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Once Again – The Issue of Westernization

Murat Belge*

“Westernization”… A “necessity” that has not left the world alone since the second half of the 18th century… And now we are in the 21st century. During this time, a lot has happened in the world; but all these happenings are, in one way or another, connected to the phenomenon we call “Westernization.”

We have often written and said that this is difficult for people. It is hard because it means they are not content with what they are and are trying to become something else. To become something one is not is not easy, nor is it a pleasant pursuit. It promises an existence full of disappointments, because there is always someone and a situation (a “performance” error) to say, “You couldn’t do it, you failed.” Moreover, the target you aim to reach is not a fixed thing; it is also in motion: as you try to become like it, it keeps changing. They call this change a “natural evolution.” Yet again, you need to adopt the latest form it has taken as your model.

However, yes, since the 18th century, the world has been in this cycle; there are societies that adopt this process more or less. Therefore, there are those who are more or less successful. Besides, everyone starts from a different point.

As a citizen of a society that has been experiencing this process since its earliest stages, I am more curiously observing those in the category I would call “westernizing in anger.” Who are these? First, our immediate neighbor, Russia. Then Iran. And Japan. Among these, Russia and Japan, even if they do it in anger, are societies that are more westernized than us… Or are they, really?

It may not be so. More precisely, we can say Turkey is a “divided” society at this point: there is a highly westernized segment, but there is also a segment living as if such a phenomenon does not exist and has never existed. We can say that this is the “unique” aspect of Turkey, I guess.

There must be a myriad of complex reasons why this is so. Without getting lost in these, let me try to provide an explanation based on a single factor. The general rationale for what we call Westernization is to be as powerful as the “Western” societies we refer to. We can say that this is the primary goal of both Russia and Japan. Perhaps it should be added: There is no disagreement problem between these two societies regarding the relationship between the place they will reach by acting this way and the method of getting there. But when it comes to Ottoman society and Iranian society, there is such a problem. It is undeniable that both these societies also want to be as powerful as Britain or France in the same way. But they want to reach this “destination” as a Muslim society. The West they know and aspire to can ultimately be reduced to perhaps a single concept: technology.

I mentioned Ottoman and Iranian societies, but when it comes to this point, actually, the path chosen by Japan is not different either. They too will take the technology of the West, clothe it in an untouched Japanese ideology, and the necessary change will take place.

This didn’t work because it’s not possible. Social transformation has its own dynamics; you can’t say, “From here to there.” Japanese religions (especially Shintoism) are not very intrusive in organizing lifestyle. In fact, it can be said to be quite secular on its own. Therefore, the reaction coming from below to this new style was not very strong. On the other hand, the Japanese society’s long-standing habit of obeying orders from above allowed Westernization to settle in easily. This is, undoubtedly, a rather superficial westernization. It can even be said that the resistance of Ottoman society to westernization is a more Western behavior than the “consent” shown by Japanese society to the same.

But the resistance shown by Turkey is also quite “tear-jerking”! If we are discussing what should be done in the face of shouts of “Long Live Sharia!” at this stage of history, this is no small resistance. If a political party can think that converting Hagia Sophia back into a mosque is an effective method to increase its popularity, and consequently its votes, how this is possible needs to be reconsidered and detailed.”

*Murat Belge (born 16 March 1943) is a Turkish academic, translator, literary critic, columnist, civil rights activist, and occasional tour guide.

This article was first published in Birikim Magazine and translated into English by Politurco.

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1 COMMENT

  1. It was great seeing how much work you put into it. The picture is nice, and your writing style is stylish, but you seem to be worrying that you should be presenting the next article. I’ll almost certainly be back to read more of your work if you take care of this hike.

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