I had an interesting discussion this week with some Dutch friends who all live in Istanbul and follow politics here closely. We wondered: what if we had grown up here in Turkey, where would we stand politically?
One of my friends didn’t hesitate about his answer for one second: he would be a Kemalist. Or in other words: he would be part of the group of Turks that want to strictly follow the path of the founder of modern Turkey, Atatürk. They are afraid Turkey is Islamizing, and see their fear vindicated in every effort the government is making to, in the government’s words, create more freedom of religion. They want to continue the state control over religion and want no place for religion in public life. He was convinced, no doubt in his mind.
I was pretty surprised about him being so convinced of his choice if he grew up here. Because how can you really know? We were not educated in the Turkish education system, we didn’t have brothers serving in the army or even losing their lives for the country, we were not raised in total admiration of Atatürk – just to mention a few things that would have influenced us deeply. We look at Turkey with all our Dutch eyes genes, our history, the things we learn in school about our country, our part of the world, our cultural and historical heritage. I remember how confused I was when I first came to Turkey and started talking to people. Nothing, really nothing matched with what I knew before. You can be leftist and nationalist at the same time here. You can be a democrat and at the same time be in favour of a coup in certain situations. You can be a secularist and because of that support the state version of Islam. You can be a feminist and demonstrate against more freedoms for Islamic women.
Slowly slowly I started understanding the ways people think, what makes sense in their minds and why, but I can never internalize these sorts of mind-patterns. I was just programmed differently. So how can I ever say where I would stand politically if I grew up here? I can only speculate. I don’t agree with the feminists here who are against more rights for head-scarved women, but who knows, maybe I would have been one of them. Nationalism disgusts me, but maybe it’s in me too and who knows a Turkish education or upbringing would have triggered it to come to the surface – or it might have had just the opposite effect, if the family I grew up in would have stimulated me to think for myself and encourage me to have my own opinions, like my family did. The Dutch family I grew up in was not very religious, although my parents tried to provide us with some Catholicism – what if I grew up in a moderate Islamic family and chose myself to wear a head scarf? I can’t imagine, but who knows?
A liberal, that’s what I would choose to be in Turkey – but that’s my Dutch perspective talking, because I just recognise my own beliefs the most in their opinions. It relates to what the liberals are criticised for: they speak too much with western words, they didn’t find their own Turkish paradigm yet and therefore don’t appeal too much to Turks and can’t get any political power.
In the end of the discussion, I didn’t speak out. It’s just too hypothetical. But now that I think of it again, maybe this doubt, this always trying too look through so many people’s eyes, leads me to an answer after all. The Turkish political landscape is polarized very much, and part of the population is too, but not everybody takes sides. I know enough Turks who are confused by all the dynamics of their own country and don’t know what to believe anymore, what to fear, who to trust, which party to vote. Somehow, I feel connected to these people. I could be one of them.
And you, my fellow foreigners in Turkey, where would you stand? The reaction field is open!