The Big Questions: What do the protests in Turkey tell us about democracy and Islam? Should Erdogan step down?

This week's questions are answered by award-winning author Elif Shafak

Share

Are the protesters in Turkey right to be angry?

The early protesters who were in Gezi Park to save the trees are entirely right to be offended and angry. They went there with their tents and guitars for a peaceful sit-in and they were subjected to tear gas and pressurised water. After the excessive use of force by the police on that day, things escalated, and moved in several directions. Today, on the streets, there are people from all backgrounds; liberals, leftists, nationalists, ultranationalists, Kemalists, some extremist leftist groups and even disappointed conservatives. So it is not monolithic. Excepting those who have been resorting to violence and vandalising or trying to use this moment in time for their own ends, I find the protests important. I believe the Prime Minister and the government should communicate with the people and try to understand the reasons behind this burst, instead of tarring everyone with the same brush and calling them “looters”.

 

Should Recep Tayyip Erdogan step down as Turkey’s leader?

He is a democratically elected leader. We have to acknowledge that he won three fair and free elections and he still remains popular. The problem is, even though he might have been successful in the ballot, he has also been an increasingly divisive figure. Especially in the last years, he has been more and more reliant on the 50 per cent who voted for him, always prioritising them. The other 50 per cent, who did not, feel alienated, distanced, belittled. And now they react.

 

 Is Turkey a secular state, as Kemal Ataturk hoped it would be?

Turkey is a complex country and is, in my opinion, sui generis in many ways. It is a secular nation-state that needs to improve its democracy, pluralism, human rights, minority rights, gender rights, freedom of speech and freedom of press. And I am criticising this government for not doing enough in these areas. Article 301 has still not been abolished – people are still brought to court for their words. But we have to understand that authoritarian tendencies run deep in our political history. And both conservatives and Kemalists can be similarly intolerant at times. That is why I want to move beyond this duality. The previous Kemalist elite modernised the society top-down. Social, ethnic diversity was not recognised. Kurds were suppressed. It is as if whoever comes to power wants even more power. That is why we need checks and balances. This is especially important in a country with a tradition of a “strong state”. There is a tendency to protect the state over the individuals. Whereas in a true democracy, you protect the individuals from the excessive power of the state.

 

What do the events of the past fortnight tell us about whether Islam is compatible with democracy?

Islam is compatible with democracy. The main question is how we interpret Islam, how we read the book, using our own gaze, our own understanding and interpretation. Islam is no less compatible with democracy and pluralism and diversity than the other monotheistic world religions with which it shares so much in essence and in spirit.

 

What can people in the West do to support democracy in the Middle East?

First of all, we have to stop thinking about the Middle East as if it were another world, and the Middle Easterners as essentially different people. People in the Middle East want what people want all over the world. Happiness, equality, freedom, economic progress and human dignity. The one big mistake that was made in the past was to assume that the Middle East was a stagnant, sleepy land. Many Western politicians supported militarism and a corrupt political elite in the Middle East because they seemed to be “modern” on the surface. Democracy was not a priority. Stability was a priority. But that stability came at a high price. Corrupt elites suppressed their own people. We need a paradigm shift. We need to connect across borders as fellow human beings who share the same world as global souls and increase faith in both pluralistic democracy and humanism.

 

The first round of Iran’s elections were this week. Are you encouraged by what you see?

It is a positive step, and yet it pains me to see how limited it is. I find it so sad that women cannot be elected and liberal candidates are brushed aside. Nonetheless, it is a step. Iran has an amazingly rich culture and history, and beautiful young people. I have faith that, in the long run, the Iranian people will opt for democracy. No society can remain too isolated and enclosed and suppressed for too long.

 

What made you want to be a writer?

I started writing at the age of eight, and not because I wanted to be an author. I didn’t even know there was such a thing as dedicating your life to literature. I was a single child raised by a single, working, feminist mother in an extremely patriarchal society. I was also extremely shy and introverted, and at times would refuse to eat or speak and spoke only to imaginary characters. Books guided me. Books saved me. The need, almost existential need, to write stories and the hunger for imagination came to me much before the desire to become a published author. That is why I believe the love of and need for telling stories is deeply rooted in my soul.

 

Do you have a Kindle, and do you believe such devices will help or hinder the cause of literature?

I am not as worried about changing technology as some of my author friends are in Turkey and the UK. The format will keep changing as time moves on. That is inevitable. The book itself was a novelty once upon a time. What matters and what won’t change too quickly, I hope, is our need for stories. The art of storytelling is ancient and universal and here to stay. Whether we read on a Kindle or from paperback doesn’t really matter as long as we read, as long as we write and share our stories.

Elif Shafak is an award-winning author. Her latest novel, Honor, is publshed by Viking Adult

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

IT Project Manager

Competitive: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Chelmsford a...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

IT Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Nigel Farage has urged supporters to buy Mike Read's Ukip Calypso song and push it up to the No 1 spot  

Mike Read’s Ukip calypso is mesmerisingly atrocious — but it's not racist

Matthew Norman
Shirley Shackleton, wife of late journalist Gregory Shackleton, sits next to the grave of the 'Balibo Five' in Jakarta, in 2010  

Letter from Asia: The battle for the truth behind five journalists’ deaths in Indonesia

Andrew Buncombe
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why