On a broadcast by the BBC and WNYC last week, I listened to a discussion on the causes of why the most radical Islamist figures in Western societies are among those who converted to Islam later in life. One of the topics on the agenda that caught my attention was how people who converted to Islam later tended to reject and deny the values of their own society more than other Muslims. I don't think it is a phenomena that is too hard to understand. For a person, it is not easy to make an ontological choice completely alien to the socio-cultural environment in which he or she was born in and lives in.
If someone prefers to be a Muslim, they can go to a country where the majority of the population is Muslim and rebuild themselves in a positive way, leaving behind all the things they reject, entering a new civilization where they have a better chance of expressing and experiencing the meaning of their own existence.
If a newly-converted Muslim does not change their location, they will then have to fight against the norms of their background in order to exist. In turn they would have to build their identity through a process of trivializing and rejecting the values of the world in which they used to belong. As a result, their identity would only consist of negative components, which is destructive rather than constructive.
Let's assume that the Islamic world forms its judgment of the West only through the network it forms with these converts. Imagine that the press only sees the regions where these people live; and gather news based only on the realities they produce. Doubtless, such news would be regarded as "right" without being colored by the anti-West political tendencies that prevail in the Islamic world. Also, their "Islamic lifestyle" would increase their persuasiveness. Even so, it is not possible to find such a relationship rational. It is possible to say that the Western media's form of assessing the issues regarding Turkey and the way the Western public renders this form are not so different from the instance above.
Turkey's 150-year journey of Westernization led to the creation of a social stratum which is alien to its own society. This stratum, defining itself as a group of people having a more Westernized way of life and identifying themselves with Western art, philosophy and culture, evidently made denying the values and aspects of its own society a key constituent of its own identity. This group was dominant during the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire and the early Republican period. However, its relation with this society is not so different from the Western converter's relation with their own society.
Also, the Western media builds the concept of Turkey through the relations it has with this social stratum. The concept of "Historic enemy: Islam" and "having a Western lifestyle" is a gap that can close itself. The Western public can easily buy the concepts of "good" and "evil" that are built on these grounds. Of course it is not possible to regard this form of relationship as rational. In an age of tolerance, it does not serve anything but hostility since it completely abolishes the means for good communication.
About the author
Osman Can is a Law Professor and Reporting Judge at the Turkish Constitutional Court. He holds a PhD from the University of Cologne, Germany.