December 21, 2015

An old Turkish disease

Abdülhamit Bilici

In societies like ours that fail to solve fundamental issues in education, health, justice and democracy, the easiest response is to put the blame on others.

You ask for help from conspiracy theories or blame your so-called enemies, imperialism or capitalism. And the matter is over. With your power of propaganda, you can make people believe in these baseless arguments. Yet, this approach prevents you from looking at yourself in the mirror or confronting real problems and it won't work. It is like a student holding his/her teacher responsible for his/her failure.

This is one of the dilemmas facing the Muslim world in general and Turkey in particular. We are performing poorly in many respects against universal benchmarks, but there is always someone else to blame. This disease can be applied to old Turkey as well: To manufacture imaginary enemies and find someone else to blame instead of accepting the problem and solving it. Instead of preventing torture in prison, those who complain about it are declared enemies. The existence of Kurds is denied and international organizations like the Council of Europe (CoE), the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), which have stated the opposite, are accused of antagonism against Turks. This approach means nothing in the international arena even though it might serve domestic policy purposes.

What has happened during the last 30 years in our country is proof that this is not the road to success. For instance, when former President Turgut Özal frankly accepted the problems that caused Turkey to remain backward in areas such as democracy and the economy, we were able to make a lot of progress. During its first two terms, the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) also accepted our shortcomings and focused on reforms and in this way, it undertook significant breakthroughs. What is odd is that this party is now suffering from old Turkish diseases even though it witnessed that the road to success is to focus on homework and do the right thing.

Unfortunately, this party has been stigmatizing certain people as enemies because of their opinions, imprisoning intellectuals and using state organs such as the police and the judiciary as tools of oppression. It sticks to the propaganda that the entire world is Turkey's enemy and tries to explain unwanted developments such as the Soma mining disaster and the downing of the Russian warplane with conspiracy theories.

Against terror in the world, a terror suspect in Turkey

Well-respected Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen published an article in France's prestigious newspaper Le Monde last Thursday. Mr. Gülen condemned terrorist attacks committed in the name of Islam in Syria and in our country and called on all Muslims to look at themselves in the mirror in the face of this horrible problem with the following bold remarks: "We Muslims must stop seeking refuge in conspiracy theories, which is something that prevents us from confronting our own problems, and we must engage in a process of self-examination. How have our communities become fertile ground for recruitment for totalitarian-minded groups? Is it because of our hidden tendency for despotism or physical violence or due to our negligence in educating our youths with a well-balanced educational curriculum? Perhaps we have failed to adopt fundamental rights and freedoms, the rule of law and a mentality that welcomes everyone, thereby paving the way for desperation among people who have nothing and leading them to look for unpleasant alternatives."

The effect of this open-minded approach -- which does not put the blame on others but proposes that Muslims look in the mirror -- on French people who were shocked by the Charlie Hebdo and Parish attacks is visible in the comments Le Monde readers made about the article. For instance, Joel Becquet wrote: "We have finally come across a promising perspective for self-examination by Muslims, dialogue and the future of mankind. Mr. Gülen, your voice should be heard more widely." Another reader named Zayd Nenahmed commented: "There are millions of Muslims in France. Gülen's approach should be dominant in Europe." French writer Jean Robert Gauthey said, "The voices of people like Gülen should be louder so that terror can be eliminated."

As a matter of fact, this is not the first time Mr. Gülen has made a call to condemn all sorts of terrorism, including ethnic, religious and ideological terrorism. On countless occasions he has condemned terrorists, defying death threats. "A Muslim cannot be a terrorist," he has said. "Muslims must combat the cancer of extremism," he has stated.

If you want to see the strange period our country is going through and how we have distanced ourselves from the world in a way reminiscent of the old Turkey, you can look at the apprehension order issued against Gülen on charges of being a terrorist in Turkey on the day this article was published in Le Monde. The Hizmet (Gülen) movement, which conducts peace-building, educational and dialogue activities around the world with inspiration from Mr. Gülen, is accused of being a terrorist organization in Turkey.

Published on Today's Zaman, 21 December 2015, Monday