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Turkey: An assessment of modernity and progress under Kemalism

BY: Nuray | Category: Politics | Post Date: 2009-12-16

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In my investigation of the theory of Kemalism, I will be looking at various literatures written by Westerners as well as Turks. Two western authors, Andrew Mango and Standford J. Shaw are of enormous importance for my research. They are experts on Turkish affairs, have lived in Turkey and published many works on Turkish politics. They have been used many sources including governmental sources and have related their accounts of Kemalism as fair as possible.

Andrew Mango's autobiography on Mustafa Kemal is a serious work that was accomplished due to the author's publication of dozens of studies on Turkey as well as his knowledge of the Turkish language and also being a member of the editorial boards of academic publication in Britain, Turkey and France. In regard to Standford J. Shaw he has been a professor of Turkish and Near Eastern History at the University of California, Los Angeles since 1968 and has taught earlier in Harvard University. He also has been Editor in Chief of the International Journal of Middle Eastern Studies. The third author is Turkish professor Dr. Bulent Daver who teaches in Turkey and is an expert on Kemalism and its modernist principles.

In contrast to these three authors, the articles I used in this research written by Hakan Yavuz and Hasan Kosebalaban, both professors at the University of Utah are less reliable because they judge Kemalism in the light of modern day standards and especially in comparison to the development of democracy in the US and Europe without seriously studying the needs of a Turkey at a certain point of history.

In fact the articles of Hakan Yavus and Hasan Kosebalaban do not shed any positive light on how Kemalism led to the development of Turkey as a statehood that became independent and self reliable despite Turkey's geographical and political position in contrast to America as it found itself struggling in an old continent almost landlocked of different faiths and with potential exterior enemies who threatened the existence of the Turkish nation at the end of the First World War. Turkey's political development cannot be viewed in a similar light as that of the West as Turkey was still a new country that inherited the historical ethnical baggage left over from the Ottoman Empire.

The collapse of the Ottoman Empire which was largely due to Western intrigues and the ensuing invasion of European troops of Turkey in their attempt to divide up Turkey after the First World War precipitated the rise of nationalists among who was Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. He sought a new identity for Turkey that would make it stronger to thwart off future invasions and to be accepted on equal footing with the West. He wanted to westernize Turkey with modern thinking and technology while not stripping itself totally of its Islamic heritage.

Unlike what Hasan Kosebalahan claimed that Kemalism was purely an ideology regarding the West in general and Europe in particular as a potential danger, Kemalism was not an ideology of confrontation with no territorial or political ambitions at another country's expense. Ataturk's revolution was influenced by the French revolutionary enlightened ideas and to borrow what is progressive from Western societies rather than to confront the West. The Turkish nationalism introduced by Ataturk was not imperialistic as it did not seek to restore lands once ruled by the Ottomans despite the presence of Turkish minorities in some areas.

It is due to the Western racist portrayal of the Turks back in Ottoman times and later on that led Ataturk to choose a unique path for Turkey.Reform and modernization of Turkish institutions and the governmental system was not uniquely Kemalist. Turkish professor, Dr. Bulent Daver reverses the image held by the West about Turkish governments as being tyrannical and unchanging by tracing the beginnings of reforms undertaken by the Ottomans and that culminated into the secularist Republic of Turkey.

Unlike what Hasan Kosebalahban said that Turkey was completely stripped of its Islamic identity and rejected by the Muslim and non-Muslim world alike, Ataturk had no intention of challenging the Islamic faith, nor any of the political leaders who succeeded him. Their aim was not to suppress Islam but rather to do away with the superstitions and fanaticism which were borrowed from other faiths and which damaged the religion.The intention was not to abandon Islam as there were no atheistic institutes on the Soviet model. The state forbade the clergy to interfere with the reforms but worship at mosques was not forbidden.

M. Hakan Yavus rejected the Kemalist notion of forging a strong and modern nation by stressing that it sought republicanism over democracy. He said:
at the core of the contemporary crisis in Turkey lies three sociopolitical consequences of Kemalism: its uncritical modernization ideology prevents the open discussion that would lead to a new and inclusive social contract that recognizes the cultural diversity of Turkey; it does not tolerate the articulation of different identities and lifestyles in the public sphere since they undermine the Kemalist vision of an ideal society; and it treates politics as a process of guiding political development and engineering a new society.

In reality Ataturk disapproved of dictatorship in theory as it was his desire to create a system which would outlast him and evolve to the benefit of Turkey into something like a Western style democracy. The Turkish constitution did not prohibit the multi-party system. With the establishment of the Republic, the Turkish constitution did not deprive non-Muslims living in Turkey of their rights and in Article 75 stated that every Turk regardless of origin was given the same right to practice the philosophical creed, religion or doctrine to which he may adhere.

Kemalism withstood many attempts of radical change but has been changed as it shed its authoritarian past while preserving its openness to new knowledge, mutual respect and proving that nationalism is compatible with peace. In Mango's words concerning Kemalism as promoted by Mustafa Kemal:

Ataturk believed that his people had been denied knowledge-positive, secular knowledge. He sought to dispel ignorance-which was palpable in Muslim society-by promoting the inflow of knowledge from those countries where its frontier was being pushed forward. The basic difference between him and most of his domestic opponents was that he was not afraid of the outside world, while they were. His nationalism looked outwards; theirs was inward-looking. Unlike them, he was able to combine a realistic recognition of his countrymen's backwardness with total faith in their ability to overcome it.

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