Monday, May 18, 2009

Video link: Mustafa Akyol's Boston U. lecture, April 15, 2009.

BUniverse - Yes, We Can! Toward a Brave New Turkey

"Turkish journalist Mustafa Akyol discusses Turkey’s historical and contemporary struggle toward political and cultural modernity in the 2009 Campagna-Kerven Lecture on Modern Turkey. Since 1996, the lecture series has brought leading scholarly and popular authorities to Boston University to speak on Turkey’s changing society and its role in the Middle East. Although the country has long sought to embrace Western values, Akyol argues, recent developments are causing many Turks to reconsider what “westernization” actually means.

"Akyol begins with an overview of the region’s history, from the Ottoman Empire to the creation of the Republic of Turkey in the 1920s to the present. He argues that many observers wrongly overlook the religiously and ethnically diverse — and surprisingly tolerant — Ottoman society when seeking an explanation for Turkish Muslim’s relatively progressive attitudes: “The sum of the dichotomies between Islam and democracy was actually sorted out by Islamic intellectuals back in the nineteenth century,” Akyol asserts. He explains the rise of the Republic in the context of Turkey’s tendency to equate modernization with westernization. Throughout the last century, he notes, liberals have tried to force social reforms on the Turkish people, while “democracy” has been equated with allowing people to live more traditional lifestyles (such as a Muslim woman choosing to wear a headscarf). Now, he says, the Turkish middle class is beginning to regard religious freedom as more of a Western idea than as enforced modern customs.

"After examining both historical and current episodes in Turkish life, Akyol concludes that, despite a growing Islamist sentiment within the country, religious struggles ultimately will not destabilize the nation. It is rising Turkish nationalism, he says, and not traditional Islam, that “has turned into a force which opposes anything that is new.” But, he says, the people who have corrupted Ataturk’s legacy — such as two retired generals who are now on trial for attempting a coup — are showing Turkish citizens that “the people who claim to be patriots can also be criminals.”"

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