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Şerif Mardin, the neighborhood, and secularism

Friday 13 June 2008, by Ali Murat Yel

Mardin uses the term ’neighborhood pressure’ to explain how values settle, sink in, and internalize. Yet, this sociological concept has been taken out of its context and applied in the political arena.

Şerif Mardin, an international academic star, has also become a household name for Turks recently, especially with his ideas of the so-called “neighborhood pressure” concerning the headscarf issue/ban/debate. Due to his academic naïveté (and perhaps his lack of political foresight as was exemplified in his experiences with Hürriyet Partisi and Yeni Demokrasi Hareketi), he has easily been manipulated by the political circles that could not produce their own arguments against the headscarf. As a sociologist Mardin uses the term “neighborhood pressure” to explain how values settle, sink in and internalize within the neighborhood. Yet, this sociological concept has been taken out of its context and applied in the political arena.

In an earlier work Jön Türklerin Siyasi Fikirleri, Mardin complained that Turks in general had lacked a tradition of philosophical speculation; even today, they do not think or to an extent, unable to understand the works of great philosophers. Yet, he argued, “The most convenient context in which the speculative thought could emerge in modern Turkey is the religious thought with its sufi form” (İstanbul, İletişim Yayınları, 1983, p. 15).

Cosmetic Westernization

Mardin elaborated these ideas in a public performance (May 23, 2008) by remarking that the Turkish enlightenment has failed because the founding elites of the Republic themselves were not able internalize the modern ideas; they were like the character of Bihruz Bey in the novel of Recaizade Ekrem, “Araba Sevdası,” who could imitate the West only superficially. The artificial and cosmetic Westernization without a sound background of a speculative philosophy led the state elites to believe that when they ignored the religion and educate the younger generations by the new type of teachers the country would truly become a modern one. In this process the teacher, his school, his books have had to yield to the imam, his mosque and his books.

This was a confession of the ruling elites in the mouth of Mardin of a failure due to their only skin-deep ideology. As they have no idea what the terms such as “civil society,” “social contract,” “human rights,” and “democracy” mean, they still continue to act in their simplistic and unsophisticated manner. In fact, they are imposing meanings over the masses and they are claiming that these meanings are legitimate but by concealing the power relations that enable them to exert these meanings.

Pierre Bourdieu’s terms “symbolic violence” and “symbolic power” are useful here in Turkish context; as the Republican elites are apparently trying to “save” and “protect” the regime they in fact are inculcating the legitimacy of the dominant culture (Bourdieu and Passeron, Reproduction in Education, Society and Culture, London, Sage, 1977). Since they are not aware of this power game it is becoming extremely dangerous both for them and the dominated masses. They are using this symbolic power to destroy the separation of powers, the foundational principles of the Republic, and the social cohesion within the society as more and more people are losing their hopes and most importantly, their beliefs in the regime. They are also endangering the legitimacy of the regime by eradicating the notions of “just” and “justice” in the society.

Subjective justice

By confusing between law and custom, they produce their subjective “justice” and “right” instead of appealing to universal human values. This attitude might cause a conflict between the rulers and ruled especially when the latter cease to obey to the subjective verdict of the former. The legal term “stare decisis – let the decision stand” should be used in decisions of higher courts to bind the lower courts in order to ensure certainty and consistency in the administration of justice. Yet, in Turkey the higher court officials, because they believe they possess the ultimate truth, declare their gloomy verdict to stand over everybody and every institution, including the Parliament.

- Ali Murat Yel teaches sociology at Fatih University.

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Source : Wednesday, June 11, 2008 TDN

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