‘I worship so I can do anything I like’ is Turks’ lifestyle: Scholar

‘I worship so I can do anything I like’ is Turks’ lifestyle: Scholar

ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News
‘I worship so I can do anything I like’ is Turks’ lifestyle: Scholar

The economy and terrorism are seen as major problems, while issues like democracy and freedom are only marginal problems for Turks, Ersin Kalaycıoğlu tells the Daily News when speaking about the findings of a recent survey. DAILY NEWS photos, Emrah GÜREL

Turks like to live as they please and the fact that the majority of them are defined as religiously conservative does not alter this lifestyle, according to a professor at Sabancı University.
“You worship, so you are religious,” Professor Ersin Kalaycıoğlu said in the wake of a field survey for the International Social Survey Program (ISSP) that he helped conduct with Professor Ali Çarkoğlu about health but which also touched on a number of other issues.

The theological and moral aspects of religion are not really internalized by a huge majority of the population, he told the Daily News in a recent interview. 

Q: What do your findings tell us in a nutshell?

A: The state is the one that should provide social welfare in Turkey, according to those polled. There is a demand for a social welfare state that is voiced by a large segment. Two out of three polled want the state to provide not only basic healthcare, but all types of healthcare at no cost to the citizen. It is also very egalitarian. When asked if it would be fair for those with a higher income level to spend their own money to choose healthcare they want, the majority said no. We are drafting a new constitution. If you look at the examples around the world, we want a Scandinavian-type social welfare state.

Q: Isn’t that a normal expectation?

A: This is about different lifestyles. For an American, a liberal market economy and individual rights are very important. We don’t have that type of approach. We have no demand for privatization, for instance; the demand for private health insurance is very low. People expect state capitalism. There are debates about different types of capitalism in international economic circles; Turkey’s position leans toward one that gives weight to the state.

Q: But there are many things that separate us from Scandinavians. The citizen does not want to pay for the services, but where is the state supposed to find the money? Did you ask people this? 

A: We did not, but I am not sure whether they know the answer. There are misconceptions about the state in Turkey. The state effectively has the status of God. There is no actual such thing as the state from an economic point of view. My money is the state’s money, so there is no difference between saying the state should provide [these services] or that I will not provide them but that my neighbor should. Of course, this is not formulated like this [by the people]. [The perception of the people is] that there is something called the state that is above all of us and has plenty of means. This is, of course, a legacy of history. But political cadres that exploit this [perception] efficiently can gain popularity. But at the end of the day, if you endorse this policy, you can only run the state with a budget deficit. 

Q: Although many seem happy with healthcare services in Turkey, it looks like we don’t have very healthy lives.

A: There are problems. We smoke, and we don’t exercise; we have only made it so far because we are still young, as Turkey has a young population. But we eat vegetables and fruits, which is good.

Q: According to the poll, health and education issues are not seen as primary problems in Turkey.

A: The economy and terrorism are seen as the major problems. These two make up almost 90 percent of the issues that are seen as major problems in Turkey. Health and education make up 5 percent, while calls for justice, democracy, the drafting of the constitution, freedoms and rule of law comprise the final 5 percent. All those are marginal problems for Turks. 

Q: People are happy with healthcare services. Does that necessarily mean that we have a well-functioning healthcare system?

A: Society is changing, and it is getting older. In another generation, we will be facing different problems. A government that sees that society’s general perception about the healthcare system is good might not opt to do anything about it, letting future governments deal with future problems instead. 

There are two other options: It can take preventive measures by asking society to smoke less and exercise [more], or it can invest in the medical sector’s infrastructure for the probable health problems that will arise. The first one is cheaper but more difficult to implement because you are recommending that healthy people change their lifestyles. This is difficult. We have a nation that is fond of the pleasures of life. Essentially, it says to the state, “I won’t change, you take the necessary measures and provide the necessary medical help.” It says, “I will continue to smoke, I will live as a like. I won’t pay a dime from my pocket but the state has to take care of me; this is my right.” 

Q: Maybe that’s why Turks are happy given that the findings show such an outcome.

A: This is not the only reason, of course. All findings in the world suggest that the level of happiness increases as religiosity increases. Previous research has also shown that the happiness ratio is higher among the pious. But we can never reduce an outcome to one factor. 

