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November 05, 2010, Friday

Hate crimes in Turkey

The Human Rights Agenda Association, of which I am a part, is currently conducting a project called “Combating Hate Crimes in Turkey.” Among other things, we plan to hold two public conferences on the subject, the first of which was already held on Oct. 16 in Ankara.

Discrimination and hate crimes have very deep roots in Turkey. They are so heavily ingrained in our political culture and social fabric that we are not aware of their very existence. In the first round of our conference series, Tanıl Bora, a well-known socialist thinker in Turkey, gave a rather thought-provoking lecture on “lynch culture” in Turkey.

First, he drew our attention to how the word “lynch” is used for events that could never be defined as a lynching in the real sense of the word. Politicians and public figures employ this word very often when they are criticized or verbally attacked; they claim that they have been “lynched” by their opponents. In quite a sharp contrast, real lynchings, which are not a rare occurrence in Turkey, are either never called a lynching or they never generate the emotional, ethical or legal response that a real lynching would normally attract in a democratic society.

Tanıl also made a very interesting parallel between Nazi Germany and Turkey. Namely, how lynches organized by Nazis were presented as “single” and “isolated” incidents, rather than being indicative of systemic violence.

I personally believe that confrontation with the Holocaust is a blessing for German society. If they had not confronted these shameful pages in their history, they could not have a democratic society and democratic system today. In this column, I have written so many times and will continue to write that Turkey's confrontation with “shameful” acts in its history is vital for us to have an integrated identity and to establish a democratic society. Because, unless we confront these kind of events, they will continue to haunt us. In my opinion, “lynches” are a lapsus linguae (slip of the tongue) for modern Turkey, showing us what is repressed in the dark corners of our collective subconscious.

Let's return to Tanıl's conference. In short, he gave an incredibly thought-provoking presentation. And he kindly gave his book, titled “Turkey's Lynch Regime,” to me as a present after the conference. The book is only available in Turkish, unfortunately. As soon as I received it, I read the book cover to cover. Tanıl's findings in the book are at least as profound as what he presented in his lecture.

I would like to quote on “mourning” -- or, to put it correctly, the lack of it -- in Turkey from the book. I think this explains a very important aspect of our culture. The title of this section is “Duygu Tutulması ve Yas Yasağı” (Emotional eclipse and the ban on mourning). It reads:

“But the most important matter here is spiritual degeneration. We always speak of the degeneration of the mind; yes, the lyncher atmosphere causes an eclipse of the mind. However, we experience an emotional eclipse alongside this, which is just as important as the mental eclipse. Do you not see an emotional problem in a society that does not mourn for those whom it has lost, is unable to demonstrate the dignity of mourning and is unable remain in silence even if for a minute for introspection, a society which transfers its pain and reactions to pain only into the language of revenge and is continually pushed to this?…

“A ‘healthy' mourning experience entails acceptance that one has lost a ‘relationship' with a person one loves, and thus are experiencing a fundamental change in one's life, and being prepared to deal with this change -- preparing for it and creating a new beginning. Losing sight of one's self or abandoning one's self during this painful experience is a distancing that is required in order to come to terms with one's self, life in general, the external world and others, in addition to realizing one's dependence on the existence of others. Therefore, a distancing in order to realize and ‘be able to understand the value of' other sufferings and the pain of others is required...”

I absolutely agree with Tanıl and I believe that, as in the case of individuals, for societies, real change starts with fully experiencing your feelings, with confronting what is repressed in your subconscious.

A final word: We will have the second round of this conference series this Saturday, Nov. 6, at Midas Hotel in Ankara. The title of this session is “The Concept of Hate Crimes, Hate Speech and Combating Hate Crimes” and it will start 1 p.m. Thanks to the generous funding provided by the German Embassy in Ankara we are able to, among other things, have simultaneous translation from Turkish to English for the whole conference. Readers of Today's Zaman, you are all invited to the event.

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