Friday, December 25, 2015

The Fairy Tale of Rights in Turkey

I will be teaching a course on law and society next semester. I have taught this type of a course back in the US, but this will be my first experience in Turkey. My advisor Michael McCann at UW used to teach this course by starting with Stuart Scheingold's 1974 book, The Politics of Rights. My thinking about law and the US is still very heavily influenced by this book. Scheingold initially focuses on the ideological appeal of the law: 'the myth of rights'. On page 17, he says: 'The myth of rights rests on a faith in the political efficacy and ethical sufficiency of law as a principle of government.' This widely shared myth then forms the basis of his analysis in explaining how it can provide opportunities for legal and political mobilization. I find all of this quite fascinating but what I am really interested in at the moment is the argument's Durkheimian undercurrent: The notion that this 'myth of rights' is widely shared by Americans. In Durkheim's language, the myth of rights would be a strong component of the collective consciousness that holds the American society intact. Let's put the empirical question - whether this is still (or was ever) an accurate assessment - aside. Now, to come back to my course next semester, and as a die-hard comparativist, I have always wondered how this particular argument would hold in Turkey: 1) The Scheingold question: Is there any basis for a myth of rights type of argument in Turkey? In other words, does the rights-bearing subject play at least a partial role in how individuals are imagined within the collectives consciousness(es) in Turkey? 2) The Durkheim question: Regardless of the question of law and rights, what is it that holds the society in Turkey intact? What has it been? What is it now? Is there such a common story anymore?

I am planning to think and write on this more. However, here is my brief take on these questions.

1) This is the type of question that my research is likely to pursue in the future, so no easy answers yet. However, from a comparative perspective, I can easily claim that the myth is more like a fairy tale in Turkey. Compared to a daily American context, you almost never hear the invocation of a rights-bearing subject here. Of course there is wide-spread formal and informal legal mobilization, but I daresay it is rather an example of mobilizing official tools that are external. These external tools may offer good opportunities for reaching our goals but they do not really shape our imaginations.

2) If not rights or law, then what shapes our consciousness? Well since this is their garden, I will let the cats offer some speculations. The Ottoman Empire consisted of different religious communities. I am not an Ottoman historian, but the fact that these communities co-existed side by side for centuries, implies an operational shared common set of understandings, norms and practices, (which were inevitably enforced by official violence).That legacy had been annihilated by the WWI and the establishment of the Republic. The non-Muslims had come to be perceived as the agents of European capitalists and enemies. They were purged and/or killed. Most of the remaining non-Muslims were eventually sent away through population exchanges. The state offered and imposed a non-apologetic tranformation that focused on westernization and Turkishness. This took place while the properties of the non-Muslims were being expropriated and redistributed. I am basically arguing that the new Republican collective consciousness was about forcefully becoming western and Turkish, all the while suppressing the historical guilt of killing and purging the non-Muslims. When that meta-story was finally challenged with AKP's cooptation of the Kemalist state in early 2000s, I am afraid we are now even bereft of that dirty story that somewhat connected us to each other in our guilt and ignorance. We have now become Durkheim's nightmare: A society still in the process of capitalist transformation with no common and accumulated story to connect us in these dire circumstances. Actually, the stories we have accumulated are pitting us against each other. We pretty much hate each other here now...

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