Saturday, September 20, 2008

Perry Anderson: thoughtful reflections on the course of Turkey

LRB · Perry Anderson: After Kemal: "In Turkey itself, as in Europe, the major forces working for its entry into the Union are the contemporary incarnations of the party of order: the bourse, the mosque, the barracks and the media. The consensus that stretches across businessmen and officers, preachers and politicians, lights of the press and of television, is not quite a unanimity. Here and there, surly voices of reaction can be heard. But the extent of concord is striking. What, if the term has any application, of the party of movement? It offers the one good reason, among so many crass or spurious ones, for welcoming Turkey into the Union. For the Turkish left, politically marginal but culturally central, the EU represents hope of some release from the twin cults and repressions of Kemal and the Koran; for the Turkish poor, of chances of employment and elements of welfare; for Kurds and Alevis, of some rights for minorities. How far these hopes are all realistic is another matter. But they are not thereby to be denied. There is another side to the matter too. For it is here, and perhaps here alone, that notions that Europe would gain morally from the admission of Turkey to the EU cease to be multicultural cant. The fabric of the Union would indeed be richer for the arrival of so many vigorous, critical minds, and the manifest dignity and civility, that must str"

This is a thoughtful comment by my colleague Jenny B. White, one of the top U.S. scholars working on contemporary Turkish society. Jenny is in Istanbul, hard at work on a new book. As many of you know, she is not just a cutting edge scholar, but a gifted novelist:

"Interesting article. I particularly appreciated the comparative aspect -- it's rare to see Turkey compared to other countries in terms of development. It was illuminating. The article was a bit top heavy (bottom heavy?) at the end with the Armenian issue. It's important, yes, but a bit of a darling litmus test for being "on the right side" of liberalism with regard to Turkey. I'd prefer he concentrate on issues that are important to people IN Turkey now -- Greeks, Jews, Kurds, Alevis, as well as Armenians, and of course on secular Muslims who feel their rights encroached upon, and pious Muslims who feel their rights encroached on. He does talk about all these things, but then goes on a skid and lands in the sea of 1915. The resentment of Turkey's inadmission of 1915 is palpable and much at odds with the reasoned tone of the rest of the article. I'm not saying he shouldn't have talked about that, but the sheer emotional weight (and word count) he puts on the issue serves to undercut his other arguments. It's as if he were sitting and discussing the issue, then suddenly stands and delivers a tirade. The problem with Turkey is widespread suspicion and dislike of all (non-Sunni non-ethnically Turkish) Others. A category that is starting to include the rest of the WORLD. The unwillingness to admit 1915 massacres is a symptom of something larger, not the cause. He does say something like that at the end, listing all the other pogroms of the 20th century, but it is a finger of accusation by that point, no longer an analysis.

"Anyway, I'm one of those scholars he derides who think that this is an issue to be left to historians to fight out based on documents. The Turkish govt., US Congress, and the EU should butt out. Unless they'd like governments to take a position on US- Native American relations as well. Not all massacres are created equal. The way the issue is treated now, it's mostly politics.

"Anyway, that's my take. It's a shame, since I found his analytical part to be illuminating."

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