What does being virtuous mean?
What are we most feeling the absence of in Turkey?
Dollars? Stability? Law? A good education?
Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the Turkish Republic, once delivered a speech to İsmet İnönü, Turkey’s second president, addressing the situation in a country torn apart by war and questioning what should be done.
This speech should be included in the modern history section of the national curriculum and taught to children over and over again.
There is a particularly important sentence in the speech on poverty, economic struggles, the lack of education and educated human resources. “To make the Republic live, we need to prepare its human resources and reinforce its moral front,” Atatürk says.
The country had just emerged from war. Poverty and unemployment was at its peak. Illiteracy was everywhere. There were people with nothing to lose who got into criminal activity just to survive. The final days of the empire had witnessed fraud, corruption and bribery.
Atatürk wanted the human resources of the new republic to be honest and virtuous so the system could work and the country could develop.
Virtue is one of Turkey’s current shortcomings, though not to the degree it was in the early days of the republic.
Unlike many who believe otherwise, being virtuous is not about avoiding alcohol and dressing “modestly.” These are individual freedoms and preferences that have nothing to do with being virtuous.
Virtue and morality are universal. Country and religion make no difference.
Virtue and morality are about conscience, keeping your word, being fair. A virtuous person does not kick a woman in a bus. A person with morality does not dupe people as a fake police officer or soldier. They do not beat their wife. They do not demonize rivals with smear campaigns.
They do not lie or recount something they have done without really believing it.
The people who do these things may not be violating the law, but in my eyes they are disgraceful people.
We keep talking about education, but what purpose does it serve if we forget the simplest moral principles we learn in kindergarten? If we are pursuing a new constitution, a new political system, a new this or that, then we need to strengthen our moral front with universal values.
‘Freedom’ on talk shows
We hear it in the TV debates. One guest dares to start talking about freedoms and another guest starts to object.
“There is not much freedom left in the world either,” they say.
“Other countries are not as free as they used to be,” they say.
“Yes but in our days even the most advanced countries restrict freedoms,” they say.
Brothers! Sisters! Freedom is not a fashion item like a short skirt. It can never be old-fashioned. It is always in fashion!
Freedom is a fundamental need, like water and bread. When you talk about something that is no longer fashionable or no longer relevant you are not talking about freedom.
You could not even exist without freedom. You could not even talk like that if it was not for freedom. So pray that, in your own words, freedoms always remain fashionable.