Iran is badly in
need of a school of thought like Turkey's Kemalists to guarantee
democracy, secularism and nationalism
October 30, 2004
29th October marked the 81st anniversary of the Turkish Republic,
a secular country that has succeeded to survive, progress and to
remain loyal to the principles introduced by its founder Mustafa
Kemal Pasha, otherwise known as Atatürk - the Father of Turks.
A framework in which under no domestic or international pressure
the Turkish authorities have compromised on.
The Turks deserve to be congratulated
for their untiring efforts and their love for their country. At
the same time my ancient land has sunken in the darkest period
of its history since the Arab invasion of Iran in 640 A.D.
Secularism, the key to Turkey's survival and prosperity, has
been used and mentioned over and over by those Iranian activists
and inside Iran in recent
years more than ever before. After the
death of the man who introduced its concept to us - Reza Shah the
Great, it was never paid much attention until
his grandson reintroduced it to our daily vocabulary.
However, what I find disheartening is yet again the usage of
a word without many political leaders or activists defining its
concept - not summarily but in details, in a context to revolutionize
our society. A society whose majority are Shi'a with strong religious
beliefs and in some cases even still are awaiting for the reappearance
of a hidden Imam at the dawn of the 21st century. Who had apparently
descended down a well - some thousand years ago, and they believe
that he will be reincarnated again and bring their world prosperity
Today more than ever before Iran is badly in need of a school
of thought like that of Turkey's Kemalists which could guarantee
its future democracy, secularism and nationalism; if we ever achieve
such noble goals! Iran needs a doctrine so that our true secularists
could stand by it, otherwise, the general expression that 'people
themselves will be the guarantee of our future democracy', is simply
What Iran of post-Islamic terror needs are visionary, truly secular
men and women with modern thoughts to mould a new foundation for
a modern nation to lead a proud life among the progressive nations
of this world. Iran does not need people who are typical oriental
romantics. Pragmatic, realists, radicals and forward-looking leaders
are what we need to bring our country to the modern age.
Atatürk's principles backed by the Turkish secular elite
and an army that never declares neutrality at times of domestic
crisis can be the role model for those Islamic societies, which
have finally reached the maturity and realized that the only path
to prosperity is to break free from dogma, ignorance and superstitions.
Atatürk's modern look at life made him to believe that humans
are products of nature, enjoying the intelligence to survive, thus,
preserving himself from oriental fatalism. He also never believed
in luck. He said; "Luck is only the approach of events which
we have not been able to calculate beforehand."
One of the features that distinguishes the Kemalist movement
from other modernising movements in the Islamic world is the extend
to which secularism - that biggest enemy of fanatic Moslems, was
emphasized in republican Turkey.
Unlike our former constitution where religious leaders had to
be present to make sure legislations passing through the Majlis
were under no circumstances contrary to the Islamic teachings,
thus, immediately eradicating the concept of secularism, the Turkish
constitution does not allow any form of appeasements when it comes
in dealing with religious issues. The articles 19 & 57; Penal
Code Art. 163 of the Turkish Constitution forbid political, social,
economic or legal order based even partly on religious principles.
Though such strong secular laws may seem excessive to some of
Atatürk's critics, its radical nature never intended to eradicate
Islam in Turkey. What Atatürk aimed for was privatisation
of religion in order to make it an individual's rather than the
organizing principle of the society. Therefore, he respected freedom
of religion at the individual level while strictly forbidding organized
political manifestation of Islam in any shape or form or under
any name or structure.
Atatürk's followers - the Kemalists, managed to create a
school of thought based on principles of republicanism, nationalism,
populism and secularism. These key elements have since remained
the backbone of the Turkish state; without which Turkey would have
stood no chance today, to be even considered for joining the European
Union of nations.
Mustafa Kemal's ambition to bring the Turkish society into a
modern world was to carry out his reforms into every aspects of
the Turkish life. He believed that to seek anything other than
science in life was to be ignorant. 'The aims of the reforms we
have already carried out and are continuing to carry out,' he said,
'is to bring Turkish society into a modern society in every aspect.
This is the basis of our reforms.' He continued; 'Up until now,
the nation has been dominated by concepts which are disabling to
the functioning of the mind.'
The main portal of Ankara University proclaims, 'In life, the
truest guide is science.'
Once again it is shattering to witness that some of my compatriots
believed or may still do, that mullahs who take away the functioning
of their mind and believe in running everyday life according to
laws written fourteen hundred years ago for the barbarians of the
Arabian desert, can bring our nation's appalling condition any
positive reform or prosperity.
It is demoralizing to see, Iranians gathering around backward
and corrupt religious figures looking for guidance or having the
slightest hope for these types of creatures to improve their status
or that of our country. Believing in factions only created by the
Islamic Republic itself to further use the gullibility of my people,
Iranians have wasted several good years in the hope that the so
called reformists can solve Iran's countless problems by a milder
interpretation of Koranic laws.
In the age of science and reason when religion - very rightly,
becomes a private matter or even the thing of the past, Iranians
instead of rising themselves and take their future in their own
hands, are either looking for saviours this time appearing with
Zoroaster's fire walking down an aircraft bringing an Achaemenian
way of thinking or are praying for the re-election of the American
president who would love them and feel sorry for them and will
come to their rescue from their dire condition.
