Turkey’s Taboos

An excerpt from ‘s heart-felt essay in The Guardian (here) about the frightening taboos that mould the Turkish mind and daily practice. These taboos (and others) are at the heart of my forthcoming book, Muslim Nationalism and the New Turks (Princeton, November 2012). I too felt that these nationalist taboos, rather than the threat of “Islam”, were Turkey’s major destabilizing factor. Until they are dealt with, Turkey’s enduring sectarian and authoritarian impulses will continue to endanger democratic and liberal advances. (As Taha Akyol also recently warned here.)

Growing up under the spell of taboos is a debilitating experience. It can imprison one’s mind in a state of infancy despite the inevitable physical growth of a person. As the Spanish-American philosopher George Santayana says: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” When I understood the magnitude of these words, I was already an adult enrolled in graduate school in the US.

I grew up in Turkey, where the prevailing education system still conceals certain historical facts in primary and secondary school curricula lest they harm the “indivisibility of the state with its country and nation”, an expression that is used several times in the current Turkish constitution. Perhaps the fear about deeds that can harm the unity of the state and nation is best symbolised in the Turkish national anthem, which begins with the lyrics “Do not fear”.

When fears nurture and sustain taboos, the ability to retain experiences declines. Enduring an education that is laden with either false historical facts or an eerie silence makes it impossible for people to exit the state of self-imposed immaturity…

2 Responses to “Turkey’s Taboos”

  1. one day the islamist authoritarian regime will be 100% entrenched and you will still be mumbling about nationalistic taboos. islam is least as anachronistic as nationalism, in the current turkish context and both are powerful–regardless of what liberal idealists might wish.

  2. A discussion of this type should have presented both sides of the coin.

    One naturally wonders what the situation is like in Republic of Armenia.

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