Pakistan is Turkey and Turkey is Pakistan; A role-model approach

Aug 29, 2012 by     2 Comments    Posted under: The Diplomat

My people are going to learn the principles of democracy, the dictates of truth, and the teachings of science,” he proclaimed upon founding the Turkish state. “Superstition must go. Let them worship as they will, every man can follow his own conscience provided it does not interfere with sane reason or bid him act against the liberty of his fellow-men.”

These were Kemal Ataturk’s inspiring words at the end of the First World War. Being a strong advocate of freedom of thought and revolutionism, Ataturk revamped the Turkish government by removing the symbolic, sometimes extremist institutions and laying the foundation of a secular state. Today, Turkey is one of the world’s few secular states with a large Muslim population (over 90%) and a hallmark of liberal advancement, and multicultural modernity.

The Turkish constitution doesn’t explicitly call for an absolute separation of religion and state but emphasizes its secular nature and ‘active neutrality’ in religious matters, according to Article 24 of the constitution.

In 2007, right before elections in Turkey, future Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan proposed to change the secular system, bolster religious institutions, and support the religious overhaul of education and other sectors. Considering the social stability of the state under threat, millions of people participated in peaceful demonstrations that called for maintenance of Turkey’s all-embracing, secular identity. The protests were massive, covered key cities like Ankara and Istanbul, and later even burgeoned to Manisa, Çanakkale and Izmir. This sheer size and expansive coverage shows the people’s commitment to the country’s secular solidarity.

This does not suggest that the Turkish people are a group of profane agnostics, and godless hooligans. The Turkish people want to raise a compassionate youth, and erect a society ingrained in morality, but they want to keep religion out of the state’s responsibilities. They don’t want the government to impose a set of beliefs and rituals upon the masses – they respect individual perspectives and differences in beliefs, ways of upbringing and methods of education.

In recent years, many people have questioned the genuineness of secularism in Turkey, and have pointed to the apparent (and ever more prominent) tension between religious, and secular ideologies. Turkey’s secularism seems to be atrophying with an increasingly fundamentalist government, non-recognition of the Kurdish minorities and discrimination against some minorities through property confiscation and legal bureaucracy.

However, Turkish society is still in a far better shape than the Pakistani society. And the recent controversies are mainly on a governmental level. The impressive thing about Turkey is the people – their broad mindsets, tolerant attitudes and strong advocacy of social justice and equality. The government may have changed, but the people have not.

Turkish secularism dates back to Ataturk’s rigorous reforms to transform the state into an idealistic secular nation-state. He particularly stressed on the education sector and fundamental women’s rights. Along with many eloquent, anti-sexist speeches, Ataturk worked to promote legal equality between the two genders. Consequently, several women joined the Turkish Parliament in 1935, a time when the Women’s Suffragette Movement was still struggling to secure voting rights in some European countries and about 10 years before France (one of the P-5 nations today) would extend suffrage to women.

The education system was also reformed and modern co-ed universities were established such as the University of Istanbul. German and Austrian scientists were invited to spread scientific knowledge and expertise. Attempts were made to promote freedom of thought and tolerance through education. All in all, a new era of academic progress had begun.

Ataturk’s reforms contrast shockingly with Zia-ul-Haq’s own reforms, which introduced inherent intolerance and radicalism into the Pakistani legal system. If history could avoid the pain of recording those 11 years of Zia’s regime, perhaps, Pakistan would be a better place.

In a nation where innocent, disabled 11-year olds are imprisoned for unknowingly committed acts, women are paraded naked for having any sort of interaction with males, and minorities are forcibly converted and refused entry to their holy sites, the people have much to envy about Turkey. Turkey has a particularly high HDI of 0.699 (high), compared to Pakistan’s score of 0.504 (low). Turkey is one of the nations that are leading the recovery from world recession. It has a vibrant economy, which is the 17th largest in the world in terms of nominal GDP, with high annual GDP growth rates, often between 7 and 8%. Although Turkey’s secularism isn’t perfect, it is a modern example of how religion, morality and respect for cognitive freedom can all work together – something that Pakistan desperately needs to understand at this point.

Intolerance and bigotry has become a major issue in our country, pervading to all its segments. A long time ago, the Pakistani foreign minister said, “Pakistan is Turkey and Turkey is Pakistan” during a cordial meeting with some Turkish visitors. As amusing as that dialogue is, we have a long way to go if we plan to attain Turkish standards. Will the increasingly intolerant green, and white flag of Pakistan ever redden into the modern, secular Turkish flag? Only the people and their minds will decide.

Further Reading

Last week, we discussed the expansion of Pakistan-Iran trade agreement in which Pakistan has agreed to export 1 million tonnes of wheat to Iran in a barter deal. You can read that and more in The Diplomat

The Author

I have an avid interest in international politics, disparate global perspectives, human social and economic evolution, cultural diversity and how all these ideas tie together with Pakistan's current scenario. I believe in a secular, culturally integrated and stable Pakistan, and I hope to work towards the materialization of this dream.

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2 Comments + Add Comment

  • It’s actually quite sad but accurate picture. Was also reading this similar article on Youth Correspondent, by Ali Qamber on Sectarian Violence and that doesn’t help but make me think, where would we eventually end up?

  • This is the kind of direction that will lift Pakistan from its lowly state.. unfortunately any kind of voice that speaks this is drowned by a sea of anger and hostility from the ultraconservatives who dominate the Muslim world.

    Perhaps as more and more youth are raised up in the west and are distanced from the backwardness of the current generation in power will we see change start to emerge. One can only hope…

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