised. By trying to establish a religious tyranny that will impose its truths on people? Or by acting as a civil force that will promote its truths in society by democratic means? The former leads to theocracy, which is a horrible form of dictatorship. But the latter leads to the formation of a dynamic and open society, in which all creeds and worldviews can exist and compete.

The invisible reform:

Alexis de Tocqueville, a remarkable French thinker that our French-inspired and French wannabe Jacobins hardly know about, once brilliantly explained this constructive role of religion in his masterpiece, “Democracy in America.” Interestingly the democracy in Turkey is following a somewhat similar route, because Turkey’s Islamic communities are growingly in demand of not an Islamic state, but a secular one which, unlike ours, respects religious freedom. They are, not too surprisingly, also in favor of the European Union process.

In other words, Prof. Soysal and his comrades are wrong to expect a formal “reform” which will detach Islam from “this world.” A reform as a social process is already taking place in Turkey, as its devout Muslims integrate into modernity without abandoning their values and practices. “The headscarf catwalk,” is not a token of “the way back to the Middle Ages,” as our secularists suspect. Quite the contrary, it is a sign of a way forward.

Unfortunately the official grand narrative of the Turkish Republic seems to be too rigid to accept that. That’s why even its most brilliant and erudite representatives, such as Prof. Soysal, reject to consider a different point of view. And that’s why the Republic’s war with its own people regrettably goes on.
(Nothing Follows)

1 comment:

Michael said...

Howdy. Mark Steyn sees nothing robust about Turkey:

"In its 80-year history, the population has increased from 14 million in 1923 to 70 million today, but the vast bulk of that population growth has come from Anatolia, whose population has migrated from the rural hinterland to overwhelm the once solidly Kemalist cities. Ataturk’s modern secular Turkey has simply been outbred by fiercely Islamic Turkey. That’s a lesson in demography from an all-Muslim sample: no pasty white blokes were involved. So the fact that Muslim fertility is declining in Tunisia is no consolation: all that will do, as in Turkey, is remove moderate Muslims from the equation too early in the game"

Hugh Fitzgerald of Jihad Watch doesn't see a robust future either:

"In the end, the secular Turks didn't do enough. They lazily relied on the army to protect them, the army that would stage a coup and come to their rescue. But an army can stage a coup only when Islam is still in a state of weakness. Now the same infiltration that has gone on in many parts of Turkish society has also been going on, still at the lower levels, of the army. And given the way in which the Islamic forces have so cleverly used their time in office to appear, quite wrongly, as a "moderate" force, a "new kind of Islam" -- the kind of thing that the defeated secularists and Western governments all want desperately to believe because the truth is too unpleasant, too hard to take -- one wonders if the army can indeed stage another coup ...

The True Believers are always trying to infiltrate, through the lower ranks, and now up into the officer corps, the army. There are reports, but who knows if they are reliable or not, that they have recently been more successful at such infiltration than in the past -- just a bit better at hiding things, or perhaps being protected by others who secretly agree with them, slightly higher up. Anyone who assumes that "the Army" will always be ready and able to easily crush the forces of organized Islam is whistling in the dark."

From the little I know about Islam, I tend to think Akyol is looking at Islam through rose coloured glasses. He says "We really need to give peace a chance". Give liberated Islam a chance? I can think of nothing more frightening for Turkey or any country. Fundamentalist Muslims always outbreed the secular and moderate Muslims. Demography is destiny. The army and courts cannot bail Turkey out forever.

Akyol and his like bring forth liberated Islam. It's the generations after Akyol that are the concern. This lady sees it. Do you think she wants to "give peace a chance"? Secular Turks might be better off working for their independence from religious Turks. Kemalism is failing under the weight of numbers ...