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MUSTAFA AKYOL > A response to a below-the-belt punch

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Once again, my column neighbor Burak Bekdil, who long ago unilaterally decided that we should be “sparring partners,” devoted his piece to an ad hominem take on me. (“Dear Sparring Partner,” Hürriyet Daily News, Feb. 6, 2013) Once again, therefore, I need to explain what he misunderstood, or, far worse, misrepresented.

This time, Burak had two separate reasons to speak to me “in the face”: A piece and a tweet of mine.

The piece was the one titled, “Mali: Totalitarian vs. Liberal Islamism,” in which I explained that there are “totalitarian Islamists” who want to ban alcohol and “liberal Islamists” who want to “convince the people not to drink.” Yet in the eyes of Burak, this was a stupid distinction, for a liberal could only be someone who does not give a damn about what people do.

He would prove more nuanced, though, if he tried to understand what I mean by liberal. In these pages, and elsewhere, I have repeatedly noted that I defend liberalism as a political idea, not a cultural attitude. In other words, I simply defend the right of individuals to not be coerced to act against their will by either a state or a society. Anyone who accepts this basic liberty is for me a liberal.

However, this does not mean that liberals cannot have their own convictions about “the right way of life,” and try to advance these ideas by non-coercive means.

Burak, here is an easier example for you: You know that there are many secular feminists who believe that the Islamic headscarf is a “sign of male domination.” If they promote this idea only by civil means (media, NGOs, campaigns) I would call them “liberal feminists.” But if they decide to ban the headscarf, like in Turkey or France, I would call them “authoritarian” or “totalitarian” feminists, based on the scope of their dictates.

Does it make sense now?

Now let’s come to the second issue, my controversial tweet about Ecevit Şanlı, the suicide bomber who attacked the U.S. Embassy in Ankara on Feb. 1.

Here, Burak, I will be honest: You got me, because that ambiguous tweet of mine was a mistake. Hence, in case you didn’t see it, I did apologize on Twitter to anyone who might have been offended by it. Yet, Burak, you got things wrong here as well.

Here is the brief story: In the first hours after the bombing, the ideology of the bomber was in question. I noted that he was a member of the Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party/Front (DHKP/C), one of Turkey’s Marxist-Leninist terror groups. In addition to that, for non-Turkish followers who can’t get hints from names, I noted that the bomber’s first name was the surname of a late left-wing prime minister, Bülent Ecevit, which hinted at “a family tradition… in the sense of being overtly leftist – not terrorist, of course.”

From this, Burak, you seem to have gotten the impression that I accused the late Bülent Ecevit of terrorism. Hence you chose to make fun of me with lots of blah, blah, blah. But I was referring to what is only a fact: In Turkey, some people purposely give ideological names to their children, like “Devrim” (Revolution) or “Evrim” (Evolution). Giving the surname of an iconic politician as a first name to your child is another example. On the right, this can be “Menderes,” on the left, it can be “Ecevit.”

Therefore Burak, you did not need to do a Google search to prove to me that Bülent Ecevit – a politician I often criticized, but always respected – had nothing to do with terrorism. That was not the issue. But you either did not get the nuance, or intentionally blurred it. Since you are smart, I suspect the latter. And for the very same reason, I believe you can do better next time.

February/09/2013

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