Reflections on a historical moment in Turkey
More than 20 years ago, I was antagonizing my secularist friends on the matter of religious freedoms. I was discussing the shortcomings of the Kemalist regime with “the old-fashioned Republicans” in the name of democracy. My arch Republican-secularist family was alarmed by my support for Islamists and was suggesting I would end up like what happened to Tudeh Party members in Iran after the Islamic Revolution. I was laughing at them.
It was not that I was a political romantic and I was deluded about the limits of my Islamist friends’ understanding of democracy. The focus of my academic work was secularism, Islamism, right-wing politics and democracy. I knew that Islamists’ and conservatives’ political criticism mostly stemmed from their resentment concerning secularist aspects of Kemalist ideology, rather than the authoritarian aspect of Republican politics. I knew that Islamist intellectuals’ eagerness for democracy was more about their quest for more presence in the public square. Nevertheless, I thought it was perfectly understandable and legitimate to seek more space and say in the public space for those who had long suffered from exclusion. I knew my Islamist friends were also resentful of modernity in general, but I thought it was justified since the positivist, western-centered project of modernization had long harassed the faithful. I knew the Islamists’ and/or conservatives’ “idea of the Empire” was a disguised form of irredentist nationalism, yet I considered their dream of the Ottoman Empire, as a compensation for being excluded from the western Republican project. I thought anti-Semitism was the most disturbing aspect of their mentality and there could not be any excuse for this most dangerous universal narrow mindedness. Nevertheless, I argued with them on everything that I disagreed with; it was the civilized way to overcome disagreements, and after all, we did not agree with each other to support each others’ rights and freedoms.
I have never felt any regret to think in this way and behaved so in the past; after, the rule of Conservatives turned quite authoritarian and finally I was declared a sort of public enemy because of my opposition, and especially after my family members started to laugh at me. After all, I believe in justice, correctness, honesty, respect and trust in politics and neither victimization, nor minor disappointments can forsake my strong beliefs. I call the major turn of conservative politics in Turkey “a minor” personal disappointment because I am old enough to know that human beings have a variety of weaknesses and politics is a tricky game. Perhaps, I was too much of a bourgeois intellectual to recognize the career ambitions of my Islamist intellectual friends and acquaintances, of their quest for personal gratification more than anything else. I thought I knew well about the backgrounds of Islamists’ politics of identity, faith and that it was more of a class matter, that Islamist and conservative politics in Turkey were more reflections of rising middle class aspirations, combined with cultural resentfulness. Perhaps coming from privileged background, I never grasped the true meaning of social resentment and that they would inevitably lead to being revengeful, rather than democratic social peace.
At the end of the day, I just feel sad, rather than disappointed, that we still could avoid ending up that way. I feel sorry, rather than betrayed, in the eve of this revolutionary moment in Turkey. It is not that all revolutions and radical changes promise more chaos and turmoil, as Edmund Burke and like-minded thinkers after him, suggested a long time ago. In fact, our revolution does not promise something “new” that we have to be cautious or anxious about “the unknown.” On the contrary, ours is going to repeat a very well-known experience of humanity. As it repeats the old mantras of “solidarity and unanimity” in the name of “national greatness and awakening,” it recalls the familiar discourses of “universal plots,” “historical injustices” and “internal enemies” and recalls the most unfortunate political concepts like “lebensraum,” we are left with suffering a political deja vu.