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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 outside 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 and purity.

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 naivety.

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 of Iran.

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 from life.'

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 school.

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 and era.

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.'

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