Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Requem for a Normal Turkey!

In Turkey, for most of the people in my generation, who were born in 1980’s, it is very hard to understand and analyze what is happening in Turkey at the moment. Are we threatened by political Islam? Are we going to become Iran? Is a new military coup coming up? And the most important question: Do we have to make a choice between being secular and Islamist in order to survive in Turkey?

Our parents’ generation suffered from military coup consequences so badly that they decided to keep us away from the politics. Therefore we didn’t really feel like active participants of the system. We thought our job was to educate ourselves to get good jobs, love our country through national anthem and our flag, and vote in the elections for the parties that are suggested by elderly family members or by our favorite mainstream newspaper’s columnist’s choice.

I didn’t know what democracy was for a long time. I didn’t know the difference between the state and the government in Turkey. I accepted everything I was taught in public schools without questioning. Until I lived in better working democracies, I had never questioned the fact that I was being raised devoid from analyctical thinking.

I thought more or less everybody would live under similar circumstances in the world. Therefore everyhing I consider abnormal and unfair now, had seemed normal and acceptable back then. Somehow, I thought the state and all its policies were holy. They were not subjected to question by ordinary citizens. Indepedent courts would take care of those kind of serious issues. Who was I to suspect?

Then I started to change through discovering the world. I realized that I live in a democracy and I have rights. All state, parliament and government members, even the officers working for public, are there for me. They are responsible as much as they are authorized. It is my right and responsibility to check on them.

I started paying attention to understand them. What I saw was power struggle. I wanted to go deeper in this analyze, they wanted me to make a choice. The deeper I went, the more dissaponting it got. I have seen so many unsolved problems that has been going on, since Turkey was formed. I saw an army thinks that it is the owner of the country and can intervene in politics whenever and wherever it wants. Then I saw politicians can use anything to get votes. I realized the key factors of getting votes here are religion and nationalism.

I kept researching. Most of the Islamic oriented people wouldn’t call themselves Islamists as the seculars call them. I got surprised. Many of the seculars were somehow practicing Islam, I got amazed. And both sides live very similar every day lives, without touching each other.

If they give a chance to each other, they will see that they are not much different from one another. If there is a Turkish identity as claimed and owned by the majority of population, there has to be a lot of common grounds to reconcile or at least meet as a first step.

Moreover, there are so many people who don’t care about religion as a priority in life. Just because it is imposed that way, they feel like opposing religion. Converting people is a religious behaviour, if one is a modern secular why is the need to change people’s minds? Where does freedom fit in this picture?

I wonder how much of our population can take themselves out of this polarized situtaiton for a while and see that it is just a power game between obvious and hidden actors. I don’t want to live in a so-called democracy anymore, I don’t want the political parties to be closed down for no reason, I don’t want a new military coup, I don’t want the politicians to blame each other only and do nothing about Kurdish issue, Alevites, headscarf, non-muslims, education, health, traffic and so on. I don’t want them to abuse religion and nationalism anymore either. I don’t want Turkey to be ‘holy’ anymore. I just want a ‘normal’ country that can meet up its citizens needs and is ready to be questioned by them any time.

*photo by David Klein

Fitna: Stuck Between Propagand and Prejudice

Have you seen the movie Fitna? Before reading this, please watch it. Because it is not to be understood just by thoughts but also feelings. Dutch PM Geert Wilders claims to have made it. That makes me wonder what kind of work has he put in it. It seems to be done in half a day with no budget. He just put extreme pieces together that can be easily and freely found on internet and blamed all the actions on the Quran. That is a smart and banal way of affecting people. Actually it might even be considered ‘religious’ in its own unique form, as it aims to give people ideas with simple and weak reasoning. For someone who don't know much about Islam and who is a part of the consumer culture, it can be very comforting and easy to to believe in that kind of propagand.

One thing makes the movie seem "well intended" is that it doesn't reject Islam or hate it (on surface), it just innocently suggests to get rid of the parts of the Quran that encourages violence. But if the movie was sincere, it wouldn't portrait Prophet Mohammed with bomb on the head one more time after all the reaction during cartoon crisis.

If you are Muslim, would you change your mind about your belief and think about changing your holy book when someone who portrays extremists as believers suggests?

Or if you are not Muslim, would it convince you to believe that all Muslims are potential terrorists when you see extremists, dead bodies, and verses following each other?

If there is anyone to blame, it is not this provocative Wilders but Muslims. They should be able to express themselves, explain those verses and convince the world (if needed) that Islam is not a religion of violence. What do those verses quoted in the movie actually mean? Some authorities or even someone who study them should explain them. Otherwise more and more attacks are going to leave bigger stains on Islam, Quran and of course Muslims. And if good ones can't convince the bad ones, they will take over the power and actually change the Quran. Then Islam is going to lose its most important charactersitic that it has been the SAME book for 13 centuries all over the world, not one letter has been changed.

I think the problem lays here: Religion is an important component of life for many people. And every religion has its own language (by that i mean a way of interpretting the world/life) Even different sects in one religion have different aspects on issues. What we are doing is that we are trying to understand someone without knowing her/his language. Let's say someone knows two languages of religions (Christian theology professor on Islam) but still remains as a Christian. Because there comes another important component of religion, faith, that we cannot comprehend with minds. and there is no space for "heart" (where the faith is) in our "modern language" I guess that leads us to beginning of modernity and secularism which proves that we cannot understand the religion just by looking at the religion.

We develop relationships with people whom we share the same language. We might believe in different religions, ideologies, we might belong to different nationalities, countries, but we can stil have a relationship. It is possible because religion and nationality, our two very important identity components, may not be the most important components of our personalities. Having similar interests or sharing another ideology that can fit into those big ones (humanism, for instance) can become more important than others. For different reasons, we can build bridges with ‘others’.

The only thing we need is some common language for the people of different religions and nations that share similar values. That cannot be common ancestor Abraham only, what if we didn't have anything in common historically? And what if as modern people we don't care that much about long time ago on our every day lives? What if some of us are religious and some not?

I guess most of the people want peace and dialogue but not strong enough. They tend to be tricked easily by politicians or any other leaders. Instead of judging each other with big labels like religion, nationality or race, we can try to find some shared common values that will connect us. I know that what all of us want at the end is to feed ourselves, raise our children, be safe and happy basically. That’s the same in every culture and our happiness and safety depend on each other’s happiness and safety.

Extremists are the ones that exist in all ideologies, all religions, all nationalities, not just among Muslims. How about dividing the world as Extremists/Others, instead of Muslims/Others? Then maybe we can think of a way to convert extremists to human beings instead of converting Muslims to a transformed Islam.