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Post More on Cultural Relativism: Ataturk
Created by John Eipper on 12/03/15 11:30 AM

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More on Cultural Relativism: Ataturk (Luciano Dondero, Italy, 12/03/15 11:30 am)

I'd like to respond to Tor Guimaraes's post on cultural relativism (2 December).

To prevent this discussion from becoming fruitless, I'd like to bring in Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. (This is based on Wikipedia articles and other Internet sources.)

A former army officer for the Ottoman empire, after its defeat in World War I, Mustafa Kemal (he became "Atatürk," or Father of the Turks, only in 1934), acted to transform Turkey into a truly independent country. By this he meant "complete economic, financial, juridical, military, cultural independence and freedom in all matters."

And his plan was truly a global one, starting with the first and only, so far, true reform of Islam, i.e., separation of state and religion.

In order to implement this program, Atatürk at first visualized a representative democracy based on parliamentary sovereignty, but in the following years, he altered his stance somewhat; the country needed an immense amount of reconstruction, and that "direct government by the Assembly" could not survive in such an environment. The revolutionaries faced challenges from the supporters of the old Ottoman regime, and also from the supporters of newer ideologies such as communism and fascism, which Mustafa Kemal rejected.

The Caliphate that ISIS/Daesh means to recreate nowadays, was actually abolished in Turkey, as a crucial component of Mustafa Kemal's drive to reform the political system and to promote national sovereignty. By the consensus of the Muslim majority in early centuries, the caliphate was the core political concept of Sunni Islam.

The removal of the caliphate was followed by an extensive effort to establish the separation of governmental and religious affairs. Education was the cornerstone in this effort. In 1923, there were three main educational groups of institutions. The most common institutions were madrassas based on Arabic, the Qur'an and memorization. The second type of institution were idadî and sultanî, the reformist schools of the Tanzimat era. The last group included colleges and minority schools in foreign languages that used the latest teaching models.

The old madrassa education was modernized. Mustafa Kemal changed the classical Islamic education into a vigorously promoted reconstruction of educational institutions.  He linked educational reform to the liberation of the nation from dogma, which he believed was more important than the Turkish War of Independence.

He sought the advise of American educational reformer John Dewey to reform Turkish education. Critical in his plan was the institution of compulsory primary education for both girls and boys, and a national unified plan of education, making the clergy subordinate to the department of religious affairs, which is one of the foundations of secularism in Turkey.

Beginning in the fall of 1925, Mustafa Kemal encouraged the Turks to wear modern European attire, forcing the abandonment of the sartorial traditions of the Middle East, by adopting guidelines for the proper dressing of students and state employees. In particular a law in 1934 forbade the use of antiquated religion-based clothing such as the veil and turban.

In 1925, Mustafa Kemal spoke of his view on religious insignia used outside places of worship and also of the interaction between science and religion. He said:

"In the face of knowledge, science, and of the whole extent of radiant civilization, I cannot accept the presence in Turkey's civilized community of people primitive enough to seek material and spiritual benefits in the guidance of sheiks. The Turkish republic cannot be a country of sheiks, dervishes, and disciples. The best, the truest order is the order of civilization. To be a man it is enough to carry out the requirements of civilization."

This led to the closing down of all Sufi orders, and the transformation of dervish lodges into museums. The institutional expression of Sufism became illegal in Turkey; only a politically neutral form of Sufism, functioning as social associations, was permitted to exist.

Starting in 1926, for the first time in history, Islamic law was separated from secular law, and restricted to matters of religion. The way Mustafa Kemal put it was this: "We must liberate our concepts of justice, our laws and our legal institutions from the bonds which, even though they are incompatible with the needs of our century, still hold a tight grip on us."

The Turkish penal code was modeled after the Italian Penal Code; Islamic courts were closed. A new civil code modeled after the Swiss Civil Code was adopted, granting women equality with men in such matters as inheritance and divorce.

In a speech he explained his reasoning:

"To the women: Win for us the battle of education and you will do yet more for your country than we have been able to do. It is to you that I appeal.

"To the men: If henceforward the women do not share in the social life of the nation, we shall never attain to our full development. We shall remain irremediably backward, incapable of treating on equal terms with the civilizations of the West."

In 1927, the State Art and Sculpture Museum opened its doors. The museum highlighted sculpture, which was little practiced in Turkey owing to the Islamic tradition of avoiding idolatry. Mustafa Kemal believed that "culture is the foundation of the Turkish Republic," and described modern Turkey's ideological thrust as "a creation of patriotism blended with a lofty humanist ideal." He included both his own nation's creative legacy and what he saw as the admirable values of global civilization. The pre-Islamic culture of the Turks became the subject of extensive research, and particular emphasis was laid upon Turkish culture widespread before the Seljuk and Ottoman civilizations.

