The republic, old and new

The republic, old and new

We supposedly celebrated the 93th anniversary of the Republic of Turkey on Oct. 23. In fact, it seemed rather like a funeral party for the old Republic. The two different clans of Turkey, the Republicans and the Conservative/Islamists were in totally different moods and neither were celebratory. The republicans who were nostalgic about the past were in an uneasy mood as they pretended not to know the truth about the final days of the Republic of Turkey as they know it. Nevertheless, conservative/Islamists were in an uneasy mood too, as they tried not to show their resentment concerning the rituals of the old republican regime, like the visit to the mausoleum of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of modern Turkey.

Later that day, the president spoke his heart in the opening ceremony for a fast train station in Ankara which curiously coincided with Republic Day. He, once more, praised the republican regime within the framework of the project of the New Turkey and honored the Turkish nation that opposed the July 15 coup. It sounded as if he was celebrating the New Turkey Republic rather than the old one, and, unfortunately, his promise to bring capital punishment back as soon as possible hinted at the character of “the new republican regime.” It was a very, very sad day for all the liberals, democrats and leftists who hoped that, one day, the old republic would be replaced by a more democratic one. It was the children of the old republican families – I among them – who were critical of Kemalism for its democratic deficit, and we never ceased to hope for the democratization of the regime until very recently, to no avail. 

In the 1990s, our “republican families’ fears of the Islamic regime” were a laughing matter for us, as we supported the rights and freedoms of conservatives and even Islamists. My republican parents who claimed that intellectuals like us would be the first victims of Islamist rule sounded paranoid and like “republican sectarianists” at the time. In our eyes, our republican families failed to grasp the importance of democracy since they were Westernists who had been alienated from ordinary people. Now we have turned out to be their laughing matter, but they are not in a laughing mood anymore.

Frankly speaking, I don’t regret either being an advocate of the democratization of the republican regime or my support of conservatives and even Islamists. The rigid understanding of secularism and the cultural complex of Westernization were obstacles that need to be overcome in order to achieve genuine democracy and social peace in Turkey. Nevertheless, I have to admit that everything went terribly wrong due to various reasons and that, ultimately, democracy and democrats have lost. 

I believe that that is not only the story of democrats in Turkey or the case of Muslim countries. It can be related to many similar cases in many countries in the post-Cold War era where hopes for democracy have turned sour and even paved the way for the rise of new authoritarian politics. This problem is not specific to the Muslim, although we also have to acknowledge that all Muslim-populated countries have had a major problem with democracy even if it should not be considered as a matter of culture and religion. It is Catholicism in Poland, Hindu nationalism in India and left-wing populism in Venezuela that have played similar roles in creating a democratic deficit, yet the rise of Islamist radicalism, fundamentalism and authoritarianism is more a problem. 

We have to focus on that matter because we need to clarify our confused minds about moderate Islamists who have long been considered as a panacea against radicalism, but turned out to be agents of “Islamist authoritarianism.” “Islamo-fascism” has been the dirty word of neo-conservatism that must be rejected, but “Islamist authoritarianism” should be taken seriously to avoid a greater democratic deficit in Muslim countries.