Turkey, a country that even today may not be taken seriously
by many Iranians who rather stick to the stereotype mentality which
considered the 'Turks' as inferior; has a lot to learn from. One
important and vital lesson Iranians can learn from the Turks is
their concept of patriotism.
Turkey salvaged from the miseries left by the Ottomans would
have not survived to this day had they not adhered to Atatürk's
modern vision of a progressive and prosperous country, particularly
in the past two and half decades of political and ideological turmoil
created by Islamic fundamentalism born out of the Islamic revolution
Atatürk believed in the transformation of thought into an
ideal and its high moral personality. During the Balkan wars of
1912, when Izzet Pasha announced that some men of religion were
to be sent to the front line to boost the morale of the soldiers,
Atatürk responded that morale was being given by the regimental
officers. 'To send a delegation of such people will show that the
war-power of our army is near to collapse, and will result in speculation
about the poor state of our government. Therefore, this attempt
should be stopped.'
In order to teach secularism to the Turks without using the word,
Atatürk tired to establish a fundamental link between parliament
and religion: 'The government of the Turkish National Assembly
is national and it is materialistic; it worships reality. It is
not a government willing to commit murder or drag the nation into
the swamps in search of useless ideologies.' to further emphasize
his belief in science he said; 'the true enlightenment in life
is science. We obtain inspirations not from the skies, but directly
Mustafa Kemal was from an uneducated family who had not been
able to equip him with an academic background. His father died
when he was seven, and his mother wanted him to receive religious
education and become a Muslim preacher. The young Kemal chose,
by his own will and decision a military education for himself,
and pursued his own education apart from the classical education
supplied by military schools. He learned French and German by his
own efforts, and read the historical and literary works of the
very few Turkish authors active at that time while he was in military
Turkey of the post First World War and post Ottoman era was a
country ravaged by years of wars, which needed a new national identity.
What remained from the vast Ottoman Empire was the heart of the
Turkish land with new boundaries.
Unlike the Ottoman period where nationality and therefore nations
where subject to their religion, similar to post-revolution Iran
and the introduction of the concept of 'ommat' - Moslem population,
Atatürk stated that 'Turkish nationality is for people who
speak Turkish, for those who are brought up with Turkish culture,
share Turkish ideals and who live on Turkish soil; these people'
he said, 'are Turks, regardless of their race or religion.'
Although today's Turkey may not adhere in its entirety Atatürk's
ideals in political terms, but it is thanks to the EU's requirements
and pressure that is pushing Turkey again towards such attributes
as freedom of conscience and crucial rights of the individual.
On the same subject Mustafa Kemal Atatürk iterated that;
'Each person has liberty to think and believe freely, to posses
a political view of his own fulfilment, and to act in any way to
suit himself as far as the regulations of any religion are concerned.'
However, he emphasized that no individual's conscience could be
guided by another.
He believed that all the torments Turkey has passed through were
due to religious traditions standing in the way of social liberties.
A fact that nearly a century later seems not yet fully clear to
many Iranians who still believe that religious personalities can
deliver miracles in the shame of reforms to suit the modern age
Namik Kemal, the famous Turkish poet and dramatist (1840-1888)
who lived under the Ottoman caliphs in conditions similar to that
of ours in the Islamic Republic has a famous sentence expressing
the effects of religious involvement in a country's daily life.
He said, "Death passes over us in a minute, but traditions
are eternal. They aim at the way one sits, walks, reads, cuts one's
beard ... The traditions have reached such a point that a man cannot
be in command of his own beard, let alone of his family."
Atatürk was not alone in his attempt in modernizing Turkey.
During the renovation of Bursa the capital of Bursa province in
Western Turkey, Ahmad Vefik Pasha an outstanding statesman and
the governor of the province found that to implement his plans
he had to demolish the tomb of a saint known as the 'Walking Saint'.
Vefik Pasha went to the tomb, called three times 'O Saint, walk
away!' and then had the sanctuary demolished, remarking 'He must
have walked away by now.'
In 1928 the constitution, which still mentioned Islam as the
religion of the state, was abrogated and in the same year the Latin
script was adopted for Turkish language. Some thing that though
attempted by the likes of Abdol Hossein Meftah but unfortunately
never materialized in our country, hence leaving our language in
the service of our deficient alphabet instead of the reverse to
be the case.
In 1931 statutes of the Party stated that it stood for the principle
of 'laicism', defined as a condition in which the state took no
role in religious life since religion was 'a matter of conscience'.
The text states: 'The Party has accepted the principle that all
laws, regulations and procedures used in the administration of
the state should be prepared and implemented in order to meet the
needs of this world and in accordance with the foundation of and
the forms provided by science and technology in modern times.'
Andrew Mango it his outstanding book, 'Atatürk-the biography
of the founder of modern Turkey' states, 'Atatürk's message
is that East and West can meet on the ground of universal secular
and mutual respect, that nationalism is compatible with peace,
that human reason is the only true guide in life. It is an optimistic
message and it vitality will always be in doubt. But it is an ideal
that commands respect.'