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HomeExpertsDemirtaş’s Breakthrough on Islamic Civilization; Shattering a 100-Year-Old Paradigm

Demirtaş’s Breakthrough on Islamic Civilization; Shattering a 100-Year-Old Paradigm

Prof. Salih Hosoglu.

Kurdish politician and former HDP Co-Chair Selahattin Demirtaş, on trial in the Kobani case, made a historic defense lasting nine days. In his defense, he mentioned some points that are rarely heard from leftist circles. These statements, contradicting the repetitive narratives in secular circles since the foundation of the Republic, were ignored by many media outlets. They also received serious backlash from some leftist and secular circles. In this article, I want to analyze these reactions.

Some notable statements from Selahattin Demirtaş:

“Our civilization has its roots in Islamic civilization. We are not political Islamists; we are Muslims. The civilization of these lands is Islamic civilization. A part of Turkey’s socialists are unaware of this, and due to their ignorance, they cannot reach out to society. What defines us in these lands is Islamic civilization, which has been shaping us for 1300 years.

Islamic civilization is not backwards. Some call it 1400 years of regression, which is an absurd and historically ignorant insult to oneself. It’s a deep-rooted, powerful civilization. While Europe was tearing itself apart with religious wars and witch hunts, and dying of hunger, cities like Damascus and Baghdad were making leaps in astronomy, physics, chemistry, medicine, and urbanization. Those were the golden ages of Islamic civilization. Today, many terms in astrology are of Arabic origin. To speak of Islamic civilization as merely a few political Islamists without understanding this is a mistake. I mention this respectfully, differentiating from Kıvılcımlı and his followers. Of course, there were those who understood, but the reason for their lack of mass appeal is their opposition to Islam. Islam is a part of the civilization of all of us. It’s a part of the civilization of communists, socialists, nationalists alike. Labeling it as regression from 1400 years ago is a major mistake. Do not compare the steps taken in the name of Prophet Muhammad and Islam 1400 years ago with today’s standards. Prophet Muhammad’s comparisons at that time are of the same value as today’s ECHR and CEDAW. At a time of ignorance, Prophet Muhammad offered an alternative. He built upon the poor.

Prophet Muhammad was one of the greatest socialists of his time. If Prophet Muhammad were alive today, he would create an agreement more advanced than the Istanbul Convention, the UN agreements. What he said was revolutionary. He stood with the poor, the workers. He had no wealth. Despite ruling over a significant part of the Arab geography, he did not establish a state named Muhammediye. Are those who today build the world’s most luxurious palaces, win the biggest tenders, and inflict the greatest oppression on the poor, truly Muslims?”

Demirtaş’s main point here reflects the contradictory and pitiable situation into which not just some socialists but almost all secular intelligentsia in Turkey have fallen. A significant portion of the secular population in Turkey defines themselves through “opposition to Islam” and seem to build their existence on this foundation. Worse still, this opposition defines their version of “Islam,” a fantasy of their own making, selectively constructed from different sources.

Unable to say ‘Islam,’ they called it ‘reactionism’! Unfortunately, the entire history of the Republic has passed with the repetition of these baseless claims, and thus they are accepted as absolute truths within this segment. During the establishment of the Republic, the ruling elite condemned a version of Islam they defined and judged as backward, positioning themselves against it. They did not openly call it Islam, but instead used terms like “sect,” “reactionism” to describe it. They sought legitimacy by denigrating the past to build the society they believed in and to secure their power.

And today?

First and foremost, if those who base their existence on opposition would research and understand what they oppose, we might be able to communicate more healthily, we could. Looking at the reactions to Demirtaş’s statements, one is astounded and once again sees how difficult it is to find common ground with such an approach. The irrationality of the secular circles was briefly reviewed in the last three articles. Therefore, it is not surprising to see reactions to Demirtaş’s positive remarks on Islamic Civilization.

Let’s briefly review these reactions. Some made references to certain historical events and based their accusations on those. However, history is not a realm of faith but a field of science. For instance, to claim, based on practices during the Ottoman Empire, that “Islam is against freedoms” is at least ignorant, if not anachronistic. Every belief has different interpretations in different periods and societies. Besides, Ottoman does not equate to Islam.

