Friday, April 11, 2008

tolerance? what tolerance?

one more note about izmir's loss of the expo, or rather, a reference to the general mentality that underlies turks' promotion of their image in the world:

although turkey is and presents itself as a muslim country (1), it also is usually keen on not being associated with hardline muslim countries that are presumed to be disliked in the west, as iran or saudia. the preferred image is one of modernized, moderate, cooperative and compatible islam. tolerance is an "item" often used to prove compatibility with western life habits, in the propaganda messages. tolerance, in historic practice, translates as believers from different religions living in the same geography politically dominated by members and the ideology of a single faith. the turkish thesis is that "muslim" turkey has been the home of christians and jews as well, through the ages. the izmir texts presented to the bie assembly in paris also carried a high dose of alleged religious tolerance.


first of all, "tolerance", especially in that particular context, reeks badly of religiousity, shadowing the modern - secular and laique signals in the message. in any case, it implies severity, a division, a rent that cannot be spanned in essence. therefore, it negates its own meaning and claim that harmony exists or insinuates the high probability that the harmony that may momentarily prevail is not permanent.

secondly, there seems to be little need in today's modern world to emphasize such tolerance. all civilized (western) countries protect all their citizens and guests from other countries by universally applied laws and many include special provisions against discrimination and persecution (2). each and every individual is free to practice any faith and also, to propagate it. yet, just to state a dire example from tolerant turkey, about a year ago, three protestant missionaries were brutally murdered and a catholic priest stabbed to death.

or a comic example: in istanbul, the city's official bordello is next door neighbors with an ancient greek orthodox church in tophane. had there been a greek brothel next to an abandoned mosque in salonika or belgrade, the ruckus raised here would be heard in hades.

third, the propaganda based on tolerance can hardly stand factual historical testing: the religious coexistence that turks seemingly confuse with tolerance was a social necessity. ethnic turks were not masters in most trades that were the métiers of the christians. also, excluding trades out of reach of muslims and channeling them to a military occupation allowed the state/palace to maintain its absolute political hegemony over the population. non-muslims could get rich but they could not gain political potency.

furthermore, keeping the orthodox archbishop under the sultan's thumb was calculated to afford good influence over conquered peoples of the balkans. still, that they were allowed to practice their religion was subject ever to political compliance. as a matter of fact, the greek orthodox archbishop was hanged at the gate of the patriarchate when he was deemed supportive of the revolution in the morea, for instance.

tolerance in everyday life is also a latter day myth: for most of the time, settlements and quarters of cities were separated among muslim, christian and jewish subjects. often, different christian sects, too, like the armenians or the assyrians, cıatholics and protestants lived more or less physically apart.

until the tanzimat reforms of 1839, churches were permitted only to ring bells carved of wood. perhaps banning brass church bells was one reason an armaments industry based on founding skills never developed properly in turkey (3)

no non-muslim ever rose to high bureaucratic office in the turkish republic. especially, no non-muslim ever was allowed to become a soldier, a diplomat, a general manager etc... indeed, pitifully few of the very few turkish citizens who are not muslim are even employed by the government. the last armenian member of parliament was elected in the 1950s and ever since, only one jew entered the assembly as a deputy.

yet tolerance was still prominently used as a propaganda item in izmir's promotion campaign for the expo. tolerance is hardly an asset or a matter for pride. it is an obligation of civility that should not be used for propaganda (actually, cannot be used either, because it means nothing to a civilized mind).

then again, the word tolerance itself is repugnant. it is synonymous "enduring" or "bearing" someone or something that in its nature is "not as good as i happen to be".

(*) turkey used to project itself as a country "with a predominantly muslim population". in the recent past, i.e., since the akp dominated the political scene, it began to be emphasized more as a muslim country.
(2) like the u.s. hate crime laws.
(3) some huge founderie did exist and cannon and balls could be molded. however, they were too purpose specific to create the metallurgical industries.

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