Posts in English

Why Atatürk Became a God

[Originally published in Hürriyet Daily News] In recent years, the more moderate and reasonable Kemalists are asking themselves a curious question: How in the world has Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, Turkey’s founder, who devoted himself to fighting "dogmatism" become a dogma himself? How has such a bold champion of "science and reason" turned into the symbol of a rigid, irrational, insensible ideology that impedes the country’s progress, including its candidacy for the European Union? Can Dündar, recently received the wrath of radical Kemalists because his documentary titled "Mustafa," was asking the same question last week in his column in daily Milliyet. Under the headline, "Turning A Leader Who Fought Dogmas Into a Dogma," Dündar was pondering how such a bizarre paradox emerged in Turkey. Like many other moderate and reasonable Kemalists, he was thinking that this was a most unfortunate and unexpected turn of events. The Goddesses of Reason I beg to differ. I rather think that the deification of a radical secularist leader such as Atatürk is indeed not a paradox or a surprise. It actually is the very natural outcome of the route he initiated in the late 1920’s. To see this, one just needs to look at how radical secularism ended up creating ersatz religions in other cases. When the French Revolutionaries dethroned Christianity in that organized bloodshed called the Great Revolution, they established not a free medium of rationality, but a cult of reason. The atheistic "Culte de la Raison" devised by Jacques HŽbert, Pierre Gaspard Chaumette and their supporters was not a lack of dogma; it was rather an alternative dogma. Thanks to their campaign, the French Convention proclaimed a "Goddess of Reason" on Nov. 10, 1793, and the statue of this new idol was enacted on the high altar of the Notre Dame de Paris. Maximillian Robespierre, who was a little less radical, preferred to create a deistic religion named "the Cult of the Supreme Being," which yet again celebrated an alternative god to the Judeo-Christo-Muslim one. The same thing also happened in the communist dictatorships of the 20th century. The totalitarian secularism of Lenin and Stalin created not a godless society, but one that worshiped these dictators as if they were gods. In the east, Mao and Kim Il Sung became national deities for China and North Korea. Except for western European societies, in which secularization happened as a long-term, evolutionary process, the purging of traditional religion almost always resulted in the rise of ersatz religion. (European secularization, for that matter, created its own problems, such as nihilism and moral relativism, as Pope Benedict XVI has been wisely pointing out.) So, there is nothing surprising about the deification of Atatürk. He and his followers believed that "science and reason" would be enough of a guide for society. But, in fact, although both science and reason are important and valuable, they don’t cover all aspects of the human condition. Science does not tell us why we exist and what moral principles we should follow. Reason is all-relative and does not give us any certainty when we need it. That’s why humans also need intuition, tradition and beliefs in the metaphysical concepts that some might regard as superstition. And it is only normal that when the traditional religions that cultivate this spiritual side of the society are purged, artificial religions such as Kemalism arise to fill the vacuum. Blaming Atatürk for all this wrong direction would be unfair, because he simply followed the best wisdom of his time and milieu. In the early 20th century, belief in the all-encompassing power and virtue of science was very widespread in Europe, especially in the French and German intellectual traditions that he was deeply influenced by. Positivism, the anti-metaphysical doctrine that he was fascinated with, was after all an invention of the French philosopher Auguste Comte. The poor young Mustafa was not accustomed to other philosophers, such Edmund Burke or Alexis de Tocqueville, whose ideas emphasized the supportive role of religion in social progress, and who would be proved true in the latter half of the 20th century. Lessons From The Turkosphere That proof especially came from the British and the American experiences of modernization, in which religion acted not as an obstacle to, but, quite the contrary, an agent of progress. Walter Russell Mead, whose must-read title "God and Gold" is an eye-opening history of the ideas that led to the Anglo-Saxon ascendancy, put it this way: "If the history of the Anglosphere is indeed any guide, it appears that the most vigorously open society, the society that presses hardest and fastest Westward, is a religious society. To the degree that a secular society -- one in which religion has been effectively marginalized -- is shaped by reliance on reason rather than on the complex dance of conflicting elements that characterized the Anglophone powers at their various apogees, it is likely to be less open and dynamic than one that acknowledges more fully the irrational elements of the human psyche." And if the history of the Turkosphere is any guide, it appears that a secular society -- one in which religion has been effectively marginalized -- can also grow disturbingly nationalist, xenophobic and paranoid. It is sad story with little hope of change in sight.
All for Joomla All for Webmasters