During the six centuries of the Ottoman period, we can see very different practices regarding freedoms. There may have been practices clearly incompatible with Islam. If we are to judge a period based on historical events, we should at least compare it with other countries in the same period to make sense. Otherwise, judging three centuries ago with our current perspective and circumstances would be ridiculous.

Atatürk’s Reforms; the cure for everything! Some commentators speculate that Demirtaş made these statements to get out of prison. Initially, I too considered this possibility, but then I read that he said similar things in an interview in 2015. The Atatürkist/Kemalist segment, already antagonistic towards Islam and Kurds, reacted even more harshly to his praising Islam and Sheikh Said. “What Islam, how so, there is an Islamic Civilization? Oh, we had eradicated them in Atatürk’s time, sorry, we had ignored them, haven’t they disappeared yet?” were some of the reactions. Of course, they did not forget to remind us that only by clinging to Atatürk’s reforms can Turkey be saved. Isn’t it nice? You solve all problems by referring to some principles nobody understands (or interprets as they wish) and remind everyone of your motto against any suggestion. Welcome to the civilized world!

The group most disappointed by Demirtaş’s remarks are the ‘Leftists’. Especially those still longing for a proletarian revolution and yearning for the oppressed classes were quite upset by these words. “What, Marx, Lenin, and Stalin exist and seeking another reference?”, they reacted as if to say. “He even said things like Islam is not backward, not regressive. Isn’t religion what’s holding us back?”

Leftist slogans are listed as a cure for all ailments. Ironically, Karl Marx and Lenin themselves had said more reasonable things about Islam than our Marxists. Some of those who objected with leftist rhetoric noted they were Alevi, claiming Demirtaş’s words were a huge disappointment for them and arguing that Alevism contains true socialism. In objections made on behalf of Alevism, some defined Alevism as opposed to Islam, while others as the real/unspoiled Islam. Some criticisms also claimed that Demirtaş was opting for a “Kurdish-Islamic Synthesis,” even suggesting he was now leaning towards the center-right. These last two criticisms mainly came from Kurdish circles.

What will ignoring Islam achieve? What I found strange in all these objections was everyone’s eagerness to hastily label and condemn others within their own prejudices. Additionally, it seems a politician must never step out of the boundaries drawn by someone else to be considered acceptable. However, a person may choose not to identify as Muslim, may not believe, and that is entirely their choice. Yet, if you want to democratically change something in a country, you need to persuade the society you live in, and for that, you must consider its religion and sensitivities. Also, having an ideology does not mean you can change history. Whether you accept it or not, the society you were born and raised in has a history. Even if you dislike and refuse to accept the lifestyles, beliefs of your ancestors, that reality remains.

The last 11-12 centuries of Turkish history are within Islamic history. This duration is longer for Kurds, and for Arabs, it’s 14 centuries. This remains unchanged whether a Turk, Kurd, or Arab is Christian or irreligious. They are born and raised in the Islamic Civilization basin and belong there. They can differentiate as much as they want. Being born and raised in a geography is neither shameful nor a matter of dispute. Even if you feel ashamed or refuse to accept it, nothing will change.

The Failed Identity Change Attempt of the Republic Regime Today, even if the majority of Europe’s population are not practicing Christians, they are undoubtedly part of Christian culture and civilization. No European scientist, politician, activist, or artist calls their Christian past a source of shame. They explore, try to understand, learn from their history’s bloody and horrific practices but do not use them to lecture devout Christians.

Stuck in the unsuccessful identity change attempt of the Republic era, while some of us try to deny/erase our Muslim past, others try to ignore/erase the last hundred years of the Republic era. Yet, all of these are parts of us, elements that make us who we are. We may dislike and criticize some practices of the Republic era, but this does not change the fact that we are a part of that era. The fact that people, even those who are professors in universities, cannot understand or accept this simple concept is truly sad and indicative of the level and polarization in Turkey.

*This article was originally published in TR724.com and translated into English by Politurco.

*Salih Hosoglu is a Professor, medical educator, specialist doctor and researcher,

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