[Originally published in Hurriyet Daily News]
One of the great things about the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review is its lack of censorship. Hence, I can write in my columns what I believe, and, in return, readers can comment in the way they deem fit. Some can even bring in bold suggestions that I should be fired from the newspaper, then “jailed for life” and even “beheaded.”
The reason, as those commentators kindly articulate, is that I am allegedly a “traitor” to Turkey, my own country. And I should get what traitors, supposedly, deserve.
I wouldn’t worry much if this line of thinking were something marginal. Yet, quite the contrary, it is a very widespread attitude in Turkey. People have a tendency to think that their particular ideology is the only appropriate one for the nation, and anybody with a different point of view must be a “traitor” who serves some external power with some evil cause.
Liberalism as ‘high treason’
The Kemalists are often the most extreme addicts of this argument-by-accusation because the very ideology they subscribe to disallows any form of pluralism. After all, it was Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the supreme leader of Kemalism, who denounced his political opponents as “the most treacherous minds” and purged them using various methods. One of Atatürk’s top aides, Recep Peker, the long-time secretary general of the People’s Republican Party, or CHP, was even more categorical. “Liberalism,” he simply proclaimed in the parliament in 1935, “is high treason.”
But Kemalists are not the only one. The Islamic camp has its own version of hate speech mixed with paranoia. For decades, they have seen the secularists as “freemasons” or “crypto-Jews” serving some international conspiracy aimed at de-Islamizing Turkey.
Our Marxists are hardly any better. For most of them, any support for the market economy is enough to make you a “comprador intellectual,” if not directly a “CIA agent.”
I really think we Turks should get over with this national obsession. That’s why I wrote a piece a few months ago in my Turkish column with the headline: “Nobody is a traitor.” All of the different political camps in the country are patriotic, I argued, they just see the well-being of the country in different ways.
Having said that, let me be a little bit more open on where I exactly see the well-being of Turkey. Because this, as I see, has been a matter of concern for the commentators who wish to see me put in prison or have my head chopped off.
From what I have been writing, it must be obvious that I wish to see a post-Kemalist Turkey, rather than the Kemalist one we used to have. But please be careful: post-Kemalism is neither anti-Kemalist nor pre-Kemalist. In other words, I wish to see neither a backlash against Turkey’s Kemalist elite, nor a return to the Ottoman days.
Kemalism, as a program of authoritarian modernization, had its contributions to Turkey (such as the advance of women’s rights), along with its damages (such as the suppression of Kurds or conservative Muslims). But whatever happened has happened. Now is the time, I believe, to move on to a free and democratic Turkey in which Kemalism will cease to be a “state ideology,” and rather become one of the many competing ideologies. (Such a “privatization,” as I have argued before, might even help Kemalism by forcing it to update itself.)
But do I envision this post-Kemalist Turkey as an “Islamic” one? Do I want to have an “Islamic state” instead of the Kemalist state? No, not at all. This Manichean dichotomy, which the Kemalists love to propagate, is not real. Of course we have Islamists who wish to see “a constitution based on the Quran,” rather than the current Constitution which is based on “Atatürk’s nationalism.” But those Islamists are increasingly becoming marginal in Turkey, and most of the people who are mistakenly called “Islamists” are actually religious conservatives who just want their fair share in society – such as the right to wear a headscarf and be able go to a college or get a public job.
An Islamic state?
As for me, not only am I not advocating an “Islamic state,” I am also strongly against it. Because all states which call themselves “Islamic” impose the version of Islam they choose. But I want to be able to make my own decision on what God really says. I also want other Muslims, along with secularists, non-Muslims, agnostics, atheists, new-agers, and whomever you can imagine, to be able to live in the way they chose. In modern societies, all such diverse groups and individuals have to live together, and the system which will allow that is not an “Islamic state,” but a secular one.
Yet a secular state is one thing, whereas secularism, as an ideology aimed at secularizing the society, is another. And while I support the former, I am against the latter, for it is simply yet another form of tyranny.
I even believe that the separation of religion and state, which is a must, does not equal the separation of religion and politics. In fact, an “Islamic politics” that will uphold the values of Islam within the democratic game is possible. My effort to find some liberal principles within the tradition of Islam, and even the shariah, was about that. More will be explored in my upcoming book, “The Islamic Case for Freedom.”
At the end of the day, what I wish for Turkey is simply more freedom and democracy. And, thank God, the days that people really get fired, jailed and executed for this are mostly over.