The Kemalist Option

24 April 2006

Westernization and modernization are not the same. A country may adopt either, none or both. An Arab youth may sip Coke, eat a Big Mac and watch The Terminator, but that’ll not interfere with his desire to join an anti-American terrorist group, should he wish to do so. Enjoying western products and culture does not imply embracing western ideals. Samuel P. Huntington lists three options for a developing nation:

Rejectionism: Reject both westernization and modernization
Reformism: Reject westernization and adopt modernization
Kemalism: Embrace both modernization and westernization

Reformism, at first glance, seems to be the most sensible path for a country like ours. It seems to imply that we should keep our own culture and values, and adopt only material improvements from the West.

Rejectionism is out of the question, but many nationalist groups in this country are advocating a path closer to rejectionism than reformism, and they don’t know the consequences of what they’re advocating (or, they know all too well).

The third option is Kemalism (named after Mustafa Kemal of Turkey). Kemalism holds that modernization cannot occur without westernization, or more specifically, without adopting the western ideologies that made modernization possible (not necessarily western culture, though). This is the one option everybody’s afraid to look at.

To quote Huntington:

Through a carefully calculated series of reforms in the 1920s and 1930s Mustafa Kemal Ataturk attempted to move his people away from their Ottoman and Muslim past. The basic principles or “six arrows” of Kemalism were populism, republicanism, nationalism, secularism, statism and reformism.

Rejecting the idea of a multinational empire, Kemal aimed to produce a homogeneous nation state, expelling and killing Armenians and Greeks in the process*. Then he deposed the sultan and established a Western type republican system of political authority. He abolished the Caliphate, the central source of religious authority, ended the traditional education and religious ministries, abolished the separate religious schools and colleges, established a unified secular system of public education, and did away with the religious courts that applied Islamic law, replacing them with a new legal system based on the Swiss civil code.

He also replaced the traditional calendar with the Gregorian calendar and formally disestablished Islam as the state religion. Emulating Peter the Great, he prohibited the use of the fez because it was a symbol of religious traditionalism, encouraged people to wear hats, and decreed that Turkish would be written in Roman rather than Arabic script.

This latter reform was of fundamental importance. “It made it virtually impossible for the new generations educated in the Roman script to acquire access to the vast bulk of traditional literature; it encouraged the learning of European languages; and it greatly eased the problem of increasing literacy.” Having redefined the national, political, religious and cultural identity of the Turkish people, Kemal in the 1930s vigorously attempted to promote Turkish economic development. Westernization went hand-in-hand with and was to be the means of modernization.

* Despite his far sighted reforms and his contribution to the making of modern Turkey, I see this as one of his greatest sins


Hello world

18 April 2006

I am an advocate of radical social and political reforms for Sri Lanka. This blog will shock most Sri Lankans. Expect nothing less. I will make no apologies for the things I say here. I may play devil’s advocate and defend ideas that I don’t personally endorse, but I will not mention which are which.

Reformation vs. Metamorphosis

The social/economic/political problems this country is facing cannot be solved by any single administration because solving them will take longer than the maximum term any administration can serve. It cannot be done in six or even twelve years. At minimum, it will take one generation — approximately 25 years.

Political and economic reforms by themselves will not solve the problem. The core of our problem is social. The political and economic systems that we’ve allowed ourselves to get trapped into are a symptom of this core problem, not its cause. Ours is a problem of ideology — the way we think. Until that is changed in a drastic and radical way, we cannot hope to sustain any sort of political or economic reform even if we manage to actually implement them. What we need is not reformation, but a complete, gradual metamorphosis.

Reformation: Personal and Systemic

A society is reformed through two converging movements of reformation: one, personal reformation and two, systemic reformation. Neither can achieve any lasting success without the other. A brilliant social/economic/political system will fail in the hands of scoundrels. Even the most virtuous person will be eventually broken by an improper system.

There are different degrees or levels in each type of reformation. For example, it’s easier for you to change the way you brush your teeth each morning than to change your deepest beliefs about good and evil. Similarly, it’s easier to change the way a license application form is processed at a government office than to change the constitution or develop a new one based on new moral principles. Between these two extremes (under both types of reformation) we get a whole spectrum of reforms of varying degrees of difficulty.

I believe that we should start at the lower levels of each of the two ‘avenues’ of reformation. That is the realistic and practical thing to do. Dramatic changes will be quickly reversed if either the people or the ‘system’ is not ready for them. Lasting changes depend on firm foundations, not on coups or revolutions. When revolutions DO work, it’s because they’re the culmination of years of foundation-laying.

The biggest challenge in making reforms is to not choose the wrong ones. No reform at all is better than a bad reform.

Comments: Please send comments, thoughts and ideas to AT I may choose to either ignore them, answer them, post them on the blog in part or in whole, expand on them or refute them, depending on how relevant I think they are to my objectives.