A secular vs. religious catfight
‘We are Muslims too.’ This was the most frequent introduction offered by social democrat participants in TV debates in the first years that the AKP held power in Turkey. Just as what constituted being part of the we, ‘the real, ordinary, decent people’, meant supporting Brexit in Britain or accepting a bit of racism in the Netherlands, so did being conservative, provincial Sunni Muslim in Turkey.
Once the parameters had been set by the original owners of we, everyone else started trying to prove that they too prayed – just in private. Soon, Arabic words most people had never heard in their lives before became part of the public debate, and social democrats tried to compete with the ‘real Muslims’ despite their limited knowledge of religion. religion. The AKP spin doctors were quick to put new religious concepts into circulation, and critics were forever on the back foot, constantly having to prepare for pop quizzes on ancient scriptures.
One might wonder what would happen if you passed all the tests for being as real as them, as I did once. In 2013, after studying the Quran for over a year while writing my novel Women Who Blow on Knots, I was ready for the quiz. When the book was published, I was invited to take part in a TV debate with a veiled AKP spin doctor – a classic screen charade that craves a political catfight between a secular and a religious woman.
As I recited the verse in Arabic that gave the title to my novel and answered her questions on the Quran she smiled patronisingly and said, ‘Well done’. I was politely reminded of the fact that I was at best an apprentice of the craft she had mastered, and somehow owned. owned.
She made it very clear that people like me could only ever inhabit the outer circle of the real people. No matter how hard we toiled, we could only ever be members of the despised elite.
Just as what constituted being part of the we, ‘the real, ordinary, decent people’, meant supporting Brexit in Britain [...] so did being conservative, provincial Sunni Muslim in Turkey.
Any attempt to hang out at one of Nigel Farage’s ‘real people’s pubs’ or a Trump supporters’ barbecue would doubtless end with a similar patronising smile, and maybe a condescending pat on the shoulder: ‘Way to go, kiddo!’
One of the interesting and rarely mentioned aspects of this process is that at times the cynical and disappointed citizens, even though they are critical of the movement, secretly enjoy the fact that the table has been messed up. The shocked face of the establishment amuses them.
They know that the massive discontent of the neglected masses will eventually produce an equally massive political reaction, and they tend to believe that the movement might have the potential to be this long-expected corrective response to injustice. Until they find out it is not. ‘The insinuation that the exterminator is not wholly in the wrong is the secret belief of the age of Kafka and Hitler’, says the authority on German literature J. P. Stern.
The limitless confidence of the movement is not, therefore, entirely based on its own merit; the undecided, as well as many an adversary, can furnish the movement with confidence through their own hesitations. After all, there’s nothing wrong with saying the establishment is corrupt, right? By keeping its ideological goals vague and its words sweet, the movement seduces many by allowing them to attribute their own varying ideals or disappointments to it. What is wrong with being decent and real anyway?