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May 11, 2012, Friday

The West and Turkey

For quite a while, Turkey existed in a closed system under the administration of a totalitarian government.

Its image, which appeared to have been altered and was analogous to Western democracies -- with membership in NATO and the Western club -- allowed for its totalitarian and statist structure to be tolerated. As a matter of fact, even with these Western characteristics the sins that were embroidered within the country were either ignored or were encouraged as a means of combating communism during the Cold War period.

As a matter of fact we already know this: The West and the US regarded the coups staged by “the watchman of modernity and secularism” in Turkey, the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK), sympathetically. During the Cold War the struggle was quite intense and losing Turkey as an ally could not even be imagined. Yes, the coups and the human rights violations that took place during the coups were against Western democratic values, but the values were rethought in relation to realpolitik.  Additionally another important aspect of Turkish coups remained. The Turkish military staged coups, but unlike Asian or African countries, the military did not remain in power. After “warding off danger,” the country’s leadership immediately returned to “civil” leadership. The coup-stagers appeared so sincere that no matter what resulted from the coup, Westerners could soothe their consciences.

Today in Europe and America there are strategic research foundations studying Turkey and receiving millions of dollars and euros for the information they collect. But despite all this research it is clear they still look at Turkey through Kemalist and colonial eyes. At the very least this perspective allows certain effects of the country’s history of coups to remain effective to a large extent.

A ‘conservative’ protest

Recently, as a form of protest regarding the privatization of the İstanbul municipal theater, an anti-government artist took to the stage and put on a show to criticize the government at an awards ceremony. This person approached the stage outfitted in a “special” costume; he was dressed in what could be described as exaggerated conservative garb. Wearing pants that did not cover his white socks, a white, collarless shirt buttoned up to his throat and with his moustache groomed in a special shape, this man arrived on the stage. Showing great care, he didn’t shake the female presenter’s hand and instead of shaking her hand he snatched his hand away, placing it on his chest (a practice of mostly conservative men). During his speech he said he was merely a street cleaner for the municipality and did not know how he had found himself inserted into theater administration. In his own way he was criticizing the government’s most recent reorganization of the theater.

When my friend criticized the artist’s protest he said, “Here we can see how the Kemalist parts of society see Muslims, but not only Muslims, street cleaners are looked down on as well.” I objected to this. I think the section I explained above regarding the West expresses an anomaly that coincides with the awards show.

With the clothing carefully chosen and the moustache groomed in a certain style, the point being made by this artist does not, in my opinion, express how Muslims are perceived today. It attempted to belittle the dynamic force -- the party in power -- that through the reforms it has led over the past decade has become appreciated by the world, helping Turkey to take a leap forward through the changes it has implemented.

And this was precisely what the problem was. This tragi-comic display was precisely the work of a mind that wanted to see Muslims in this fashion. He didn’t see Muslims this way; he wanted to see them this way. And the frustration was precisely that Muslims were not within the scope that this view of them had confined them; Muslims had in fact become a dynamic force in the change of the country.

This colonial perspective has not changed in the West, either. This Islamaphobic and class-based view that the West holds, prevents it from accurately diagnosing the changes that are taking place in Turkey. Among the most important elements of the colonial view, which underscores the West’s supremacy over the East are necessarily the East’s  “constant deficiency, lethargy and brutality.” And the Kemalists, in a state of practical self-colonialism, always look at the people of Turkey -- whether it was based on their religious or ethnic differences -- in this way. And while doing this, their argument has been that the East was altogether primitive, closed to change and ontologically undemocratic.

This colonial perspective that accepts the West’s interpretation of democracy was shared both nationally and internationally. Nationally, the notion that democracy, which is the most important opportunity for the world’s saving itself from a political and financial crisis, could be produced in various lands in different and unique was always looked at with envy. They -- those who saw being Westerners as holding a Mozart concert in Turkey’s East or staging nothing but Shakespeare in theaters (not that we don’t like either of these things) -- turned their backs on the reality that the basic values of democracy could be interpreted uniquely in every culture, just as religion could. The amount of sincerity displayed by them is as real as the US claim to be bringing democracy to Iraq when it invaded Iraq during the First Gulf War.

What is modern is not always good

Muslims are no longer like the West or homegrown colonialists who have become estranged from Turkish society see them. And in truth they were not like that in the past, either. And in fact, defining a social segment, placing cultures into a hierarchical order and practically steering towards a preference of cultures is a fascist view that has crept up as of the first half of the 20th Century. Fascism, too, is modern. And not everything that is modern is necessarily good. We are now headed towards a multi-polar world that is aiming to find its balance. The axis, which shifted towards the Atlantic along with discoveries made in the 15th century, will not be able to turn its course back towards the East again; however, it will find its course as it should. The East is nearing the West, and this is vital for the latter because the West has become tired from the weight it has been carrying for five centuries, having bloodied its hands with crimes over the hundreds of years that have passed.

According to the most comprehensive coup research, which was conducted in Turkey last week, by polling company MetroPOLL, 65.8 percent of the people said that if a coup were to take place, they would take to the streets. A significant number of people believe that the era of coups is over and should a coup be attempted that they would be out on the streets. In response to the question, “Would you support the military staging a coup and taking over administration for whichever reason?” Of those polled, 79 percent said, “No.” And 77.4 percent of the people no longer believed that the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) has a chance of staging a coup.

This is an incredible indicator as to the changes undergone by the people of Turkey over the past few years. For example, Konda, another polling company, had found in polls held in April 2010 and April 2011 that approximately 47 percent of the people found a coup to be wrong.

With the latest poll we see that there is a surge to 61.9 percent in this figure. And those who support a coup have dropped to 26.8 percent from 38.5.

When looking at France, the very source of the Enlightenment, research conducted there indicates that 37 percent of the people find the fascist ideas of Jean-Marie Le Pen to be close to theirs. Le Pen already appears as the next leader of choice for the people of France.

Both Turkey’s and France’s public surveys tell us a great deal, don’t they?

Previous articles of the columnist