In 1928, Mustafa Kemal met in Ankara with several linguists and professors from all over Turkey with a view to implement a new alphabet for the written Turkish language based on a modified Latin alphabet. The new Turkish alphabet would serve as a replacement for the old Arabic script and as a solution to the literacy problem in Turkey. When he asked them how long it would take to implement the new alphabet into the Turkish language, most of the professors and linguists said between three to five years. Mustafa Kemal was said to have scoffed and openly stated, "we shall do it in three to five months."

The country's adaptation to the new alphabet was very quick, and literacy in Turkey jumped from 10% to over 70% within two years.

In 1932, a Qur'an in the Turkish language was read before a live audience and broadcast over the radio, because Mustafa Kemal wanted to "teach religion in Turkish to Turkish people who had been practicing Islam without understanding it for centuries."

His reforms had a huge impact on political life, and Turkey in 1934 granted full political rights to women, before several other European nations. In the 1935 elections there were 18 female MPs out of a total of 395 representatives, compared to nine out of 615 members of the British House of Commons and six out of 435 in the US House of Representatives inaugurated that year. (Italy granted women the right to vote only in 1945.)

What all this means is rather simple, in a way.

(A) Islam has got to become as other religions, or else it will become a big problem for mankind as a whole.

(B) This is a job for brave and powerful reformers coming out of the Muslim world--even though they might make use of "a little help from our friends."

(C) It won't happen unless these people are prepared to face Islamist opposition and crush it--and here again some help might be needed.

(D) People in the West are no mere spectators, but they have to choose well those that they support, that means not Bin Laden, not ISIS, not Iran, not Hamas and Hezbollah, not the Muslim Brotherhood, not Saudi Arabia. not Saddam Hussein, and so on and so forth.

(E) Insofar as the US, Europe, Russia, China, India and Japan are concerned, no freedom should be granted to those who, under the disguise of "religious freedom" are actually preparing jihadist terrorists.

(F) Democratic countries should not accept any encroaching of Sharia into law, however disguised.

I realise that this may not be The Solution to the problems of the Middle East, but at least it should put us on the right path.

JE comments:  Is there any nation in the Middle East where an aggressive secularizer (à la Atatürk) could arise?  Kemalism has declined even in Turkey.

If Luciano doesn't mind, I have a question for Eugenio Battaglia:  why didn't Mussolini grant women the vote?  Did they even have elections during his regime?

Finally, a hearty "thank you" to Luciano Dondero for contributing to the 2015 WAIS Care and Feeding fund.  We are now only three donors away from reaching our goal.  Please help...that means you!  PayPal at donate@waisworld.org


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  • Women's Vote in Fascist Italy (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 12/09/15 9:38 AM)
    A few days ago (Luciano Dondero, 3 December), JE asked about women's suffrage under Italian fascism.

    On 6 June 1919 Mussolini's newspaper Il Popolo d'Italia published "Il Manifesto dei Fasci Combattenti Programma di San Sepolcro."  This program is important because in 1936, immediately after the proclamation of the Italian Empire, the Communist Party with its "Call to the Brothers in the Black Shirt" declared that it was ready to collaborate to enact such a program.  Furthermore during the RSI there was a return to the good origins of 1919.


    In the Program of San Sepolcro there was a request for women's suffrage.


    In 1923 at the Ninth Congress of the International Federation Pro Suffrage, Mussolini spoke in favor of women's suffrage. But the elections of 1924 were still held under the old male-only suffrage system passed in 1912. By the way, the results were Fascist 65.7%, Popular Party 9.0%, Socialists (split in two) 10.3%, Communists 3.7%. There was also a German/Slav list at 0.87%, receiving 4 representatives.


    On 22 November 1925 the government granted suffrage to women for the administrative vote. But later the government abolished local elections and the formerly elected mayor position was eliminated in favor of an appointed podestà.


    The elections of 1929 and 1934 were still held with the old male-only system, but instead of having various parties on the ballot there was a plebiscite yes or no system on a Fascist list.


    In 1939 the parliament was transformed into the Chamber of the Fascists and of the Corporations.  On the contrary, the nomination of senators remained a prerogative of the King.


    During the RSI, at war against foreign and internal enemies, it was impossible to arrange elections, even if the famous 18 Points of Verona (Manifesto of the New Republican Fascism) called for them.


    It was probable that women's suffrage was not a priority in the public opinion. The people had been disgusted by the useless mess of political parties following the victory of 1918. They were more interested in the great realizations of Mussolini in the social, cultural and economic fields.


    Unfortunately the so-called dictatorship of Mussolini was in reality a Diarchia, a system with two heads--Mussolini (the driving force) and the King (an old conservative Mason). But to make things worse, the Vatican had a strong deleterious influence on Italian society. The Vatican, not the Catholic religion, had been Italy's misfortune and hindered its unification for a thousand years. Both the king and the Vatican were against women's suffrage.


    Probably I have not given a clear picture, but at least, I have provided the basic facts.


    The antifascists would later blame the denial of the vote to women on Fascism.


    JE comments: Do I understand correctly, that contested elections were replaced by plebiscites? So if I may be frank, everyone was denied the vote (a choice) in Fascist Italy.

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