Attack on a secular lifestyle?

Attack on a secular lifestyle?

The terrible massacre by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) on a nightclub in Ortaköy last week has triggered Turkey’s most traditional debate on “secular versus conservative” lifestyles. 

Some argue that the statements about New Year’s celebrations made by Diyanet, the Religious Affairs Directorate, triggered the attack. According to them, the rift between the secularists and the religious is the reason behind the massacre. In doing so, however, they –consciously or unconsciously – fuel this rift even further.

Some others do not relate the attack to this issue and think that there is no threat directed at the secular lifestyle in Turkey at all. 

These two groups also have their own extremes. While one extreme defines those who lost their lives in the nightclub as “infidels,” the other extreme wants its lifestyle to be imposed on all of society.

As we are sucked into this cultural vortex, we are missing the point that the very same debate is actually being made on a much larger scale around the world. 

First of all, ISIL did not make its only New Year’s/Christmas attack in Turkey. The terrorist organization has carried out 15 similar bombings in the past. The Christmas market attack in Berlin two weeks ago was the most recent one. 

Yet ISIL’s attacks on “Western” or “modern” values are not limited to the concept or period of New Year’s.

 They are much more far-reaching. The terrible massacre at the French magazine Charlie Hebdo two years ago – grounded in the controversy over a cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad – is one of them. These kinds of attacks triggered the debate about whether they were targeting Western values such as freedom of expression. The Paris attacks in November 2015, which killed about 130 people, further fueled this discussion. Those massacres targeted a Western lifestyle by attacking the cafes, bars, concert halls and street life of Paris. 

Sociologist Nilüfer Göle, whose academic works on Islam and modernity are well-known around the world, has made important remarks on this discussion: “Now we are questioning whether Samuel Huntington’s ‘clash of civilizations’ thesis has won the bet. Turkey is an important part of this debate. Yet it is more than difficult to argue that these terrorists represent a civilization or come from the Islam civilization. After all most of them are European citizens.”

“Yet we can say that they are fighting against a specific civilization. What is that civilization? It is a specific lifestyle. The word ‘civil’ includes city and city life. Hence their attack is not a blind firing, they’ve got a certain agenda. They are destroying the public space, the urban life of people, their enjoyment of daily life, their creation of a culture and unity,” she said.

In short; ISIL has been attacking these values and this lifestyle not only in Turkey but all around the world.
Moreover, the terrorist organization is targeting not only Western values, but every kind of lifestyle. Most of its targets are composed of prayer halls and mosques. After all, its attacks are overwhelmingly based in the Middle East.

However, what is more important is that by sticking to the fault lines over lifestyles in Turkey, we are playing into the hands of ISIL. You can certainly not prevent an earthquake. Yet you can still build up earthquake-resistant buildings, thus minimize the harm you suffer. But if your buildings are weak and non-durable, the earthquake will cause maximum damage. Exactly like an earthquake, it is not possible to prevent terrorism in today’s world. Yet if we stand firm and as one, we can minimize our loss.

Therefore we have to get rid of this artificial fault line in Turkey. And this can be only achieved if everyone abandons humiliating the “other’s” lifestyle and attempts to impose their own culture on everyone else. In other words, we need a new social contract. Hence politicians and religious institutions need to follow a conscious policy to this end. 

Actually, Turkish society has gained ground on this path. The lifting of the headscarf ban in the public space during the AKP government has increased the encounters and interaction between these two blocs in Turkey. These encounters were quite limited in the past. The removal of the headscarf ban has increased not only the confrontation, but also the level of tolerance. 

It seems that we are on the right track even if in fits and starts.