Social unrest happens everywhere. The major difference from country to country is how well it is accepted by the authorities. Turkey is going through some dramatic changes at the moment and each of these changes is intrinsically tied together with the others. In my last article I spoke of the unprecedented development that Ankara is going through, which of course will continue to be the major theme in these upcoming pieces. In the discussion of development, the variables behind this development continue to become apparent to yours truly, one of which is the implications of this steady expansion on the working class.
On my way to school last week I walked down to the major city center in Kizilay, where I was quickly confronted with hundreds of police officers in riot gear, dozens of heavily armored police vehicles, and thousands of protestors. I ended up being very late to class because the protesters shut down the metro, the buses, and pretty much all of the traffic in the city. Of course the question arises: Why are the protestors so pissed?
Luckily, I have some local people on my side to explain things to me. Another student that I know is aspiring to be a journalist as well, except he speaks Turkish and has some connections within the parties that are protesting. As I had stated in my last article, a more conservative party has been elected into office and, just as in the U.S., conservative means more religion, privatization, and an increased intent on liberalizing every aspect of the market. From the interviews that my buddy has had, he relayed to me the issues that these protestors are facing.
Over the past decade, and more recently over the past couple years, the national government has let go of the reins of many of the production capacities and industries here in Turkey and handed them over to private entities, which has led to massive layoffs totaling up to 12,000 people in this one sector. Of these 12,000 individuals, many have families that are dependent on the income of the recently laid-off workforce. As a result of the income loss, shanty towns have been constructed all over the city, where one can see many women, children, and old folk scrambling to put food on their plates. The local police have put a vacate deadline on the inhabitants of the shanty towns that are visible to the public, which was February 27. So naturally, things were heating up as the day of reckoning approached.
In respect to development, one can speak about it on a few different platforms. The first is the physical development of the city, second is the development of the economy (i.e. the institutions and theories set forth that move a nation’s economy in one direction or the other), third is the implications on these types of developments on the people living in that society (merchants, businesspeople, politicians, the workers, and everyone else), and fourth is how this development impacts the environment. (This will be discussed soon, but I need to give all of you a sense of the city and country that I am living in.) Of course this may be something of a narrow view of how development works, but for the sake of time and space we can discuss these issues in their respective contexts and hopefully move toward the other issues in the future.
To speak of Islam in these contextual developments becomes somewhat tricky. I have stated before that Turkey has a secular government which provides those in power with the ability to separate their business ventures from their religious morals, making it a bit easier to put people out of work. Islam, when not taken to the extreme, is a religion of compassion, love, and charity. Like most other religions, Islam is a product of its time and space. When looking at the Qur’an and its historical context, the religion and its canonized text developed in a space and time of oppression, exploitation, and systematic violence from those in power. It became accepted and praised because for Muslims it is the word of Allah. It also provided a means of taming the instability of its time on account of its power to bring order (legally and spiritually) to the Arabian Peninsula.
Sura 90 (called “The City”) verses 12-18 states: “And what will make you comprehend what the uphill road is? It is the setting free of a slave. Or the giving of food in a day of hunger to an orphan, having a relationship, or to the poor man lying in the dust. Then he is of those who believe and charge one another to show patience, and to charge one another to show compassion. These are for the people of the right hand.” I guess not everyone follows their religion verbatim, but wouldn’t that be somewhat fundamentalist?