As Paris lies bleeding, voices from my country


Gürbüz Özaltınlı


The Turkish original of this article was published as Paris kanarken yurttan sesler on 17th November 2015.



Paris has been hit a second time [after Charlie Hebdo — tr. note]. It has been attacked most ruthlessly, barbarously, in basest villainy.


We belong to a nation that went through similar suffering only yesterday.


How would you expect us to react? What words do we have to utter to the rest of the world? 


I am not interested in what those who keep blaming the government for Syrian crisis, the IS terror, and the Diyarbakır, Suruç and Ankara attacks might have to say. Nor in idiocies like “the Gladio of the Palace.”   


But as to those who are embarking on a mission to rebuild Turkey, the highly ambitious spokesmen of a rising civilization — what do they see when they look at Paris? What are theiğr feelings? It is to that world that I would like to lend an ear.


“The West is reaping what they have sown… The terror that they have spawned at their rich banquet tables and released into the street has ultimately returned to also strike at them… If there is no justice, people will seize on anything as fair… Western countries pretend to be fighting terrorism but they are actually using terrorist organizations to fight Islam.”


These are only some brief quotes taken at random from a number of writers. 


Immediately after this sort of attack, to come up with a language predicated on dichotomy of the West as the oppressor and Islam as the oppressed does not bode well for Turkey. If, gazing upon this harvest of barbarism, our most immediate concern becomes a preoccupation with the unkust, brutal face of the West, then something is not at all going well in this country.    


If, even those who want to prioritize opposition to violence feel that in order to get people to listen to them, they first have to carry on at great length about how the West is hypocritical, devious, warlike, and lacking any conscience or sense of justice… Or if making an effective call to “oppose such actions” depends on arguing that “it is we Muslims who thereby suffer the most” in order to bring a certain pragmatism into play… Let us admit that the intellectual and emotional life of the conservative world is not setting sail for happy horizons.


Surely this cannot be all the stuff there is for imagining and bringing forth a “more advanced” civilization in the face of the West. 


In the process of socio-political change that marked the first decade of the 21st century, Turkey was introduced to some new questions. One among them had to do with the political and ideological positions that an Islamic identity might develop and adopt in the face of global networks. Was Turkey going to read and interprete the world through a distinction, indeed an opposition between the West and Islamdom, or through a paradigm of peace between and a synthesis of civilizations?


We know full well that custom and tradition entail a distanced, critical ideological attitude to the West itself as well as to Westernism. Clearly, this critical attitude created a certain space and possibility for re-defining national interest, and for pursuing a more independent and effective foreign policy line. It infused society with self-confidence, and built strong bridges with the people of the region, all of which was very valuable for Turkey. Perhaps describable as a kind of autonomization, initially this process was not built on hostility to the West. Instead it was predicated on an awareness of one’s own identity and looking for cooperation between equals in the cause of “peace between civilizations.”      


Later, however, as the dynamics of real politics began to change so did the dominant political discourse, enhancing a perception of opposite and clashing worlds. The West began to be conceptualized as the abode of only malevolence, hypocrisy, and lack of virtue. Opposing this “evil world” was the world of “oppressed and victimized Islam.” And it was the West that was responsible for all problems besetting this victimized Islamdom, including that of internal violence.


Let us then also admit that this inclination to twist and turn and ultimately to open up to an ideology of “victimhood” cannot possibly beget a dynamic of enrichening debate, self-confrontation and self-transcendence.    


Are all critiques of the West unjust? Of course not. But there is no such thing as a single West. The West is a world embodying a wealth of contradictory dynamics. Just as there is no single Islamic civilization. 


If, faced with an extremely savage sort of violence predicated on a set of [Islamic] values that it considers to be its own, a society cannot respond with anything more serious than “it is the West that has created these demons,” I cannot help thinking that it has no chance of competing with the West either.   


Could it be that conservative intellectuals are too much under the influence of realpolitik? Have they relinquished that space of autonomy and productivity that is sorely needed between the aims of politics and their own world of ideas, and which is beneficial for both sides?


Or are there more structural reasons behind this situation? 


Thorny questions.