Sunday, May 13, 2007

Turkey and Secularism

Been meaning to post something about this. Title link leads to a good article by Anthony Shadid about the politics of securlarism vs. Islamism in Turkey.

"One of the most secular of Muslim nations, Turkey is wrestling with a social transformation brought to the fore by this month's crisis over the ruling party's choice for president and the coming elections. Analysts say the secular, Westernized elite that claims the legacy of Turkey's founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, is facing the rise of a more religious, conservative and often rural class seeking a place in Turkey's hierarchy, its voice often articulated by the ruling party. Critics say the AK Party has yet to play its hand: Fully enshrined in power, it will promote political Islam and chip away at secular freedoms. Others view the party's ascent as inevitable.

"It's a vehicle for modernization of the unmodernized," said Dogu Ergil, a political science professor at Ankara University.

Or in the words of Rahime Dizen, relaxing near trees on a grassy hill in Umraniye with her friends, gingerly sewing a border for a brown head scarf embossed with a floral pattern: "We were sitting in mud before."

Her friend Durdaneh Onge, 58, smiled. She raised the hand of her 4-year-old granddaughter, Ebrar.

"I want them to lead the country, and I want this girl to be president," she said, laughing with the others. "Of course! Why not? Everyone comes from a village. They were not all born as prime ministers and presidents."

The women listed improvements in the neighborhood, run by the party. They no longer wait in lines for bread and gas. The roads are better, and so is the water. Dizen said she thought pensions should be increased more, but hers was the rare complaint."

But of course since they still wear headscarves it doesn't matter that they used to sit in mud, they're still oppressed. Ok, ok, I'll quit with the humor for a little bit.

The idea of a secular Turkey is one of the most absurd ideas in the Middle East. Turkey's elite, lead by Mustafa Kemal, a.k.a. Attaturk, took the country that was the heart of the Ottoman Empire, that was heir to hundreds of years of Islamic culture, and tried to strip it bare, to the point of even prohibiting Sufi brotherhoods from meeting.

The script that they used, derived from Persian, was chucked out the window for an adapted Latin script using diacritical marks, something that didn't exist before the 20th century and which isn't the language that any of the writings from the Ottoman days is written in. Attaturk began a program of purging the very language of Turkey itself from loan words from Persian and Arabic, substituting Turkish equivalents, much like the French try in vain to do every now and again. They deported most of the Greek population from Turkey, which encompasses much of the area of ancient Greece, including Aristotle's birthplace, and which has been populated by Greeks since, well, since the time of Homer (Troy of "The Illiad" was located in today's Turkey). This was done in the name of national unity and forging a separate Turkish identity. Turks who lived in Bulgaria, Romania, and Greece were also repatriated to Turkey. I'm not sure what the circumstances of that were, whether it was forced or not. Bulgaria, Romania, and Greece were part of the Ottoman Empire for centuries, just in case you weren't paying attention.

Kemal declared Turkey a secular Republic, tried to convince people that their Ottoman past was backwards, purified the language, purified the people, and aimed at selling the former heart of the dominant Empire in the Middle East as a now reformed Western State.

This is what motivates the drive for EU membership as well. The utter absurdity of the heart of the Ottoman Empire joining the European Union is obvious to anyone who's aware of the history. What an utter insult to their cultural, religious, and historical heritage.

What the Islamists, who aren't Salafists, the more politically correct term for Wahabbis, but who are instead people who seek social justice through the lens of the cultural traditions that Turks in Turkey have known for centuries, that which their entire Empire was based on: Islam.

They have a right to do this. They have a right, as a nation that's been existence for centuries, that has never been part of Europe, to keep their cultural identity.

Anything less would be uncivilized.

1 comment:

Ayse said...

Turks don't take to the streets. Yet 650,000 demonstrated in Ankara, 1 million apiece in Istanbul and Izmir and tens of thousands in smaller cities. Not all were mini-skirt wearing female judges (!) - there was a hefty "bescarved" contingent. And there were truck drivers and teachers, postmen and corner store owners, the young and the old, socialists, liberals and conservatives.

And they were protesting against not only Islam in political life, but the blanket prescriptions by non-Turk muslims.

Sort of reminds me of how we abolished the Caliphate thanks to meddling from abroad to keep it.