MUSTAFA AKYOL > Dismantling Kemalism: One more step

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Bekir Bozdağ, the deputy prime minister of Turkey, announced a new legal reform the other day: Four of the eight “revolutionary laws” that Atatürk, Turkey’s founder, imposed in the early 1920s will be abandoned. These are:

- The “hat law” which makes it illegal for any Turk to wear the fez, the traditional Ottoman headgear, and which makes it compulsory for all public servants to wear a Western-style brimmed hat.

- The law that bans “tekkes, türbes and zaviyes,” the traditional shrines and centers of the Sufi orders, which have been technically illegal since 1924.

 - The law that bans the usage of honorific titles such as “efendi, bey, paşa, ağa, hacı, hafız, hoca, molla, beyefendi, hanım, hanımefendi and hazretleri.” These were terms used in Ottoman culture to denote a feudal, religious or bureaucratic status.

- And finally, the law that bans “certain dress codes,” especially religious garments worn by Islamic, Christian or Jewish clerics (that is why imams in Turkey can wear their turban and tunic only in mosques and not on the streets).

Hüseyin Çelik, the deputy president of the governing Justice and Development Party (AKP), also spoke on this issue. “No law lasts forever,” he told daily Radikal, “the ones that do not fit the zeitgeist can be abandoned.”

I, of course, agree with Bozdağ and Çelik and welcome this new step by the AKP government to dismantle yet another authoritarian decree of Kemalism, Turkey’s longtime official ideology. I even hope the rest of the “revolutionary laws” will go into the dustbin of history as well.

The reason is simple: all these “revolutionary” laws are both anti-democratic and illiberal. In other words, they were imposed without any popular support and they curbed individual freedom.

The Kemalists, as expected, have always claimed that these laws in fact served freedom, for they were aimed at “freeing society from a tradition of dogma.” But it was only they who, in a very authoritarian way, decided that this “emancipation” was necessary. This was hardly any different than the communist regimes of the past century that oppressed their societies in order to save them from “false consciousness.”

To be sure, Kemalist Turkey has been softer in its authoritarianism than most communist regimes. That is why some of the “revolutionary laws” in question have become practically void. Hence very few people still wear the brimmed hat, which was a very serious matter in 1925 when it was first imposed (several critics of that “hat revolution” were executed by the Kemalist regime). Titles such as “bey,” “hanım” or “paşa” have never disappeared from the common language, whereas their artificial counterparts (“bay,” “bayan,” or “general”) have never gained equal popularity.

Yet it is still important to abandon these laws in order to de-sanctify Kemalism and redefine it as just one of the many valid political ideas, as it should be in any free and democratic country. Moreover, as some hardcore Kemalist groups still come up very often demanding, “revolutionary laws must be imposed,” it is important to get rid of these threats to liberty, even if they remain on paper.

Finally, what should replace Kemalism for Turkey is of course not another authoritarian official ideology, such as Islamism. Kemalists often claim that this is their only alternative and hence their hegemony must be kept intact. Rather, what we will have, I guess, is a more pluralist Turkey in which more colors exist and none are suppressed by law.


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Aybike Bakan

11/20/2012 10:50:29 PM

I am not part of a minority ethnic group in Turkey, so I never understood why everybody made a big deal about these laws, especially about the headscarf law. But now I see how limiting these laws are for many groups and It makes me sad. Because someone is wearing a headscarf does NOT mean they are fundamentalist and they hate Ataturk. We need to stay away from such extreme opinions and try to meet somewhere in the middle. We all make mistakes, learn to forgive and please learn to love.

Oz_man .

11/13/2012 4:37:13 PM

If the headscarf is a political statement ? So what? Is this the end of the Turkish republic? If a garment scares you so much get a thicker skin I say!

mara mcglothin

11/13/2012 3:58:13 PM

AYAZID I just think that time would be better spent dealing with crucial issues of today and not worrying too much about the past. Maybe it is a myth, but I seem to recall a story about MKA getting laughed at and having rocks thrown at him for his tradional Turkish dress in Italy? He came home and made some changes so the World would perceive Turkey in a different light. I have seen stark difference in just a few years in the dress of Turks back in the day. Fez on one-tuxedo the next.

Hasan Kutlay

11/13/2012 3:50:05 PM

Let us also criminalize homosexuality back, drinking of alcohol, criminalize adultery, forbid nonmuslims to occupy state jobs. All these authentic islamic ottoman laws were banned through topdown nondemocratic reforms and were "treasory" to authentic islam. This article and discussion shows what the world knows and thinks of muslims: muslims are backward people.


11/13/2012 3:43:33 PM

@ mara, the fez was not a "political statement" but a piece of garment (unless somebody wore as a protest against its ban). It was banned, because it was considered to be an embarassment by Kemalists. It's hardly the reason why Mr. Akyol doesn't wear traditional Turkish clothing, that's absurd. Why exactly you are defending these antiquated Kemalist laws, moreover with ethnocentric arguments (like that the ban on the fez was a form of fighting "backwardness") is a mystery to me.

Hasan Kutlay

11/13/2012 3:12:35 PM

Let us be consequent then, let us also turn back the top down social engineering reforms of the modernist ottomans of the 19th century. If democracy is the only argument, well ALL the reforms of the ottomans of the 19th century had no democratic legitimacy with the exception for some part of elite members. Let us abolish the fez and install 'sarik and salvar',install back nonequality of nonmuslims, death to apostate laws, the millet system. Let us install these & be back "tolerant" ottomans.

mara mcglothin

11/12/2012 8:34:25 PM

AYAZID The kimono and mini skirt are NOT political statements like the headscarf! and the fez! In America we have many outdated laws still on the books, like not being able to tie your horse in front of the post office and such, BUT we don't waste a lot of time dealing with this. Is there anybody hear that would say it is NOT more important to abolish the Articles liek 216 and 301 from the penal code. Now let's talk about antiquated and backward.

A Shmolik

11/12/2012 6:42:41 PM

Mustafa Kemal ATATURK, passed away from this World in 1938, 75 years ago, God rest his soul in Peace! Today there are people for whoom, the ime has stood still ever since and they are still trying to emulate his thoughts, deeds, in a misquidedbelief that it is the only salvation for Turkey. Little do they realize, that Ataturk of these days, would be in forefrontadhearant of progress by accepting Technology & Thoughts of these modern times for the benefit of Turkey He would not be sanding STILL!

nyob nyobb

11/12/2012 12:02:11 PM

In a free developed democracy you might say: wear what you want. But in a country where garments are a political, religious expression or oppression? Be it brown shirts, political uniform, scarf or veil.

Roger Harding

11/12/2012 10:09:07 AM

MUSTAFA AKYOL, Spend a little time refelcting over how to stem the tide of political islam in modern day Turkey. Rather than wasting your time trying assasinate the charatcter of the father of the Turkish Republic. Greetings.
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