I listen to radio stations such as the BBC who recount some stories from the Middle East. Through one such story, the tragedy of Kurdish Yazidi families who fled to Georgia due to the barbarism of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), the thousands of people murdered and the sexual enslavement of Yazidi women are seared into the mind.
These are not stories that would be abstained from telling due to concerns of political correctness. I listen to German-based radio stations that recount the stories of Christian Arabs who have troubles and take asylum due to the civil war in Iraq and Syria. It is a considerable effort for the West to show sensitivity toward such human tragedies. And some epics emerge as part of it. However, it is debatable whether the motif of these stories is humanism or not.
They are the epics depicting the courage of "secular" regional forces combating against the barbarism of ISIS. Western media outlets represent the photos of some female fighters as "the warriors who spread terror through ISIS" and conduct interviews with them. The look of female fighters even appeared as the inspiration for the cover of a fashion magazine. The reaction against it is based on the grounds of harming militarism and the mystification of violence rather than criticizing militarism and violence.
Their conditions are dramatized. They try to touch the Western public's conscience by representing them as "the isolated warriors." However, their secularism does not conceal the fact that these militant formations commit humanitarian crimes and impose a totalitarian, ethno-centric and pro-Baath ideology in the region. The regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad tortured and killed thousands of people through conventional arms or bombings for three years. Even though the usage of chemical weapons awoke the conscience of Western media outlets and the public to a certain degree, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry's diplomatic success stopped this awakening and the mass murders fell off the agenda again.
And the murders in Egypt are already off the agenda. In brief, we cannot hear the stories about the thousands of murders, exiles, rapes and enslavement committed by secular organizations or regimes. Seemingly, some stories have to be forgotten. The others symbolize the villains of a greater plot. These characters are needed since we live in a world where everything is complicated and the distinction between right and wrong is blurred. This grey world both makes it difficult to comprehend the truth and presents some solid options in the efforts of realizing different agendas. It feeds conformism.
For instance, after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, the secular dictatorships that were founded - some supported by Western actors in the region to guarantee their economic and political interests - have turned into beneficial and rational policies and partners again after a long intermission. They can even be regarded as saints when compared with antichrists such as ISIS. Their brutality can be tolerated on the face of the potential evil of the majority in this region.
The concept of "brutal but secular" against "both brutal and anti-secular" does appeal to the people thanks to that. While the concepts focusing on secularism get attention, it is not possible to make the concepts focusing on democracy appealing. They sometimes cannot even enter circulation. But how far can it go on like this?
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.