This is the struggle for the survival of Western lifestyles, says Turkish columnist

This is the struggle for the survival of Western lifestyles, says Turkish columnist

ISTANBUL – Hürriyet Daily News
This is the struggle for the survival of Western lifestyles, says Turkish columnist

‘This is a face-off within Islamism all over the world. Either the outdated Islamists who cannot reconcile with democracy are going to prevail; or those democrats whose religion is Muslim will prevail,’ says Özkök. DAILY NEWS photo

One of Turkey’s leading columnists argues the current political turmoil in Turkey is about the struggle for Western lifestyles against an authoritarianism that imposes a conservative way of life. After all the talk about the rights of veiled persons, the rights of Kurds, it is for the first time there has been talk about the struggle of people with Western lifestyles, according to daily Hürriyet columnist Ertuğrul Özkök.

Tell us your take on what’s happening?

Turkey is living a face-off with all its problems that accumulated in the past 50 years. The first face-off was with nationalism by the end of 1940’s, the second was with left-wingers. Today Turkey is living a face-off between Islamists. Look at the speech delivered by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Dec. 17, 2004, when negotiations with the EU started. He said a big step was being taken on the way for modernization and he thanked everybody that contributed to it; including Turkish media, civil society and the opposition. Now look at where Turkey has come. Turkey needs to settle its accounts with its Islamism. Unfortunately, we have an Islamic degeneration. While we were talking about a democratic and Muslim Turkey; Erdoğan perceived the Arab Spring as the ascent of Muslim Brotherhood to the government and forgot all about his Dec. 17 speech. He is quarrelling with Israel, with Arab regimes, with the EU, United States… Currently he has a profile of a confused man seeking an Islamic leadership.

What is happening today is not simply a contention between the PM and the Gülen movement [cemaat]. This is a face-off within Islamism that started all over the world. At the end of that process, either the outdated Islamists who cannot reconcile with democracy are going to prevail; or those democrats whose religion is Muslim will prevail. The concept of the Muslim democrat has suffocated. The concept should not be Muslim democrat, but rather democrat Muslim.

In the current war, there is truth that both sides are voicing. The PM says there is a parallel structure. We cannot deny that; yet there are two problems with the government and one of them is corruption.

For the past 11 years, the Turkish media has not written about corruption. We tried to report about the Light House corruption scandal back in 2008, the state’s financial authority became the state’s regime guards and levied a tax penalty totaling almost $3 billion on the group, the biggest penalty in world economic history. So on the one hand we have corruption, which we talked about but have not written about, and on the other we have the Islamism and authoritarianism of the PM that is increasingly interfering in our lifestyles. I have to underline that the PM’s authoritarianism is much more dangerous than his Islamism.

So do you claim that the corruption cases were known but not written?

We were talking about it but there were no documents. We need to underline that the Turkish press is no longer doing investigative reporting. We explained [the pressure on the media] it to both the EU and U.S., but they remained deaf to it. When U.S. President Obama came to Turkey; he did not mention it at all. We were very disappointed. They now understand it but they were late. The Gezi events opened the eyes of the Europeans. These events are the most important political movement of Turkish political history. It is an uprising of young people against being constantly despised and scolded, against efforts that try to introduce conservatism to all aspects of life. There is a young generation which is much more advanced than their peers in the West. The movements in the West were supported by syndicates, associations etc., ours was spontaneous.

While the PM had not understood what Gezi was all about he did, however, realize that from now on he cannot continue to rule Turkey the way he did even if he got 55 percent of the votes. Gezi destroyed the charisma of Erdoğan.

While there was talk of a democratic Turkey as an example to other Muslim countries, we discovered an autocrat. The West also has seen this. [Prior to Gezi] there was such an Islamic rhetoric in Turkey that the country was perceived to be a classic Islamic state. Gezi demonstrated that there is not one Turkey, it is not a monolith and it does not fit into the suit Erdoğan wanted to see. There is a modern face of Turkey. Before we talked about the rights of veiled women, then we started to talk about the rights of Kurds. For the first time we are talking about the struggle of people with Western lifestyles. Of all the struggles this is the one the West can best understand and have empathy with. This is the struggle of people like themselves.

So you prefer to call it a Western lifestyle?

For years the Western lifestyle has been despised but yes, I have a Western lifestyle. But there was such an atmosphere that we were nearly forced to feel ashamed of it. Even people in the West had a condescending attitude against the “secularists.” But now they understand that it is the secularists who are truly democratic.

But Turkey was also seen to be a success story in the world.

I do not underestimate Turkey’s economic performance. I appreciate 70 percent of what Erdoğan has done. I am one of those who supported him the most. But I cannot accept the other 30 percent. If the government bill to give the administration more control over the judiciary is endorsed by the Parliament, let’s state clearly that Turkey will be heading toward fascism. What we experience today stems partly from Erdoğan’s authoritarian personality. I don’t think this will change and it is more frightening. You can struggle with Islamism as long as it does not resort to terrorism. But it is harder to do so with authoritarianism especially when you have state institutions supporting it. But this authoritarianism is hitting the wall of the 21st century.

Who will win the war in the current state of affairs? In the mid and long term Turkey will win but not in the short term. In the long term the prime minister will be harmed by this war. On the one hand Erdoğan is right. There should not be people within the state who take their orders from other centers of power. But on the other hand we also need a regime where the press is free, where the checks and balances mechanism functions. We should not be slaves to Erdoğan. As writer Nedim Gürsel expressed it; we are sick and tired of conservatism.

You claim that what is happening in Turkey will not be limited to Turkey. Can you elaborate?

We Muslims we deserve an honorable life. But for that on the one hand; we should not be associated with Islamic terrorist organizations and on the other we need to be against authoritarian approaches that impose conservative lifestyles in the framework of solidarity with the Muslim brotherhood. AKP was the only example in the world to prove that Muslims can live in democracies. If he had remained loyal to his speech of Dec. 17, 2004, he would be now one of the top three world leaders whom I would have voted for. He betrayed himself, he betrayed us who thought he had changed.

That’s why he does not understand what’s going on in Egypt. What he cares about is only the ballot box. Islamists failed the test of democracy; they failed to believe they had become democrats. Yet when Islamists come to power; the moment they feel they are strong, the first thing they do is to impose their conservative values on everybody else.

In one of your articles you make a reference to Edmund Burke’s “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” Who are the good men in the case of Turkey?

All of us. We all remained quiet. The Turkish bourgeoisie for instance. Anywhere in the world the bourgeoisie is the main carrier of democracy. In Turkey they were scared; I was scared; all of us were frightened. I am 66 years old and I have seen a lot yet I have never witnessed such an oppressive regime. The media has never been in such a moral degeneration.

Who is Ertuğrul Özkök ?


Born in 1947 in İzmir, Ertuğrul Özkök graduated from the Press and Information School of Ankara’s Faculty of Political Science. Following graduation in 1969, he went to Paris and obtained his PhD in communication sciences.

On his return he started working in Ankara’s Hacettepe University.
He left academia in 1986 and started working for daily Hürriyet. After working as Ankara and Moscow bureau chief he then became editor-in-chief of Hürriyet. In the same period he also became deputy president of Doğan Media Group. After 20 years as editor-in-chief, he left this position in 2010 but continued to write columns for the same paper.

He is a member of the board of directions of the World Editors Forum. He writes weekly columns for the German daily Bild and is the author of seven books.