“Mankind is a single body and each nation a part of that body.”
— Mustafa Kemal, Ataturk
It is said that one evening during the Battle of Sakayra, in which the Turkish people fought for independence from European occupational armies in 1921, one soldier looked at a pool of blood on the battlefield and saw reflected in it the image of a crescent moon and a star. The image became the modern Turkish flag, as it embodied that soldier’s ideal that “Mankind is a single body and each nation a part of that body.”
That soldier went on to become the “Father of the Turks”. He worked with the predominantly Islamic Turkish people to create a democratic and secular nation that has stood the test of 1 World War, fascism, communism, nationalism, and globalization for 90 years. That system now faces the test of Islamism.
Why am I talking about Turkey, you might ask? Yesterday, a friend of mine in Istanbul sent me this image of a street in Istanbul that was circulating in only a few news sources around the world:
That is blood pooling on streets of Istanbul. I walked the street you see in that picture; it is a peaceful area, and could be a street full of shops and stores in any American city.
If you don’t know – and there is a good possibility that you don’t because American media is more concerned with monetizing the news than reporting it – the Turkish people have been protesting against their government for 5 days.
The protests started peacefully – a rather small group of people protesting plans to turn the last piece of green space in Taksim Square into a shopping mall (this would be like tearing down Central Park to put up a strip mall). The police gassed, beat and shot at these protestors – when there was no apparent threat.
The people of Turkey – in Istanbul and around the country – rallied in support of their fellow citizens, and tens of thousands of people poured into Taksim Square. For 5 days, people poured across bridge and ferry to support their fellow Turks fighting police brutality as the violence escalated.
Ultimately, the police backed down and withdrew. The protestors, who the government called “violent” and “marginal”, stayed to clean up the park:
During the time I was in Istanbul, I found the Turkish people to be a kind, hospitable, and non-violent people. They were proud of their government – a form of secular democracy where a clear wall dividing religion and state has stood firm for 90 years. More than anywhere I have been in the world, the people in Turkey seemed to feel that they were their own government, and that “government” was not some machinery that is external to them.
That appears to be changing. Over the last 10 years, Turkish Prime Minister (Recep Tayyip Erdogan) has led the nation down a path of Islamism: slowly, and subtly, he makes changes that separate the people from their government, and then changes the government to his ideal of an Islamist Republic, not the people’s ideal of a Secular Democracy. These changes involve such social restrictions as limits on the sales of alcohol, and warnings that the government is opposed to public displays of affection by citizens.
The only leaders that the Turkish people have allowed to rise to the top of the heap are Tayyip Erdogan (who would slowly lead the nation to Islamism) and Abdullah Gul (who would make the change much more quickly).
This is not so different than 2012 in our country – where the 2 men we let rise to the top were Barack Obama (who slowly privatizes the social safety net) and Mitt Romney (who would have done it overnight). All four men, though, demonstrate that they are in the business of separating a people from their government.
This separation between a people and their government is happening the world over, even in the United States. The language we use to describe our government is the language of separation. “Government is spying on and intimidating our media.” “The government is not doing what we want by refusing to require background checks for private gun sales”. “The government is leading us into wars on false pretenses, to make money for private corporations.”
It is as if “The Government” is a machine that slowly consumes our liberty, isolates us from our own humanity, and takes everything we hold dear. In reality, the government is us: “We, The People” consent to our government, and if we are lazy, others will take it over.
The protests in Turkey are a sign that a massive change in the world may be just around the corner. My hope is that our change will be far more peaceable than the change that my friends in Turkey are fighting for. I fear that it won’t be.
I leave you to think about the words of a friend of mine – who stood with the protestors in an area called “Besiktas” in Istanbul. (Besiktas is like “The Mall” in Washington, D.C.). She writes:
This is what they used on us in Besiktas tonight. They parked public buses across the surrounding roads to trap us, the peaceful protesters, like rats. Then they started spraying this chemical which makes your eyes, nose, mouth burn like crazy and paralyzes ur body. While we were in shock, they attacked us and started beating the ones who couldn’t run and hide. In the end, they sprayed water to make sure everyone is on the ground and not moving. There were injured people everywhere, crying, fainting. I never felt so close to death in my life. It was frightening and sad but most of all very confusing. I have a hard time understanding how can a government and it’s forces have so much hatred in themselves for their own people.