Posts in English

‘Secular’ Doesn’t Mean ‘Liberal’

[Originally published in Hurriyet Daily News] One of the interesting results of the constitutional amendment referendum that Turkey held the other Sunday was the demographics of “yes” and “no.” Almost all cities whose majority said “no” were on the sunny coastlines of the Aegean and Mediterranean. On the other hand, almost all inland cities opted heavily for “yes.” No wonder Turkish pundits have been discussing the division between “the coasts versus the rest.” Aslı Aydıntaşbaş, a fellow journalist and a good friend, was also referring to the same division in her recent piece in the Wall Street Journal. “It's a familiar story for Americans,” she noted, with reference to Turkey. “A divided map, red states versus blue states, with the liberal, secular and more affluent coastline pitted against the conservative heartland.” Red versus blue? I would beg to differ with Aslı, though – albeit only partly. It is true that “coastal Turkey,” like America’s “blue states,” is more secular in lifestyle when compared with the “conservative heartlands” of both countries. But it would be a mistake to perceive, and present, this more secular side of Turkey as “liberal.” For, contrary to some deep-seated clichés, “secular” and “liberal” don’t necessarily go hand in hand here. You can see this right at the outset by looking at our intellectual wars. In America, the two main sides of those conflicts are “secular liberals” and “religious conservatives.” In Turkey, though, “secularists” and “liberals” are often at odds with each other. This is not a mere accident, because the self-styled secularism of Turkey, all too popular along the coastlines we are speaking about, is at odds with all the basic principles of liberalism – such as individual freedom, limited government and tolerance of diversity. A Turkish liberal, therefore, would support the right to wear both a miniskirt and a headscarf. The typical secularist, though, would call on the tyrannical powers of the state to eradicate the latter. The worse news is that the illiberalism of Turkish secularists goes beyond matters of religion. Most of them are also staunchly nationalist – which is, in fact, almost their ersatz religion. That’s why the “secular coastlines” that we are speaking about are also the hotbeds of anti-Kurdish hype, along with harboring a strong aversion to the European Union. İzmir, the Aegean town which is Turkey’s third-largest city and which gave the highest “no” vote in the recent referendum at 63 percent, is a good case study. The city is famous for being very secular and “progressive,” to the level of being labeled (rudely of course) “the infidel İzmir” by some conservatives. But İzmir is also where a peaceful demonstration by a pro-Kurdish political party was literally stoned last year by girls in tight jeans and boys wearing Atatürk pins. And when the unabashedly racist “Toplumcu Budun Derneği” (Socialist Nation Society), an İzmir-based group, organized a rally in 2005 titled “The Increase of the Kurdish Population Should be Stopped!” it found only popular support among the city’s residents. The capital of fascism Citing such examples, liberal commentator Rasim Ozan Kütahyalı, an İzmir-born Turk himself, recently wrote that the city has become “the capital of fascism in Turkey.” Prominent İzmiris, in return, declared him persona non grata. Meanwhile, they keep on electing deputies such as Canan Arıtman, the parliamentary deputy who condemned President Abdullah Gül’s rapprochement effort with Armenia as high treason and “accused” the president of being a “crypto-Armenian.” And when the ancient Armenian church in Akdamar, Van was reopened last Sunday to worship after being empty for 95 years – a move which I applauded, and found only insufficient – do you know which newspaper voiced a strong protest? Not the Islamic press, not even the boldly Islamist Vakit. It was Yeniçağ – a ferociously nationalist paper whose motto presents a huge photo of Atatürk. Under a disgusting headline, “Armenian Mass on the Rape Island,” the paper alleged that Akdamar was a place where Armenian militias raped Muslim women during World War I and called it the government’s betrayal to reopen this place “to the grandsons of the rapists.” Of course, I am not saying that all secular-minded people in Turkey are die-hard fascists like this, or even necessarily illiberal. That would be most untrue and unfair. What is fair to say, though, is that if we are going to speak about “secularists versus conservatives” in Turkey, the former group really does not represent a more liberal or democratic mindset. Quite the contrary: While the conservatives have shown progress in the past decade, evidenced by their support for EU reforms, most secularists have grown growingly paranoid and xenophobic. This might be a big surprise for some. But it shouldn’t be. There is really nothing, after all, which makes a secular mind inherently more open, civic or tolerant than a religious one – a lesson the world should have learnt by now after its secular experiences under Hitler, Stalin, Mao and the like.
All for Joomla All for Webmasters