A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Thursday, December 3, 2009

A Few More Words About Minarets: Facts are Stubborn Things

Since my posting on the Swiss and the minaret ban a couple of days ago, it has come to my attention that many right-wing and anti-Islamic blogsites are reveling in what they seem to think is an aha! moment proving that minarets are indeed triumphalist. I'm not going to link: you can google for them if you wish. But they keep repeating the same point (I've now seen it several places): that Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan supposedly said:
Mosques are our barracks, domes our helmets, minarets our bayonets, believers our soldiers.
And this, supposedly, proves that minarets are seen as a triumphalist gesture over Christianity. (Apparently this quote also was used during the Swiss campaign.)

Okay: let's look at some facts, which, as John Adams once said, are stubborn things:
  1. Erdogan did utter those words, and was prosecuted and imprisoned for doing so, as being a violation of Turkish secularism. He was not, of course, Prime Minister at the time.
  2. They are not his words. He was reciting a poem by the great Turkish nationalist Ziya Gökalp.
  3. Ziya Gökalp was not an Islamist. In fact he was a staunch Kemalist secularist, committed to the Westernization (though not necessarily democratization) of Turkey. He was a sociologist, poet, and ultra-nationalist, a complex man deeply influenced by Emile Durkheim. Erdogan was quoting his poem a bit out of context as I think those applauding the Swiss referendum (and those who jailed Erdogan for quoting the poem) are quoting Erdogan out of context.
  4. They were not written about Christianity or Western Europe: they are essentially, I think, intended to defend Turkey's cultural heritage.
That seems worth adding to the debate. Gökalp is not one of my favorite thinkers (I don't know Turkish, but did write a paper on him in grad school and had to read his work in translation, and his Turkic nationalist ideas were not friendly to either Armenians or Kurds), but he certainly would never have wanted to Islamize Switzerland. He was a pan-Turanian, not an Islamist.

No comments: