Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Opinion: Erdoğan and the culture of democracy | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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TOPSHOTSBoys wearing Guy Fawkes masks stand on top of a public bus at Taksim square on June 7, 2013. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Friday his Islamic-rooted government was open to “democratic demands” as he hit back at EU criticism of his handling of a week of deadly unrest. Amid international condemnation of Ankara’s handling of the unrest, European Union Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fule told Erdogan that police violence “has no place” in a democracy, urging a “swift” probe into the unrest in Turkey, a longtime EU hopeful. AFP PHOTO / BULENT KILIC

It should be acknowledged that democracy does not constitute a part of our culture. This is the least that can be said. Democracy is absent on all levels, from the head of the family to the president, from primary schools to universities. We are all immersed from head to foot in a non-democratic, patriarchal culture. Since we have been immersed in this culture from an early age, it is difficult to free ourselves from it: as the saying goes, “Old habits die hard.”

I would like to tell a personal anecdote, if readers allow me, although it is extremely hard for me to tell it given that I am still deeply wounded by the experience.

When our mother died in a tragic incident, did our “old man” consult us about his decision to remarry? Absolutely not! One morning, or perhaps one night, we were awakened by the commotion caused by the new woman who, we were told, was [our father’s] bride. That incident marked my first face-to-face experience with evil; an experience which I never had before, I swear. I suddenly lost the innocence of childhood. The foreign woman who replaced the mother/angel proved to be nothing but an evil snake. She was as evil as could be. Up until now, after 50 years, I have not overcome this incident.

This is something which attests to the dangers of the oppressive mentality that dictates rules regardless of what the others think. Hence, I decided to focus on decentering ancient theological conceptions. Had not I been a specialist in the thought of the Middle Ages, I would not have spent my life transferring Enlightenment thought to the Arab world.

After I witnessed the sort of upbringing people receive in developed countries, my conventional education suddenly and completely collapsed—which led me to wage full-scale war against the patriarchal mentality.

Reccep Tayyip Erdğoan, the Turkish prime minister, committed a small mistake that turned to be a fatal one, when he decided to rip up the trees in Gezi Park in Istanbul to build a mall without consulting anyone. Business always comes at the expense of nature, beauty and memories.

I say this despite all of the services that Erdoğan provided Turkey, almost turning the country into a world superpower. Why didn’t Erdoğan consult with the residents of this wonderful city before making this decision? Why were the Turkish people surprised by Erdoğan’s decision in the same way I was surprised by my father’s marriage? What is this superiority and patriarchy in dealing with the Turkish people for?

It is because Erdoğan is like us, a product of a non-democratic and oppressive patriarchal culture. Almost the entire Islamic world is a product of this culture. Did Erdoğan not conceal his passion for football from his father, whom he deeply feared and held in awe? Perhaps Erdoğan thinks that democracy means no more than casting one’s ballot in elections. Perhaps he believes that since 50% of people voted for him in the last elections, he can do whatever he wants with them. But he should at least consult with them. Gezi Park is a part of these people’s lives, and their childrens’ lives. They love it to the extent they cannot imagine Istanbul without it. What would Paris mean without the Luxembourg Gardens? Wiping these gardens out would be a direct attack on the people of Paris.

Democracy is more than casting your ballot: it is a thorough philosophy of the administration of society and existence. Discussing decisions before they come to be implemented is the first principle in any democratic culture. I mean consulting with the people who are directly affected by the decision. Tyranny is the Arab and Islamic world’s curse, while democracy and transparency are the merits and the reasons behind the superiority of the West.

This is what the most famous theory of the last century—German philosopher Jurgen Habermas’s Theory of Communicative Action—revolves around. Before we kill each other, let’s talk. Truth emerges from interaction among the conflicting and contradictory points of view. Truth is not given in advance or in a ready form, contrary to what we delude ourselves into thinking. Only civilized people can solve their problems by means of free and democratic dialogue. However, we Arabs and Muslims solve our problems by fighting and carrying out suicide car bombings.

Europeans prior to the Enlightenment were backward like we are now, and their rulers represented the shadow of God on Earth. Louis XIV used to say, “I am the state; I am France.” He had the ability to kill people in an arbitrary and tyrannical way without anyone daring to utter a single word. He even used to make decisions of war and peace without consulting his people—exactly like what Saddam Hussein did when he invaded Kuwait. It never even occurred to Louis XIV to consult with the people. How could he consult with something that does not even exist? In his mind, it would be nonsensical for him to consult with children and slaves. Did my father consult with me when he decided to get married? We were thunderstruck by the news. Such matters used to be considered natural in those bygone days. However, now things have changed—at least among developed nations which are immersed in their democratic cultures. This is something which I am certain it will be decades before we Arabs and Muslims can achieve.

What is the problem of Turkey? The problem is that Mustafa Kemal Ataturk exaggerated in his attempts to Westernize and uproot the Turkish people; Erdogan is almost going in the opposite direction, as the saying goes: “the middle way is best one.” Both authenticity and modernity are required without any one dominating the other.

Despite what happened in Turkey, Bachir ben Yahmed, the Tunisian writer and editor-in-chief of the Parisian Jeune Afrique Magazine, thinks that the Justice and Development Party (AKP) is indispensable for the time being. He also thinks that Erdogan will emerge victorious from the crisis, according to the saying “what does not kill you makes you stronger.” To achieve this, Erdogan needs to correct his mistakes particularly when it comes to his high self-esteem and his tyrannical penchant in both opinion and decision. Do you know that the number of journalists and intellectuals detained in Turkey exceeds that in China? In general, in order for Turkey to overcome the crisis, it should consolidate the role of President Abdullah Gul, who represents the democratic wing in the ruling party.