We have just viewed a documentary about the extraordinary transformation of a society from neglect by its own state, to becoming a nation state, to gaining national identity, freedom, and dignity. This was not a small feat, difficult to grasp in abstract. To appreciate its value in today’s terms, you can visualize Saudi Arabia adopting a republican parliamentary system, changing its script, and recognizing the equality of women. What I would like to emphasize though, is the objective of this unfinished Turkish transformation. The objective was, “to catch up with the contemporary civilization”. All that struggle was for taking the nation from a rotten theocracy to democracy. You heard, in the documentary, from his mouth, the word democracy. The word was not used in those days as commonly as today, though in distorted ways in many countries. Ataturk believed “cultures vary; civilization is common to the humanity”. This is a concept of participation in the making of The Civilization; a continuous work for not being left out of human progress; a beacon for all nations. Andrew Mango superbly described the objective of Turkish reforms, “The motive for all these changes was not imitation of, but participation in an universal civilization and culture”. Ataturk, while entrusting to the youth the progressiveness towards civilization, said, “If we will remember how this victory was won, we will easily appreciate the importance and greatness of the duty that falls upon the nation to protect and preserve it. We need to further it, not to keep it constant or, God forbid, to reverse it”.
I will try to demonstrate whether Turks advanced, protected, or reversed this transformation towards contemporariness. I will take three subject areas as examples, because, I believe the state of education, human rights -as the status of women in the society-, and democracy –as freedom of speech and secularism- are the best measures of a society’s contemporariness.
First, the state of basic education in Turkey. (Slide 1*) Soon after the introduction of the multi-party system in Turkey, immediately after WWII, Imam Schools of religious teaching started opening, and they mushroomed in increasing numbers since. Their number now exceeds 60.000, ten times the number it was in 1995. Mandatory Koran and religious courses were introduced in all the schools, which are required also to provide prayer rooms and time for prayer. In June 2012, Turkey signed an agreement with Iran for cooperation in education. The agreement provides for the exchange of information and resources in education from pre-school to university level, and for joint activities. Preparations for opening a joint university in the city of Van are underway. (2*) The objective of this education policy was clearly defined by the governing party’s leader, “we will raise a pious generation”. On the other hand, the average education expenditure per child in elementary through high school in Turkey is the lowest among the 35 OECD members states. Well, he succeeded in raising a pious generation. Turkey’s own Statistics Administration 2009 data shows 68.5 % of the population is either illiterate, literate but unschooled, or has elementary schooling (12.75, 23.75, 32.0 %). This finding closely follows the results of a survey, carried out by the Bahcesehir Un. in the same year, on the most important value for Turks. Religion was the most important for 62%, secularism for 16%, and democracy for 13%. We can safely assume, therefore, that approximately 1/3 of the electorate can make a rational decision in voting, leaving them at the mercy of the 2/3 totally or partially illiterate people. This is, in a nutshell, the state of basic education in Turkey, which is supposed to be on the path to contemporary civilization. Political scientist Leslie Lipson said in an ASA symposium, “The quality of every democracy is the quality pervading the mass of its citizens”. Here is another quote from the great historian Crane Brinton, “In this world, if you set out to build a society in which human beings behave as much like ants as possible, you are not likely to get a society in which they behave like lions.”
Turkey’s record on the status of women in society is not better than it is on education. (3*) Women are constantly reminded by politicians –hence by their husbands- to cover themselves up, better yet to stay indoors, and take care of their home, husband, and children, and have even more children. A senior member of the Cabinet suggested recently that women should not laugh loudly in public. Another politician opined that pregnant women’s presence in public is against the religious values. The party leader, during a visit by some women’s organizations about a year ago, stated right in the face of his visitors, “men and women are not equal, women are complementary to men”. (4*) True to this social policy, parents require their daughters to cover up even at the pre-school age, and encourage them to marry as early as age 14. A 2010 survey by Hacettepe Un. indicated that almost 40% of Turkish women between the ages of 15 and 49 were married by the time they turned 18. Naturally then, 64% of unschooled and even 8.8% of schooled women find domestic abuse of women normal. In the five-year period 2002-2007, 5.367 women were murdered in order to cleanse the honor of their family with their blood. (5*) Accordingly, Turkey ranked 125th among 142 nations, in the World Economic Forum’s 2014 Gender Gap Index, down 20 places since 2006; a downward trend indeed in a short period of time. For any civilized person, this behavior and mentality is utterly incomprehensible, and in my personal vocabulary, it is a disgrace that has no place in contemporary civilization.
