The Kemalist Option

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


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