The paradox of secularism and democracy

Published 05.11.2014 07:26
Updated 05.11.2014 09:08

Recently, Aysel Tuğluk has said: "Those who take care of the state's future and secular forces should rapidly take responsibility concerning the process." The call by Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) deputy, Aysel Tuğluk, a prominent figure in the socialist-nationalist Kurdish political movement does not point to an ordinary situation. Though perceived as a hackneyed call for a coup, the expression, "[.] secular forces should rapidly take responsibility," contains deeper meanings.

Oral Çalışlar, a columnist at Turkish daily Radikal, recalled that "secular forces" in Turkey are Kemalists, ethnic nationalists and militarist forces who can come to power only through coups or undemocratic ways, and asked: "Is it that secular forces will come to power in a way we do not know of and produce solutions to the problems on the basis of brotherhood and equality with Kurds, but we cannot grasp it?" Abdülkadir Selvi, a columnist at Turkish daily Yeni Şafak, reminded us of a truth about this region with a question: "What have Aysel Tuğluk's secularists done for Kurds?"

Western secularism has been shaped, with the exception of France, by the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648. On the one hand this approach led to a gap between the state and the church and on the other it also paved the way for democracy as it had posited an ideal, stating that all people are equal regardless of differences in faith. For this reason, secularism and democracy are inseparable in the West. Thus a political structure that does not reflect the basic spirit of secularism cannot be democratic. As a consequence, secularism does not signify hostility to society. On the contrary, social legitimacy can be won in this way alone.

But the same understanding results in a different outcome in the Middle East. It becomes inevitable to transfer Western lifestyles and political philosophies as an ideological program and agenda. And that leads to an ontological problem between the structures that defend secularism and the overwhelming majority of society. That is why almost all secularist movements pursue goals like freeing people from reactionism, enlightening and liberating them. It's impossible for movements that deny social reality and see it as an object to be changed and transformed and to get their legitimacy from society. In this case, legitimacy can be derived only from the ethical value of the posited ideal. Secularism thus turns into a tool of legitimacy.

Let's have a closer look at the issue. The Republican People's Party (CHP) makes this claim and the PKK and the Bashar Assad regime are obsessed with it. The goal of the structure born out of the 1924, 1961, and 1982 constitutions, which are works of the CHP, is to transform and enlighten society. The PKK's discourse and ideology, and the Kurdish Communities Union (KCK) charter that embodies them, is not much different from the 1936 Soviet Union's constitution. That charter sees freedoms as means to use when pursuing secular goals, like in the struggle against reactionism. Assad's constitution is also similar.

Any movement that is not content with a society's socio-cultural or ethnic structure inevitably launches an ethnic, ideological and cultural "cleansing" through economic means. There are many such examples that constitute this reality in this part of the world. When democracy is the priority, there can be secularism in the Western sense. Because a system that accepts society as a constituent instead of seeing it as an object to be transformed and that allows at the same time every kind of difference to participate in political processes on the basis of equal freedom, is necessarily secular.

Tuğluk knows that the West would prefer secularism to democracy in the Middle East, despite Çalışlar's objection. She also knows well that the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) offers a good opportunity in this regard. Let's return to the conclusion Selvi's question suggests. What the secular-socialist Kurdish movement of which Tuğluk is a member would do to the "others" in the Kurdish lands cannot be different from what Tuğluk's secular forces have done to Kurds - an ethnic, cultural, and economic cleansing.

When democracy is not the real goal, continuing atrocities in this region through ideological mystification on behalf of this or that party does not fall off the agenda somehow. It would be good for Western actors to take this into consideration as well.

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