Now the picture of democracy in Turkey. (6*) Turkey, in terms of freedom of speech, has the honor of topping the world list of imprisoned journalists. Opposition media is silenced in many different ways that I will not go into details. Turkey’s Savings Deposit Insurance Fund seizes control of companies, a la Putin style, thereafter transfers their ownership to cronies by sham bids. The party uses its absolute majority in the parliament to shut down all ensuing investigations. A grafting scandal among the cabinet ministers and their sons, including the PM’s son, could not be investigated because a media ban was imposed, police, prosecutors, and judges involved were exiled to remote towns. (7*) Public protests are brutally silenced by police, arrests, prosecutions, and media attacks. The party leader, the prime minister, the president –now effectively combined in the same person- personally files suits- hundreds of them- against any action discrediting him. He even asks the public to spy on their neighbors, teachers or students who protest against the government. (8*) Believe it or not, all of this is done in the name of democracy. Democracy is interpreted in a manner that the government actions are one-and-the same as the public will. Therefore, any opposition is prosecuted as threat to public will. Hence, you have a police state, not a democratic state. (9*) After having cut the wings of the military, a formidable police force was formed almost equaling the 700.000 strong military. The number of police reached 350.000, and the 200.000 rural force is attached to the Ministry in charge of the police. The party leader stated, “The State’s well being is in the hands of the police force”. He means, of course, in his own hands, not in the hands of the people or even of the judiciary. Accordingly, Turkey’s human rights record is the worst among the European Human Rights Convention participants. Do Turks believe that these oppressive actions are really their own will?
When it comes to secularism, (10*) I will simply refer to the Turkish Constitutional Court judgment of 2011 that found the administration in breach of the constitutional mandate of secularism. “The Defendant Party became the center of anti-secular activities by determined and intensive actions of all members of the Party from its leader down. The Party aims at the introduction of religious rules, and a social model based on religion, instead of secular and democratic state laws where fundamental rights and freedoms are stipulated.
The Court finds, That the Defendant Party’s proposed changes in the Constitution and the Higher Education Law, and the activities mentioned above show its intention to create the ground for changing the fundamental principles of the Turkish Republican State;
That it is determined to transform the secular Republic into a new life style and regime, and started to divide the society into believers and non-believers;
The actions mentioned above require the closure of the defendant Party in accordance with the Constitutional Articles 68/4 and 69/6.” To conclude, however, the Court found some extenuating reasons for sentencing the Party only to a small pecuniary punishment. Nevertheless, the Party’s true intention was put on record for eternity by the highest court of the land. (11*) But, Turks seem to have a short memory; they have already forgotten that the party is a convicted party, not an acquitted party. They voted again and again in favor of that party. It was easy, therefore, for the Party to disregard this ruling, like it did many European Human Rights Court decisions, and it continued on its Islamic course. The party’s leader stated, in fact, his intention on secularism very early on in his carrier, “We cannot be the guardian of the Kemalist regime”, “Our objective is a Muslim state. The 1.5 billion Muslim world is impatiently waiting for us to revolt; God willing the battle will begin”. (12*) (I believe the dangerous ME stage today could have been entirely different had the West not come up with the weird idea of “moderate Islam” as a stopgap measure against the “militant Islam”. As we all know, you cannot be half-pregnant. There cannot be moderate Islam -or moderate any religion for that matter- like there cannot be democracy without secularism. Leslie Lipson, when discussing the choice between religion and civilization, wrote, “you cannot go in opposite directions at the same time.”)
A brief look, therefore, at Turkey’s standing in international relations would be appropriate. (13*) Consistent with its domestic Islamic agenda, the government pursues a foreign policy of support for Hamas in Palestine, Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, and Sunnis in Iraq and Syria. Support for Muslim Brotherhood went so far that diplomatic ties between the two countries are cut; the Turkish party leader uses Muslim Brotherhood’s Rabia sign to greet the public. (14*) A recent survey by Gezici Research Co. shows that 53% of Turks support radical Islam. A MetroPoll Co. polling revealed that 11.3% support ISIS, 51% do not even consider ISIS a danger. There is obviously, underlying this public attitude and the foreign policy, an aspiration for the revival of the Ottoman greatness, and ultimately the assumption of leadership of the vast Islamic world. Turkey’s friendly policy towards the East can be contrasted with her scornful policy towards the West. At the center of this Western policy is the insistence for admission into the EU, insistence to the point that the rhetoric towards the EU is the same angry and combative language typical to the party leader. (15*) He reproaches the EU for not admitting Turkey to membership “as is”, namely with all of Turkey’s package of large population, low educational level, lack of democracy and secularism, ethnic and sectarian divisions, uneasy relations with many neighboring countries, etc. Europe is aware that Turkey is no longer the modern Turkey once was, the modern Turkey for which the groundwork was done in industrialization, the change in attire and script, as you saw in the documentary. Turkey did not pass the EU’s civilizational test, and that an EU member Turkey may Islamicize also Europe. (16*) EU knows that the historic Troy’s horse is symbolically standing at Europe’s doorsteps. The party leader, copying Putin’s posture of a world leader, angrily and combatively challenges and quarrels with the UN and Western leaders. Even international companies, like Facebook, Twitter, foreign media, and credit companies get their share; the same credit companies that downgraded also the US’s credit score without being insulted. This is Turkey’s image in the civilized world. Are Turks really happy with this image?
