Elif Shafak, the Turkish author of a recently published article in The Guardian titled "In Turkey we can't even laugh at our politicians anymore." In it she outlined some of the major reasons she believes Turkey is "sliding backwards." And her reasoning is everything but progressive.
The term 'backward' is an ontological categorization; it is a description of the nature of being and existence. And it has a long history in Turkey as a derogatory term. Being backward was the term too often used to describe practicing Muslims, being backward was the term used to describe women wearing headscarves whose only hope was to pursue higher education, being backward was the term that was shouted at everyone who did not conform to the principles of radical secularism, being backward was standing up against military rule, being backward was essentially expressing your identity. Shafak wrote that an "ideology of sameness dominates the land" today, but what she ought to say is that it dominated the land.
Quite contrary to sameness and being backward, Turkey is a diverse hub of ideological differences and multiculturalism. Firstly, Turkey has the youngest population in Europe, with 70 percent of the population aged under 35. And the youth are politically engaged, ideologically motivated and diverse in opinion. There are multiple media outlets serving both orthodox and heterodox political discourses. Secondly, Turkey is home to more than 3 million refugees, and many of them are now a part of the country's dynamics. Turkish is now the native tongue of many Syrian children, they are being educated and their parents work in a place they call home. They are very much a part of this country's future. Turkey has moved away from being a culturally predatory state under the leadership of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The nation has departed from its existence as an avenue of misology like the Athenian democracy that killed Socrates, and is quickly becoming like the diverse Roman Republic that welcomed all cultures and all faiths equally.
In her piece, Shafak pokes fun at an incident that took place in a parliamentary debate a few weeks back. A member of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) disapproved of a member of the opposition Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) who wanted to recite an Oscar Wilde passage, and said: "Don't you have any references from our own civilization?" This response was not out of ignorance, but really a representation of what the majority of Turkey has been yearning for. Turkish citizens are looking to take ownership of their own civilizational values, not just the values of Westernization espoused since 1923, values that go beyond that, values that once stretched across the Persian gulf to the east and the gates of Vienna to the West, values that have value.
For too long Turkey has been dependent on the West to fill it with ideologies, philosophy and identity and, prior to AK Party the, Turkey too often listened to the West, adored the West, and this overtime has evoked feelings of nostalgia for traditional values from people from all walks of life. Make no mistake, Turkey is not abandoning its Western values that have made it stronger, like human rights standards and freedom of expression. It is undergoing a reformation process, both politically and socially. Politically speaking, the AK Party seeks a more effective system of governance and proper representation and, sociologically speaking, Turkish citizens are claiming an identity that they feel comfortable with, an individual ontological realization that encompasses the roots of their culture.
And as the country finds its authenticity, fallacious representations of domestic policy and the rule of law continue to spread like wild fire.
As the press in the West does so often to vilify Turkey, Shafak, too, pointed out the arrests and suing of journalists, academics and artists. But what she failed to point out is exactly why they were arrested. An academic or a journalist has never been arrested in Turkey for practicing their occupation. Turkey is fighting the PKK terrorist organization, and those arrested have supported terrorism either verbally or in written form and their occupation just happens to be a journalist, artist or academic. This should be no surprise to anyone, nor should it be seen as a hindrance to freedom of expression. There are cases in the United Kingdom when those who praised the Irish Republican Army (IRA) during the civil conflict were sentenced up to 11 years. There was even a case last year when a Scottish school teacher who praised the IRA in a tweet was arrested. But let's not call that a double standard, let's call it backward thinking.
When the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) happens to pass a normal law in Parliament that already exists in other developed, Western democracies or when the AK Party decides to invest in infrastructure, it is criticized to an unsurpassed degree and quickly labeled authoritarian. The laws are passed and approved like any other parliamentary democracy with a vote from people who were voted in, but this fact is ignored.
Alcohol sales were banned between 10:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m., like much of Europe, but it was portrayed by those opposing it as an Islamic law. The AK Party's energy minister signed off on plans to build a nuclear energy reactor by 2020, a reactor similar to those in half of European Union member states, but Turkey's modern, high-tech reactor plans were criticized to be environmentally dangerous. But once again, let's not call that a double standard, let's call that backward thinking.
Erdoğan was once among those they called backward, but today he is driving the country forward. And on the horizon is a brave new Turkey, a country that is freer, more democratic, more diverse and more powerful. Shafak wrote: "In the past ... [p]olitics was always rough, but it was OK for the people to laugh at politicians." But what she ought to say is in the past politics was dominated by military rule and puppets who only protected the interests of a few, but it was OK for the people to laugh at politicians even though they were impoverished, unemployed and treated like third class citizens.
And as for the question that was left hanging in the parliamentary debate, here is a passage from Turkish poet Necip Fazıl Kısakürek: "Hey you who calls himself visionary, you can't even rule over a family. Are your ancestors who ruled over three continents and seven seas backward?"