An inside look at the ‘glorious defeat’ of Turkey’s Islamists
Report: Güliz Arslan Photo: Murat ŞakaTurkish writer Levent Gültekin embraced Islam at the age of 13 and put his heart and soul into “the cause” for 30 years. After serving as an executive at pro-Justice and Development Party (AKP) media outlets Yeni Şafak, Star and Cine 5, Gültekin is now deeply disillusioned with political Islam. “Under the dominion of Islamists, people’s lives have turned into hell,” he says.
Hürriyet spoke to Gültekin about his new book, “Şatafatlı Mağlubiyet” (The Glorious Defeat) and how he “reformatted” his life at the age of 43.
What did you have in mind when you sat down to write this book?
To pay my debt to this country, however small it may be. Turkey is being governed by a movement that I gave 30 years of my life to. But under the dominion of Islamists, people’s lives have turned into hell. So I would like to tell youngsters as much as my breath will allow: “Do not do what we did.”
What were you expecting when you got involved in the Islamic movement?
We assumed that when we came to power, everything would come up as a bed of roses. We thought that with our “Muslimism” we would bring peace and freedom. There would be no poverty because, according to Muslims, “one who sleeps on a full stomach when their neighbour is hungry is not one of us.” We thought nobody would die, because [the second Caliph] Omar had said he would “bring it to account by divine justice if even one sheep was killed by a wolf on the banks of the Tigris.”
But now, not only are deaths not prevented, we have arrived in a point where children are sacrificed. It is as if they have traded their humanity for power. They rob and steal the exam questions to get into heaven.
Could one of the reasons for your profound disappointment be because your dreams were too optimistic? Doesn’t assuming “We will come along and everything will be okay” sound like intending to be a superhero?
We all dream when we are young. That is normal. We put all our effort into our dreams. But in the end we are left empty-handed. Only now do we understand that secularism is insurance for faith. We were not aware of this in the past because there was a very strict secularism regulation in this country, marginalizing faith and pious people. Kurds, Alevis, those who define themselves as pious, Armenians, and Greeks were all pointed to as dangerous communities. A university professor could forcibly take off a top ranking female graduate’s headscarf during her graduation ceremony. So there were things that a superhero needed to come in and fix.
If you had a chance to look the 16-year-old Levent in the eye and tell him something, what would it be?
He would not have any of it, no matter what I said. My father who lived in a small town, a middle school graduate and a government official, once said to me when I was 14: “Son, they are exploiting religion. Just you wait and see.” I didn’t listen.
But now, even though I know I would not listen, I would say, “If we think of this country as a human body, Alevism would be the heart, piousness the blood in the veins, Kemalism the skeleton and the leftist movement the conscience. A person would be left incomplete without a single one of these parts. Turkey is whole with all of these; its worldview is shaped on it. Do not make faith a subject of politics and commerce - be a democrat.”
Do you fear that you may someday experience a similar regret?
I have not replaced one ideology for another. I am striving for the whole country to live in harmony. I don’t think I will regret this.
For you, when was the spell broken?
I had a critical approach to the AKP from the day it was founded. I never voted for it because when I saw some of the people in its make-up I said “This party is too impenitent.”
Who did you say this about?
I was acquainted with both Tayyip Erdoğan and Ahmet Davutoğlu and had been criticizing them for their unofficial statements. Upon seeing some names like [former EU Minister] Egemen Bağış, I thought, “No good work will come of this.” But I stopped my criticisms when I realized after the April 27 military memorandum in 2007, thinking this criticism would benefit coup d’état supporters. Around that time I was approached with an executive position offer at daily Star and I worked as its vice head on the executive board. There were some things that made me uncomfortable and things were not going the way I wanted. So I left.
What bothered you?
I witnessed how money came in and went out. My suggestions were not accepted so I left. Afterwards I worked at Cine 5 for six months. I took a big blow when people I performed prayers with for 40 years came to me with corruption proposals, so I left there too.
The Roboski (Uludere) incident, the Gezi Park protests, the Soma mining disaster… Which public incident bothered you the most?
One was when [President Erdoğan had] Berkin Elvan’s mother booed at a public rally. A mother in mourning for her child should be excused, even if she swears harshly. Having a mother booed in public hurt me profoundly. Another thing was that no one from the government stepped up to say, “I will not stand for this” regarding all the corruption allegations. The third was “the slap” at Soma. I felt as if it was me who received that blow.
What was Tayyip Erdoğan’s biggest slogan? “I am coming to be a somebody for the nobodies.” Nowadays we have a government that picks fights with nobodies day and night.
Now what do you do for a living? What kind of a life do you lead?
I have a very calm life. I have no other troubles than the current situation my country is in. I no longer chase after a dream, nor do I have a plan for the future. I live on my savings and thank God I can sustain my life even if I don’t work for a while more. I do not have indulgences, I am at home reading a book or watching a movie. Even if I attempted to work somewhere, government members would not leave me alone.
You articulate a distinction between the “Erdoğanists” and the “Tayyipists”...
Yes, AKP supporters consist of two groups: Erdoğanists and Tayyipists. Erdoğanists are those who benefit from Erdoğan, in the foreground in both the government and media. Tayyipists are those ordinary people concerned with putting food on the table, who do not directly benefit from the government.
You say, “Turkey is the way it is because of the sordidness of Erdoğanists, the naivety of Tayyipists and the inability for the opposition to get through to Tayyipists.”
The opposition fights with Erdoğanists and is never able to get through to the Tayyipists as they have nothing to say to them. Erdoğanists make a living of lying to Tayyipists day and night through TV shows and newspaper columns. Unfortunately, the opposition has neither the political intelligence nor the skills to be an alternative to Erdoğan. So we, as a nation, are just floundering in the mud.
Will the AKP win the upcoming election?
Even if they do, they are already defeated. That is why I named the book “mağlubiyet” (defeat). The Islamists have taken a heavy blow. They have run out of things to say to society. The country is slipping from our hands, children are dying, the education system has collapsed, they cannot build cities, and there is no arts and culture, no science. So what if they are governing? Can the AKP win while Turkey is losing? If I were the leader of an opposition party I would be deeply ashamed that the AKP still wins so many votes despite all of its faults.
You worked in the media for a long time but you were always in the executive department, right?
Yes. People were surprised when I switched from being an executive to writing. But what am I to do? All of my friends who read truck-loads of books and are writers became supporters of the government for more money. It was up to me to speak out against everything that has been going on.
I wish it were not so. But the situation is this: A house is burning down. If I am a doctor and a house is burning down, what do I do? I grab a bucket and carry water. When firefighters tell me, “You are not a firefighter,” I respond, “Well, you are but you are not doing your job”.
You are now one of the faces we see often in political discussion programs on TV.
At first I appeared on these programs willingly. Now I go more because I think something has to be said. We make some things possible by discussing them.
You have a very direct tone in your writing. Have you ever said or written anything in the heat of the moment, thinking you are right, that did more harm than good?
That is what I fear the most. But I just cannot overpower my anger. How can I remain calm when this country has turned into hell in the hands of my friends? Erdoğan made us all like himself. We cannot get our voices heard by speaking calmly.
Translated by Alkım Kutlu.