When you finish reading the book, the last sentence advising on what needs to be done continues to ring in your head: “There are many opportunities ahead of humanity that will make the world a more just and peaceful environment. To ensure this happens, maybe we need to learn how to live with people different from us within the frame of moral principles. Being in peace with the other can only be established through being at peace with ourselves…When Islamic and Western societies act in accordance with this feeling of historical responsibility, they will catch the opportunity of contributing to world peace.”
We may be able to comprehend the actions that need to be taken, but other parts of the book whisper how hard this responsibility can be. Because, we clearly see how the West’s animosity toward Muslims is deeply rooted. Thus, we can say that racism wasn’t discovered out of the blue in Europe: “It isn’t possible to separate Islamophobia from the ethnic and racist hatred toward Arabs, Asians and blacks.” If Europe wants to continue its multiculturalism (and coexisting in harmony) claims, then it needs to confront its colonist, self-centered and racist history. Europe is full of prejudices against Turks and Muslims that had come down from generations…
Known as “Sarasen” in the medieval period and “Moor” during the Andalusian era, Muslims have been identified with the Turkish “type” from the 16th century onward. Kalın says Europe never forgave Turks for the conquering of Istanbul and he continues by narrating Papa Pius II’s words: “In the past, we were hurt in Asia and Africa [in foreign countries]. But now we are attacked in our own lands, our own home, in Europe. True, Turks came to Greece way before they came to Anatolia; the Mongolians came all the way to Europe and the Arabs took parts of Spain by passing through the Gibraltar Strait. But we haven’t lost any place that can ever be compared to Constantinople.”
The terrifying perception of Turks that came about after the conquering of Istanbul even caused the Europeans to appeal to Tamburlaine and the Mongolians. Tamburlaine turns into a hero who gets revenge from the Turks on behalf of the Europeans and the Christians. Renaissance humanism isn’t effective in toning down the perception of Turks being barbaric. On the contrary, it actually increases this perception. Kalın gives examples of the negative Ottoman-Turkish image used in all fields from politics, to religion to theater. After the period of regression in Ottoman history, “orientalism” starts to breed this perception and turns it into belittling and despisal. The European world of thought has a share of this view. It then starts to base all the good and beautiful attributes of Islam on sources before Islam and outside of Islam. Leibniz, Herder, Hegel, Kant and Marx don’t refrain from using belittling statements when talking about Islam and Turks, without even basing it on research or true facts.
Andre Gide, the 1947 Nobel Literature Prize-winner’s words after visiting Istanbul and Konya in 1914 are very clear: “Constantinople [Istanbul] confirms all my prejudices and thus becomes a part of my personal hell together with Venice. When you start to appreciate an architectural work of art or the front of a mosque, you find out that it is Albanian or Persian [just as you suspect]… Turkish outfits are the ugliest outfits you could possibly think of; to tell the truth, the Turkish race deserve this… I now see that our Western civilization [I was about to say French] is not only beautiful, but is also the only civilization – meaning the Greek civilization we descend from.”
This biased attitude, which even Gide is taken by, is no different today either. Kalın discussed the issue only within the scope of Islam-West relations. There is no doubt that Islam showing rapid development against Christianity during its emergence and spreading, is very effective in the root and severity of Islamophobia. But I fear that Europe’s biases against Turks is not simply limited to Islam, but actually dates back to the past and is an integral part of their identities.
*Erol Göka is a Turkish columnist. He writes for Yeni Şafak Turkish daily newspaper.
(Published in Yeni Şafak on Thursday, Sept. 22, 2016)