MUSTAFA AKYOL > How biased I am

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A few years ago, a foreign journalist who was on a visit to Istanbul called me, asking if we could have a cup of coffee together, and I accepted. Once we sat down, she said she was hoping to get an “objective view of Turkey” from me. “I am sorry,” I said in return. “There are probably no objective Turks in the world, but let me still try to do my best.” 

I must say the same thing about this very column you are reading right now. I have been writing here regularly since 2006, and despite being overtly opinionated, I have been honest about facts. In the big political war between the “Old Turkey” and the “New Turkey” — or the Kemalist establishment versus the AKP — I certainly supported the latter. The reason was not that I was paid by the Justice and Development Party (AKP) — or the Gülen Movement, the CIA, George Soros, or any other popular conspiracy-theory icon — but I really believed that the new Turkey would be better than the old one. Yet I never distorted facts or intentionally hid crucial ones.

One reason I am noting all this is a recent accusation laid against me by my column neighbor Burak Bekdil. In his recent piece titled “Turkey made us,” he accused me of making “pure propaganda,” and backed this claim up with a single example: my “imaginary link between Kemalism and, say, why there are honor killings.”

However, that led me to suspect that “pure propaganda” was not what I did, but rather what I was targeted with. Because I never claimed any link between Kemalism and honor killings, which indeed would be a silly argument. (The only thing I have said about the matter was that honor killings result from “patriarchal codes of male domination, rather than Islamic norms.”)

So, unfortunately, Mr. Bekdil was not very factual on this particular point. Worse, this was not the first time. (For an example, see my piece, “Beware of the anti-AKP propaganda department,” published in these pages on Aug 26, 2011.) But I really do not want to turn this column into a boring you-said-this-I-said-that debate. So, let me just state a few points about how biased I am, and why that is the case, when it comes to interpreting Turkey.

First, yes, I am very critical of Kemalism, Turkey’s official ideology. In fact, I respect Kemal Atatürk as a war hero, and appreciate a few of his reforms, such as the advances in women’s rights. However, I also believe that Kemalism, with its xenophobic nationalism, authoritarian secularism and cult of personality, has bred a very anti-democratic and illiberal state and society.

Secondly, I have sympathized with the AKP most for their unraveling of Kemalism. They have broken many taboos, ranging from the Kurdish issue to rights for non-Muslims, from Cyprus to the military’s dominance. The fact that they accomplished these liberal reforms as a post-Islamist party has made the AKP experience even more valuable for me, due to its significance for the Muslim world.

Thirdly, unlike Mr. Bekdil, I see the effect of Kemalism not only in the self-proclaimed Kemalists, but also in some pro-AKP conservatives. The main pillar of Kemalism, Turkish nationalism, especially, which has been pumped by the state for decades, is a powerful force that wields a strong influence on the AKP as well. The AKP, in other words, is not free from nationalism; it is just relatively less nationalist.

Finally, it is true that the AKP has recently let its reformism wane, and focused on enjoying political power rather then constraining it. But this has hardly anything to do with their “Islamism;” it is just because power corrupts, and builds arrogance.


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adam orman

8/26/2012 7:10:19 AM

Mustafa Akyol many, many times directly and indirectly indicated here that he does not like Turkiye as a democratic republic, and wants to see Turkiye as an Islamist Sharia state as defined by Said Nursi and Fethullah Gulen. If that is not biased, than what is biased?

david coors

8/20/2012 4:56:21 AM

How come nobody says this guy is not biased???

Murun Buchstansangur

8/8/2012 10:09:17 AM

@Inspector Morse. The Prime Minister of Turkey openly stated that democracy was a bus that he would ride until he got to his preferred stop. It's a famous and well-known quote that has never been retracted. Your assertion that the AKP favours liberal democratic principles seems illusory at best.

Morse Fan

8/7/2012 11:27:19 PM

One last thought (sorry!). Turkey lacks structures to restrain gov't excesses. There's no actual sep. of powers (AKP has all); not much federalism for such a diverse country. The only constraints on AKP are its own principles. U.S. Founders -- deliberately structured our const. so we'd never have to rely on people "being good" for the system to work. So this is a vulnerable period for Turkey, and we know AKP favors LD principles, because it does not use crucial powers it does actually have.

Morse Fan

8/7/2012 11:09:08 PM

Just because a gov't of 10 years has not yet had time to find, let alone right, all of the sins of the prior 80, doesn't mean that gov't isn't committed to LD or that LD and the religious views of many in AKP are incompatible. Also, when things seem not to improve fast enough it's not true that they are getting worse. But few parties have more than 10 years of contributions before they need time out of power to rejuvenate. That's not going to happen in Turkey; it will be complicated.

Morse Fan

8/7/2012 10:56:45 PM

I concede that the process is fraught with analytical complication. Crucial variables - what side of the bed PM Erdogan woke up on today - are never known, and systems/structures do not limit AKP power as would be a true LD gov't. But many of the "bad" outcomes are not bad from an LD perspective; they are bad from a secularist perspective. Further, disagreement/uncertainty about what LD is may be interfering with ability to see emerging LD norms in Turkey. Can't be sure, but it seems like it.

Hasan Kutlay

8/7/2012 1:42:13 PM

AKP is for him useful as an islamic agent.When AKP does good things,he comes up with the argument "you see, islamists are better than seculars, they are more tolerant etc".When AKP does something bad,he comes up with the argument "this is not real islam".But where is the liberal democracy?The jails are full of all sorts of political prisoners,the media is less free than some African countries.Muslim countries aren't civilized enough for liberal democracy, they have barbaric & agressive culture.

Morse Fan

8/7/2012 5:50:55 AM

Mr. Akyol’s thesis is not “AKP is good”; it is “Islam rightly understood and liberal democracy can/should go together.” He is persuasive in his book/here. AKP is a breath of fresh air compared to some stale liberal democracies, so AKP is a benchmark for evaluating the theory. But first he has to separate out the influence of the Turkey's authoritarian secularism on AKP's actions. When he does, the theory works! So it's not that Mr. Akyol is an AKP apologist; it's that AKP proves he's right!

Hasan Kutlay

8/6/2012 4:43:43 PM

The word 'ucube' of erdogan were a fine example of the neo-ottoman ""plurality & respect". He surely defended his arguments on islamic grounds. How would sunni muslims feel when a pm equates a mosque to an ucube? A turkish proverb says ' a drove gets darker by looking at another drove'. Erdogan seems to get inspiration from his beloved arab muslimbrothers who seem to be keen on religious sectarian hatred and violence.

mara mcglothin

8/6/2012 3:28:29 PM

MR AKYOL If you are not a biased writer then let us see some serious criticism from you of the AKP. How about the Lighthouse Affair? Or are you going to simply chlak that up to some Kemalist/Nationalistic conspiracy against the pious? You are always so quick to defend the AKP with what others have done wrong in the past. They have been in control for how many years now? They have made no move to abolish 301, but are busy making laws on moral issues? Does that sould like a World democracy?
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