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.


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mara mcglothin

2/13/2013 4:24:54 PM

AYAZID I don't see the ME through a Star Wars lens, but THY's new uniforms are looking a lot like a Star Trek episode. I don't have to understand the ME to know that democracy is the only way for these people to come together and stop fighting each other over petty religious differences. What year is it anyway?


2/12/2013 8:51:44 PM

@ mara, as I said, you really should do some additional home reading and not just rely on BB's columns, FOX News and your superior democratic instincts, it would really help you. Maybe you will even stop to perceive the reality of the Middle East through the optic of Star Wars. :)

mara mcglothin

2/12/2013 4:26:27 PM

AYAZID I am well aware that my views are slanted towards a democratic way of doing things, but can't we say the same for you. Of course I don't know where you are from and where you developed your thinking, but I can say that the ME is missing a huge opportunity to join civilization. If they were exposed to more free thinking then the sky would be the limit.


2/12/2013 11:29:30 AM

@ mara, I am afraid that your American experiences won't help you much to understand the Middle East and its people and reading of Burak Bekdil's columns apparently only reinforces your prejudices. I would recommend you some further reading. Maybe you will realize that what happens in the Muslim world can't be simply reduced to a simple fight between the forces of good (US, Israel, Kemalists) and evil Islamic "nuts".

mara mcglothin

2/11/2013 11:39:41 PM

AYAZID In America, we don't have religion involved in government, BUT politicians come from many faiths and beliefs, so religion is never completely out of government nor am I saying that it should be. I wouldn't , however vote for a man who went into a church to campaign for office. This is where the line should be. To each his own. In USA I don't believe a Catholic has killed a Baptist because they were Baptist in quite some time, if ever. Can you say the same for Sunni/ Shia? Barbarians?


2/11/2013 7:29:38 PM

@ mara, BB's dislike of Islam, particularly of its sociopolitical aspect, is rather obvious, but I am not really surprised that you can't see that, given that you called the people of the Middle East "barbarians" in one of your comments. The path of the Muslim world to democracy is slow but any voice calling moderation and reform in Islam is precious and should be encouraged. To think that the best solution is a strict separation of religion and state is delusional and it's not gonna work.


2/11/2013 7:07:34 PM

@ Johanna, yes you did. You claimed that he is an Islamist and pro-Sharia, which he isn't. Anyway, Islamism is currently the most popular political movement in the Muslim world and it has pretty deep roots. You can't simply outlaw it or demonize it into extinction. It's going to stay. The MB in Egypt and similar parties have a considerable support and the only solution is to give them the chance to evolve and become a more moderate political force. What exactly do you propose instead?

Köksüz Kosmopolit

2/11/2013 5:00:45 PM

Ooh, looks like BB's shaft hit home. And I'm sorry, MA, but your rejoinder is weak. Do try to remember the 1st Rule of Being in a Hole.

mara mcglothin

2/11/2013 4:05:30 PM

AYAZID I don't see that BURAK BEY Has a dislike for Islam at all. I see that he is as skeptical as the rest of us in regard to a secular democracy that is run by Islam. It simply can't work. MA still thinks that is can, but the rest of us know that is not the case. You can't mix your religion with your government and expect there to be any protection for the minorities. Simple. I wish MA's views were doable, but they aren't. Where has an islamic government been democratic? Nowhere.

Johanna Dew

2/11/2013 2:18:19 PM

@Ayazid: I didm't accuse MA to be Islamist, I only made up my mind after years of reading, meeting, watching and even hearing MA in relation to Islam. And it was not that long ago that he praised the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt (days before Morsi did a coup) and Tunisia and started dreaming of more alike to come. Someone liked MA to Tariq Ramadan after a panel discussion. He was right.Satisfied?
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