Turks like to live as it suits them. I don’t call this freedom. This is about boundless, arbitrary irresponsible behavior. [For example,] a guy takes a curve in the road at 150 km/h and gets killed; if he doesn’t die, this means he lives as he wants and brags about how he crashed the car. There is such a lifestyle. But we can’t say Turks are fond of their freedoms because they don’t react when freedoms are restricted. This is “anomie,” the concept invented by French thinker Émile Durkheim.

Q: But what you say seems to contradict the general conviction that Turkish society has an authoritarian character. Aren’t Turks known to respect and be obedient toward the state?

A: Turkish society is not obedient to the state, it is very good at avoiding the state as much as possible with whatever measures of avoidance it can deploy, including bribery and corruption. They take the state very seriously, and they don’t challenge the state; instead, they act as if they are going along with the state, but they simply ignore it.

Q: But Turks also expect a lot from the state as well.

A: Of course, but people are not consistent. The relationship between Turkish citizens and the state is very complex. You present a nice, politically correct face to the state, but behind it, you have a second life of your own which has no rules or restrictions.

Your psyche, animal instincts and libido are at work, which of course leads to a form of anomie.

Q: But this can pose a problem as the current government is perceived to be taking steps to interfere in people’s private lives.

A: These [steps] are not taken positively, I am sure.

Q: But the government’s support level is 50 percent, according to polls.

A: But it is to do with the perception of how the economy is handled. The overall image is good since it’s an image based on economic interest. That does not mean that people approve of the government in everything it does. In addition, most people in Turkey – 60 to 65 percent – are religiously conservative, and the values espoused by the government are also religiously conservative values. 

Q. One would think that religiously conservative people would not lead the anomie type of life you describe.

A: I am not so sure about that. Religious conservatism has a lot to do with the definition of religion, which is not necessarily anything that goes much beyond worship. You worship, so you are religious. Once you worship, you can do whatever you want: That’s the major perception of the people. Religiosity in Turkey is reduced to worship. 

The philosophical, theological and moral aspects of religion are most likely not shared, studied, or internalized by a huge majority of the population. The education minister received no reaction when he said they were introducing a new elective course on religion in which students would be instructed in the Arabic alphabet and would learn how to read the Holy Quran in Arabic without understanding a single word. He argued that that’s how people read the Holy Quran. It’s a sacred book, and they don’t necessarily understand anything about the Quran. It is not read to be understood, it is read because it’s a sacred book. … It is more or less [analogous] to pre-Reformation Europe. A huge majority of those who are religiously conservative do not have any curiosity.

Smoking an inalienable right for Turks

Turks have a strange relationship with smoking, according to Professor Ersin Kalaycıoğlu. There have been some minor changes, but a big success does not seem to have been achieved to make Turks quit smoking. In addition, there is no indication that large numbers are thinking of quitting smoking, said Kalaycıoğlu.

“It looks as if it is perceived almost as an inalienable right; that these people should not be treated any differently than the rest of the population,” he said. “For example, we asked the question: ‘If there are two patients -- one is a heavy smoker and one doesn’t smoke at all -- who have exactly the same sickness that requires exactly the same operation and due to a scarcity of resources one of them needs to be operated on before the other, who do you think should have priority?’ The majority of respondents answered that there should not be any difference between them, many argued that the priority should be given to smokers, while a similar number of people argued that the non-smoker should be given priority. This is not replicated when you give the same example and say that one of the patient is 30 years and the other one is 70 years old. In this case, a majority says the younger one should be given priority.”


Dr. Ersin Kalaycıoğlu has taught at Istanbul’s Sabancı University Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences since September 2007.

During his career he has taught undergraduate courses such as “Introduction to Political Science,” “Political Development,” “Turkish Politics,” and “Politics in the Middle East.” He also spent some time teaching at the University of Iowa, as well as the University of Minnesota.

He has conducted various research projects, including national field surveys, both alone and in collaboration with other colleagues. Among these is a survey study of “Turkish Values” in the fall of 1990, a field survey of attitudes and positions toward women in society and politics in Turkey in 2003, a field survey of “socio-political orientations and attitudes in Turkey” in 2006, and a field survey of voting behavior in 2007. He conducted field surveys on “religiosity,” “social inequality” and “environment” along with colleague Ali Çarkoğlu.