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.