Soon it will be a century since the Turks have been deeply divided over their soul searching. How, ideally, should the Turkish nation be? Less than a century ago, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk
had his own prescription, which included, among other things, the ideal attire – even headgear – and the ideal music for the Western-minded, secular Turk. In Atatürk’s nation-building project, there was hardly a comfortable space for both Muslim and non-Muslim non-Turks.
A century later, “the Turkish metabolism” rejected Atatürk’s prescription because it was too Western and not Muslim enough. In the early years of the 21st century, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the most powerful man since Atatürk, is trying to rebuild the nation.
Atatürk was not even elected, Mr. Erdoğan should be thinking, so I, the democratically elected leader of the nation, should have a right to do as Atatürk
did: nation-building along the lines which I deem are perfect for the well-being of Turks. Hence Mr. Erdoğan’s frequent prescriptions over matters which no other prime minister in saner parts of the world would prescribe: what kind of bread to eat, what kind of music and drinks to avoid, which schools to attend, which medical method to use to give birth and how many children to have.
Atatürk believed that the future would belong to positivist, secular, Western Turkish youth, whereas Mr. Erdoğan thinks the future belongs to devout Muslim Turkish youth. However, in both prescriptions, there are visible hints of nationalism and an unhidden commitment to “Turkish supremacy.” In Atatürk’s wording, “the Turk has all the strength he needs in his noble blood;” and in Mr. Erdoğan’s wording, “We are the grandchildren of the Seljuks, of the Ottomans.”
Atatürk’s project was problematic. And so is Mr. Erdoğan’s project, albeit for different reasons. In a recent interview, EU Minister Egemen Bağış clarified Mr. Erdoğan’s 2012 statement that “we want to raise devout generations.” But apparently that clarification requires further clarifications. Minister Bağış said: “Should the prime minister have said that ‘we want to raise atheist, alcoholic and drug-addicted youth?’” This thinking clearly identifies a non-devout (Muslim) as “an alcoholic, drug-addicted atheist.”
But Mr. Bağış made a further clarification which needs, I think, another clarification: “The gist of the prime minister’s message was about raising patriotic youth that are committed to our values and which will achieve our goals for the years 2023 and 2071.”
With this clarification, we further understand that Mr. Erdoğan (and Mr. Bağış) sincerely believe that only devout generations can be patriotic and achieve Turkey’s ambitious goals for the years 2023 (the centennial of the republic) and 2071 (the millennium of the Turkish invasion of – or, euphemistically, “arrival” in – Anatolia).
Your taxi driver is free to believe in the virtues of devout generations. But when your prime minister governs along the idea of “the supremacy of the devout,” it becomes divisive and discriminatory against the less or non-devout.
You may wonder why the prime minister does not wish to raise “honest, hard-working and innovative generations.” In fact, he no doubt does wish that. It’s just that he believes honest, hard-working and innovative generations can only be devout generations although facts and figures tell an entirely different story.
There are a dozen other credible indicators, but most recently the London-based Legatum Institute’s 2012 Prosperity Index put Turkey’s overall ranking at 89th among 142 countries surveyed (Legatum is an independent, non-partisan organization promoting global prosperity and human liberty). In education, Turkey ranks 91st, in safety and security 93rd, in personal freedom 127th and in social capital 133rd. It looks like Turkey is still full of alcoholic, drug-addicted atheists.