Is the opposition’s candidate for presidency, İhsanoğlu, a bigot?

Is the opposition’s candidate for presidency, İhsanoğlu, a bigot?

When the opposition’s candidate for presidency was named, I found out that I stand no chance of being elected president in Turkey. This is because both my name and surname are very unusual and difficult to pronounce for Turks.

As someone who has seen many variations of my name and surname in badges (I have a collection of them, the favorite being "Barçın Yozgat"), I was amused to see how people have started to make fun of the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and Nationalist Movement Party’s (MHP) joint candidate, Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu. A lot of people are hearing his name for the first time and I don’t blame them. However, I was saddened - in fact, I felt terrified and angry - when I saw the negative comments on social media based purely on prejudices.

A rare name, Ekmeleddin implies a conservative background due to the suffix “din/tin,” just like in Necmettin, Selahaddin, etc. While I have known many people with similar names who were not exactly conservative, well never mind, prejudices are not based on reality anyway.

So, in the eyes of some Republican People’s Party (CHP) sympathizers, İhsanoğlu lost it at the beginning from his name.

Second: when you look at his CV, you see the word “Islam” several times. İhsanoğlu served (1980–2004) as the founding Director General of the Research Center for Islamic History, Art and Culture (IRCICA). He was also (2005–2014) the Secretary-General of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). Never mind the fact that the OIC is the second largest intergovernmental organization after the U.N.; just as Western Islamophobes equate “Islam” with terrorism, some CHP sympathizers equate backwardness with Islam.

İhsanoğlu was born in Cairo, Egypt, an “Arab” country. He studied at Ain Shams University and Al-Azhar University, “Arab” universities. So there you go: You have a third reason to demonize him, as anything to do with Arabs is necessarily anti-secular.

Worse, his father was exiled in 1924 to Egypt by Atatürk (that’s why Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu was born in Cairo). This, therefore, makes him by nature the enemy of the secular Republic.

I knew it before, but I am still astonished at the level of shallowness of some CHP voters. They have the audacity of calling a real intellectual, academic and diplomat a “bigot,” not because he has been seen behaving as a bigot, but because of the reasons I have written above.

We are talking about a person who had the courage to introduce the concept of “human rights” to the OIC, an organization with most members far away from that concept. He had the courage to bring to the agenda the improvement of women’s rights to an organization whose members treat women as second-class citizens. It was during his tenure that four women were employed in the OIC secretariat.

I was there when he was elected OIC secretary-general. I even recall that he was angry at me for the news coverage I had made at the time (though I do not recall the details). But he conveyed this resentment in a very polite manner. Later, I had the opportunity to interview him; the latest was in 2011.

The people I have talked to who knew him closely strengthened my impression that İhsanoğlu is a pious Muslim who has endorsed the universal values of democracy and human rights. He is one of the best examples to refute those who think Islam is not compatible with democracy. Believe me; I have come across many so-called Republican, die-hard secularists who have no notion of democracy or human rights.