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FOCUS: Israel-Palestine War

Gaza, A View From Istanbul: Why I Still Believe In Western Values

Palestinians are suffering under the Israeli regime and relentless bombardment of Gaza, yet the Western world, also known to be the "civilized" world, continues to support Israel. Turkey's complex relationship with Islamic and Middle Eastern countries as well as with the West brings back the most fundamental questions about the past and future.

Photo of a woman with a Palestinian flag painted on her face at a pro-Palestineian rally in Istanbul on Oct. 28

At a pro-Palestineian rally in Istanbul on Oct. 28

Murat Sevinç


ISTANBUL — Civilians in Palestine are being bombed in front of our eyes. The “civilized” world continues to stand witness to the reckless use of violence by Israel, as it has done so many times before. Yet a part of the world does not just witness the violence: It openly excuses and supports it — much the same as the blind eye turned for decades to the tortures suffered by the Palestinians under Israeli occupation.

The Palestinians are suffering under a rotten Israeli regime currently run by racists. The right-wing fanatics among the world's Jewish population in various parts of the globe are doing their best to wear down the anti-war supporters, who are doing their best to make their voice heard. We've heard these voices from both sides many times before. I believe the existence of the Jews who take to the streets of Tel Aviv and in the cities of the West to protest the Israeli assault on Gaza are the most meaningful acts of opposition. They are not many, but they are being heard and seen.

Turkey, meanwhile, is no less predictable. Everybody knows who will react to what, when and for what purpose. The ruling administration and some small opposition parties who share much in common perceive what’s happening from a window of pan-Islamism. Their current reaction is unfortunately not related to commitments to human rights or international law, or even from an anti-war stance against the fascistic attitude of the Israeli government.

Turkish politics

The Turkish government, which won’t take any meaningful steps against Israel (as in cutting off trade or military agreements), is trying to keep its voter base happy by acts such as declaring an official mourning or organizing a grand rally. They have decimated justice and eliminated the susceptibility of a critical opposition at home; now they go looking for these very things abroad.

What should we get from the West?

It’s like this in Turkey: our right winger doesn’t like the right wingers of other countries; our nationalist is not fond of other nations’ nationalists and our warmonger is critical of other people’s warmongers. Meanwhile some who rightfully protest the Western support of Israel are also predicting that it signals the downfall of Western civilization itself.

The world of the Ottoman-Turkish intellectual and politics are no stranger to the East-West clash, and its many contradictions. Actually, it’s one of the most crucial focus points of the popular debate started in the 19th century: “What should we get from the West?” The complex that Turks have towards the West and its thought system is another long-running theme in our country.

Photo of crowds near the Bosphorus in Istanbul, gathered to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Republic of Turkey

Crowds gathered in Istanbul to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Republic of Turkey

Tolga Ildun/ZUMA

Ancient Greece to American Revolution

However, we must ultimately acknowledge that certain movements of new thought that were born in whatever time and place, alongside the thinkers who have shaped them, are bound to remain universal. It doesn't matter how much they carry the traces of the cultures of their origins.

That explains why the Muslim world used to read ancient Greek philosophy. That was why the English Revolution also affected other countries, as did the ideology of the French Revolution, and naturally the Ottoman Empire, too. The effects of the American Revolution and the Declaration of Independence was not limited to the new continent; while the path led by the Enlightenment went well beyond from the European lands in which it was born. The power of the thesis of Martin Luther traveled far and wide, and even through time. Marxism and the criticism of Marxism also comes from that same West civilization, which has fought among itself for centuries for secularism, an essential component of living together today.

Tearing down the political, legal and societal values of the West is beneficial for neither the West nor the East.

The founders of the 100 years old Republic of Turkey were the products of the 19th century thought movements and schools of the Ottoman Empire. Those schools were founded to train doctors, bureaucrats and soldiers within a Western style system. The Republic ideal, secularism, women’s rights, the scientific method and many more are results of the intellectual life that was formed during the century; they don’t just belong to the founders.

The condition of looking down on a system of thought in order to praise another is not only unnecessary but also impoverishing. We should not forget that Western Civilization is where we discovered almost all the current principles of governance, democracy and rational secularism.

It is also, we must say, this same “civilization” that also created capitalism and fascism, which attempted to destroy democracy that it had founded. Therefore, there's no doubt that anyone criticizing the West should acknowledge the worth of its intellectual world and societal development, and its dark countermovements, and keep the current state of their governments separate.

National and international principles 

We should remember that every thought, everywhere is the common domain of humanity. The West is not just the states, governments and their expansionist politics; arrogance and colonization. The West is also a unity of value and ideals that were fought for and then became the shared property of the human race. The national and international principles of law belong to that unified idea, as well.

The Western states that support another state's imposition of extreme violence on the people of Palestine are ignoring their own best principles that were reestablished after all the conflict and slaughter of the 20th century. This isn't happening for the first time, and it probably won’t be the last. Human rights law and popular movements are living through the most defenseless and discredited days of their existence since World War II. Torn down by the very nations where they were created.

The two-faced Western governments, the despots in power and the fascists who describe their opponents as “subhumans” are of no value. Instead the value is in the universal ideals born in the West, beginning with basic human rights and secularism.

The “citizens of the world” should stand together against the erosion of these values, fight the current ruthlessness of the Israeli Prime Minister — increasingly perceived as tolerable by other leaders— from becoming the norm.

Putting down the foundations for rebuilding this will allow the former foundations to become respectable once more, made possible only if Western values and the pro-human rights approach gains respect everywhere. The “civilized” principles and law, a net gain for all humanity, have been trampled upon by vulgar politicians.

Tearing down the political, legal and societal values of the West is beneficial for neither the West nor the East, and we should all be considering what would be left in its place if the system of values collapses.

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