“Ironically, the far-right nationalists are now vehemently against the Islamists, and that’s some good news. Because the Turks are fiercely nationalistic, there may be a way to resurrect nationalism and get rid of the Islamists once more.”– from a posting at Jihad Watch by a citizen of Turkey
Not sure why it should be “ironically” that the “far-right nationalists are now vehemently against the Islamists,” because that was always the case, wasn’t it? That has been true since the initial flourish of laws in the time of Ataturk himself — to limit the power of Arabs, Arabic, and arabization by providing a Qur’an in Turkish and with a Turkish commentary, to make an end for Turkish of the Arabic script and adopting the Latin script, to give women the right to vote, and to create a ministry of religious affairs that would monitor or even write the sermons. In the armed forces those who gave signs of deep belief (such as frequent reading of the Qur’an) would be cashiered, and higher education was strictly secular. It was put in the hands of those who were leery of Islam. (Surely one of the first things that the new regime will attempt to do will be to take on again the universities and those who still control them. It will attempt to discharge those, especially certain brave Rectors, who have so far remained firm in keeping Erdogan and others of the islamist line from gaining control in the Wars of the Rectors.) And of course there were new laws regarding clothing — the banning of the hijab in government offices or on official business (see the wife of Abdullah Gul, see the wife of Tayyip Erdogan), and the forcible imposition of Western dress on men, with such measures as the Hat Act. It is much harder to pray five times a day with a Western visored cap or hat than with a fez.
The steady and relentless pressure of such laws, and of the attitude of suspicion and hostility toward Islam — recognized as the very thing that was holding Turkey down and out — helped create the class of “Muslim-but-secular” Turks who are a much greater proportion of the Muslim population than in any member of the O.I.C. save, possibly, Kazakhstan. (Kazakhstan registers the best results among the five stans possibly because of its large non-Muslim population — Russians, Jews, and many other “nationalities,” including, even, Koreans.)
But those laws were not end of it. Dealing with the primitive masses, the Kemalist Turks in control developed an alternative narrative to the narrative of Islam. It went like this: the “best of people” were no longer the Arab Muslims (for the Turks, like the Iranians contemptuous of the “desert” Arabs, also dimly recognized that Islam was a vehicle for Arab supremacism), but the Turks themselves, the “Sun People.” Inonu worked on this. It offered the myth of “the Turk,” a category that both appeared to exclude non-Muslims (Christians and Jews could be citizens of Turkey, with theoretical legal equality, but they were not “Turks.”) At the same time, it backdated the claim of the Turks, back through the Osmanlis and the Seljuk Turks, back through Byzantium, all the way to the Hittites, so that everything that happened in Anatolia seemed to be appropriated into the “history of the Turk.”
But more important than this has been the cult of Ataturk: the books about him, the formerly omnipresent pictures of him, the warrior at Gallipoli, the wise lawgiver pondering his nation’s course at Dolmabahce Palace, the all-knowing all-wise never-to-be-questioned leader who ended up — unsurprisingly — as a replacement for Muhamamd, uswa hasana, al-insan al-kamil.
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.
Why didn’t those secularists, all these years, for the past half-century, work and work and work like madmen to change the minds of men, to continue the work of Ataturk, to substitute not a crude cult of “the Turk” and the “Sun People” and Ataturk as the Great Man, but to steadily create a class of Western men, encouraging skepticism and a spirit of criticism and self-criticism, that could exist with a reasonable patriotism? Why didn’t they, long ago, begin to discuss, for example, the Armenian question? Instead of shunning the issue and trying to shut down all discussion inside and outside Turkey, they could have studied those mass murders as being prompted — as indeed they were — not by “the Turks” engaged in ethnic warfare, but by Muslim Turks (and Muslim Kurds too) against Armenians because they were Christians, as the detailed first-person memoirs, with the shouts of “giaour” and the fiendish glee with which the pregnant wives of priests were immolated, help to make clear. Why not, in other words, blame Islam-maddened Turks and Kurds, and not “Turks and Kurds”? That is, why not blame Islam for what happened, since it is clearly to blame?
And why did secular Turks not look closely at the example of Iran, where secular, leftist Iranians were snookered into helping overthrow the Shah by Khomeini and the True Believers, and then destroyed? (Yes, the Shah was corrupt and vainglorious, but compared to what followed, he and his court, those hoveydas and tabatabais, look better every day.) It will always be that way. The Muslims will use, as they are now using some among the secularists, to deplore the army, to deplore the laws that the threat of Islam makes necessary. And those secularists, not having studied carefully the example of Iran, fall for it. For god’s sake, what happened to the elegant Bakhtiari? To Bani-Sadr? To Ghotbzahadeh? What happened to Iranian intellectuals? Who was jailed? Who went mad in jail? Who was murdered, who with his wife was decapitated, and their heads left on either side of the mantelpiece in their house? Haven’t the past nearly thirty years of the Islamic Republic of Iran right next door taught the Turkish secularists, the ones who think that Turkey can be just as solicitous of civil rights as the United States, what they needed to know?
The Turkish secularists let the army be their final protection. They accepted Kemalism and the benefits it brought. It made their own existence possible. But they were not grateful enough. They did not continue to work to weaken the power of Islam over the minds of men. They were not sufficiently relentless and ruthless. They did not stress or even make the connection between all the failures of Turkish society and Islam. That includes its political and economic failures: Turkey”s current boom deflects attention from the high permanent unemployment rate, and may also be partly the consequence of the giant sums being expended in Iraq by the Americans, and dislocations in Iraq that redound to Turkish benefit. It also includes its social and intellectual failures: the bookstores of Istiqlal Caddesi are one thing, the Islamic bookstores quite another. Then there are its moral failures: the refusal to discuss the mass-murder of Armenians, or the treatment of the Jewish refugees on the Struma, or the massacres in Smyrna, not to mention the Varlik Vergesi (a special, confiscatory tax imposed during World War II on Jews, Armenians, and Greeks), and the attacks on the Greek community of Istanbul in 1955 (see “The Mechanism of Catastrophe” by Speros Vryonis). All that was part of the continued discrimination and persecution that has helped to reduce the non-Muslim proportion of Istanbul’s population from 50% in 1914 to 1% today.
Surely these things need to be written about, studied, discussed in Turkey — and not only intermittently, and then by Orhan Pamuk of or someone of similar protecting fame, but continually, as part of the accepted daily fare, as openly as in Western countries their historic misdeeds are analyzed and discussed. For Turkey”s secularists should wish to imprint on the collective mind the importance of study, investigation, analysis. That includes what, in the history of such mistreatment of non-Muslims, is owed to the promptings of Islam and not to some “ethnic” conflict as, at times, one is lead to believe: that “the Turks” made war on “the Armenians” when in fact it was Muslims, Turks and Kurds who made war on Christian Armenians and for reasons having to do with their being Christians more than their being Armenians.
In the schools, beginning with higher education, secularists need to insist that this subject — Islam and its influence on Turkish behavior — be discussed. Along with this, why should there not begin to be open discussion of how a land completely un-Muslim became Islamized, and how, indeed, so many of those who proudly call themselves Turks would discover, if they could or would investigate, that they are in fact the descendants of forcibly converted, or seized, Christians and Jews? How many fiercely nationalist or Islamic Turks, for example, were Armenians two or three generations ago?
The problem of the Turkish secularists is that they represent, at most, perhaps 25% of the population. After 80 years of Kemalism. That isn’t enough. It won’t be enough to withstand a cunning, tireless, relentless enemy of secularism. The Islamic side knows how to wait, and work, steadily, for their ends. For one startling example of this, see Fethulleh Gulen’s counsel of cunning and patience (recently translated by the scholarly Samaritans at www.MEMRI.org). Here is the most telling part:
“You must move in the arteries of the system, without anyone noticing your existence, until you reach all the power centers”¦ until the conditions are ripe, they [the followers] must continue like this. If they do something prematurely, the world will crush our heads, and Muslims will suffer everywhere, like in the tragedies in Algeria, like in 1982 [in] Syria”¦ like in the yearly disasters and tragedies in Egypt. The time is not yet right. You must wait for the time when you are complete, and conditions are ripe, until we can shoulder the entire world and carry it”¦ You must wait until such time as you have gotten all the state power, until you have brought to your side all the power of the constitutional institutions in Turkey”¦ Until that time, any step taken would be too early – like breaking an egg without waiting the full 40 days for it to hatch. It would be like killing the chick inside. The work to be done is [in] confronting the world. Now, I have expressed my feelings and thoughts to you all – in confidence”¦ trusting your loyalty and sensitivity to secrecy. I know that when you leave here – [just] as you discard your empty juice boxes, you must discard the thoughts and feelings expressed here.”
One thing the secular Turks can now do is make sure that all the Westerners they know, those long resident in Istanbul (of the Freely sort), those who come to study or trade, those whom they will continue to meet abroad, Western politicians, military men, academics, journalists, are made fully aware of their plight, and warned about the dangers of taking this “moderate Islamist” (as the BBC is now calling it) victory as anything other than a danger, a menace. The secularists should work away among the thinking portion of the Turkish population abroad — for example, among the millions in Western Europe — to enroll them in a campaign that can be billed as “upholding the legacy of Ataturk.” (If the secularists ever manage to return to power, chastened, they must do much more than merely “uphold the legacy of Ataturk” but extend it, far beyond what they have done so far.) And those Turkish secularists who once looked to the army to rescue them in case of need, and now think that they can be rescued, or at least the problem shared with others by having Turkey admitted into the E.U., should instead realize that Turkey will not be, and should not be, admitted into the E.U., and that they will have to rely mostly on themselves, and that they cannot expect the menaced Infidels of Western Europe to share their danger in quite so immediate and menacing a way.
They should understand this rejection of Turkey’s application — understand it sympathetically. Would they, were they the citizens of Italy or France, want a Muslim country, with a population of 80 million, to become part of the E.U.? Would they want Muslims from Turkey, or other Muslims who could far more easily move into the E.U. from Turkey, moving freely about, visa-less, what would be one big Schengenland? (Think of the security problems as Arabs and Iranians — hard for the Westerners to distinguish from Turks — would try to enter the E.U. as “Turks.”) Of course they wouldn’t, and any resentment at the West for not wishing to share the problem of Islam more than it already does, is misplaced.
The Turkish secularists, like the Iranian secularists, did not realize that the primitive masses will always return to Islam — or rather, that the hold of Islam is so great, that they will not have left it in the first place. And what happens in the capital (Istanbul,Teheran) is not what happens elsewhere. Never have the secularists, or “leftists” as they are often crudely and inaccurately called by the Western press, managed to outfox the upholders of Islam. It is always the other way round.