Saturday, February 27, 2010

"The Most Radical Islamist"

Today's Zaman columnist Orhan Kemal Cengiz uses his column to reflect on the hostility of some in the Washington policy scene to perceived Turkish Islamists. From the column:
My friend told us that after our visit he talked to a Turkish gentleman who works and lives in Washington. He said: “You know the Today’s Zaman delegation was here; I talked to them. There was a guy amongst them who had a beard; he was the most radical Islamist I have ever met.” Of course, our friend knew that this gentleman was actually talking about me as I was the only person who had a beard in the group. He said to him: “No, you are mistaken, I know him, and he’s a secular person.” But our friend was not able to convince the gentleman who, finally coming up with an interesting explanation about my secular lifestyle, said, “No, he must just be doing taqiyya [pretending].”

Actually, as a human rights defender I’m quite used to people thinking I’m something that I’m not. They thought I was Christian, Jewish, Armenian, Kurdish, gay and so many other things when they saw me talking about the human rights violations these vulnerable groups were faced with. There were occasions where some people thought I was an Islamist just because I was advocating a woman’s right to wear a headscarf. But this last “wrong” impression about me is the most interesting one I have ever experienced. This Turkish gentleman not only thought that I was an Islamist, but he portrayed me as the “most radical,” “most dangerous one” he had ever met!

Understanding his “misunderstanding” can provide interesting insight into Turkey and how different segments of Turkish society are alienated from each other. I know why he thought I was the most radical Islamist he had ever met. Amongst our group I was the one who talked about Ergenekon, the deep state and the military guardianship the most. It is hard to believe, but this person apparently just categorized me in his mind as soon as I opened my mouth, and after that he probably didn’t listen to anything I said. For him, I was just an enemy of the secular system in Turkey, the Turkish army and so on. Turkey, unfortunately, has come to this dangerous crossroads. If you are a secular person, you should defend the military’s guardianship, and if you are fighting against it you are just an Islamist. The more you criticize the system, the more radical an Islamist you are.

Just try to look at the resistance against the Ergenekon case from this perspective. Some people in Turkey feel they need to defend the military’s position in Turkey no matter how antidemocratic it is, no matter how deep the members of the military are involved in some crimes, no matter what crimes they committed. So-called secular people of Turkey do not want to listen to legitimate arguments challenging the military’s position in Turkey. They see the military as the stick that guarantees the maintenance of the “secular Kemalist regime.” And now the Ergenekon case is the biggest threat to this “system” in their minds. The Ergenekon case makes the unaccountable accountable, it touches the untouchable people and forces the Turkish military not to go beyond lawful boundaries.

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