I believe it is unfair to put the onus entirely on this Islamist party. After all, the majority brings a party to power. I know you will think, the majority of the electorate represents usually about 40% of the people, and at the last presidential election it was 30%. My personal conviction, in view of research polls and daily reports of events in Turkey, is that about half of the population does not object to (I am not saying “approve of”) the Islamic direction the country has taken. They are indifferent, like they are to being called by that party leader “my nation”, as if the nation is his property, who dares to slap, swear at, and mislead them. Since the public carried him on their shoulders, he thinks he can trample those shoulders.
There is yet another factor in the making of this sad state of affairs though. All parties that came to power before this Islamist party failed in preparing the people for a true and functioning democracy. They failed in changing people’s indifference into interest in their own management. Through manipulation of democracy, people are squeezed now between Arabization and Kurdization. Turkey seems to have lost its rudder in post-WWII pluralist political storm, when civil societies became the most important elements in checks and balances in governing. Unfortunately, this opportunity came to Turkey while Turkey was already on the path to Islamization. German historian J. Glasneck wrote “Looking back, we see that Turkish governments reformism died with Ataturk’s death. His death is a turning point in Turkey’s history.” I will add to that observation, that the absence of people‘s consciousness of their duty to participate in governance was the death toll for Turkish reformism. (17*) A survey of civil societies in Turkey by Prof. Ozcan, in 2007, showed that one third of civil societies were formed for mosque construction; 35.000 of them, as against 96 cultural societies. This means one third of the people, who have the motivation to get organized for their well-being, seek not education or political participation, but prayer. The number of mosques in the country now is twice the schools’. This is what the Turkish democracy produced. Coming back to the question I raised at the outset, I must conclude that Turks did not advance nor protected the earlier attempt for contemporariness. Therefore, they must have reversed it. Because, even if they may have advanced in other areas, they retrogressed in education, the status of women in society, and in democracy.
Political scientist W. Ebenstein wrote, “if people forget their obligations, they will drive democracy to its death”. Although resurrection of the dead is not scientifically possible, in social matters there is no reason for despair. As long as there are Turks dedicated to catching up with the contemporary civilization – who are generally called Ataturkists-, there is a solution. No doubt, at this advanced stage, changing the mass’ resistance behavior, from resistance-to- reforms, to resistance-to-retrogression, will be an arduous task. Now, the anti-reformists are anchored firmly in the society. The burden of a long fight falls upon the shoulders of the progressive youth and women. Remember that social and political progress, i.e. civilizational advancement in many countries, were achieved by student movements. My envisioned solution is as follows: 1- Organize around the republic’s original objective, formulate correctly the public will, like about the state system, judicial system, government transparency, education system, secularism, etc. 2- Keep not only the government, but also the opposition parties under pressure for these objectives. Make use of the social media aggressively for this purpose. 3- Launch a program to educate the people about the relation between the rational education and progress, and their civil right and responsibility of participating in the country’s management, on a daily basis instead of from election to election. Teach the public, if they do not assert their power, governments impose their own. 4- Education of masses takes at least one generational period for it to take hold. It took Islamists fifty years to raise a pious youth resentful of reforms. Your job is even more difficult than theirs was. Do not bend under the so-called “democratic despotism and majority tyranny”. 5- Bear in mind that the Islamists’ fertile ground is democracy, liberalism, and freedom. These are their disguises, and their shield. Chris Caldwell wrote in NYT Magazine of Sept. 25, 2005, “In a Turkish context, more democracy generally means more Islam”. Therefore, do not be fooled with the dissimulation typical to Islamists. Be alert to the possibility of losing your rights in the name of democracy.
The party leader once said, “Why standing like a stalk on Nov. 10”, but you will see him tomorrow standing at the foot of Ataturk, trembling like a Nov. leaf ready to fall, because he is aware that his contempt for republican reforms weakened him and empowered the youth. (18*) The grotesque and abhorrent palace he built for himself is an offence to human values, an affront to needy populations, an attempt to hide his fear behind his megalomania, and a fortress where ultimately he will take refuge from the youth’s growing power. (19*) The time for you to act is now. Let the general elections of 2015 be your clarion call. You can turn the country from a loss for the contemporary civilization, into a gain for humanity, if each one of you has the same ideal and determination as Ataturk did.