The opportunity to separate technique from culture in development - YASIN AKTAY

The opportunity to separate technique from culture in development

As Turkey is trying to designate its position related with being a social actor, who is experiencing religion’s communal transformation period, there is a question in Turkey’s development history that Turkey is obliged to face: Can you divide the West, take the parts you like and leave the rest? Can you adopt its technology and leave its culture and morals aside?

The historic and sociological context of the argument actual dates back to the 19th century’s final days.

The final period of the 19th century is the period, where Ottomans slowed down in military, executive and social reform, and in exchange for this, where the cultural response gradually increased. This response was even experienced in literature, arts and in religious understanding. Muslim pilgrims, students or technical people, who went to Europe and returned in awe of the development going on there, formed the intelligentsia of that period and started the movement called “Young Turks”. Later on, this movement formed the first initiative of trends like Islamism, Turkism and Ottomanism. From this period on, there is a vital question in the agenda, even in the Islam world; why did the Islam world regress? Or, why did the Islam world stall while Europe advanced?

During the process, the segments, which internalized Westernism, answered the question by pointing at Islam as being responsible. However, Muslims, whether modernists or not, had formed an extremely naïve answer to this question. The answer was; “The reason is the Muslims’ drifted away from the religion”. In this case, it was necessary to find an answer to the “How come Europeans advance despite being Christians?” question. In other words, while Christians drifted away from their religion and it paved the way for their advancing, paradoxically, as the Muslims drifted away from Islam, it was causing them to regress. Because, according to Muslim reformists, while Islam in essence is propelling, Christianity was regressive.

The important thing to see was the fact that the Muslim intellectuals, who are qualified as ulama and modernists, were sharing the basic suppositions of modernism, for example, the idea of transformation and advancing. In that sense, actually, there are no significant intransigence problem between religion and modernism in that period. The adaptation of Western institutions and techniques had been legitimized from the point of religion. Because, those institution were regarded as a necessity for an Islamic country like the Ottomans to appear strong. Thus, the assumed “intransigence” between religion and modernism is actually a quite late supposition.

Islam’s identicalness to the conservative reaction against transformation is the expectation of an orientalist and internalized perspective. This perspective, as the Western modernists took over the rulership, had spread as a benevolent view, which regards religion as a regressive element. However, to be honest, the reaction against transformation wasn’t the typical attitude of the ulama, who acted competently in the name of Islam in cases when it’s necessary to adopt Western styles for the political benefit of Ottomans. Besides, it’s true that the first modernization willpower had been started by ulama, when the collimating motive was the survival of the state. In short, the idea that modernization and religion are counterparts is a late supposition and it had been fed to serve the legitimization of policies related with religion during the post-Republic period.

On top of that, when the emulation of the European and Christian world in the religious and cultural sense became the point in question in the content of this modernization, the same ulama and Islamist circles didn’t remain unresponsive. Thus, the conflict, which had been experienced between Islamist circles and other circles on the matter of modernization, didn’t happen between being against the modernization process or siding with it, but on the contrary, it occurred between two options; to have this modernization with or without its cultural aspect.

At the same time, as the modernization turned into blindly being a Western imitation and admiration, this activated the Islamist reaction even easier. Sait Halim Pasha’s, who is one of the final grand viziers of the Ottomans and at the same time one of the most important representatives of the Islamist notion, analyses were against blindly imitating Western institutions, with a literal translation without taking the differences between those institutions and the Turkish community. His articles, where he explained why constitutionalism didn’t suit the Turkish community, were stating an objection to the style of modernization, rather than modernization itself.

The Islamist “Sebilürreşad” circle, which had been led by Mehmet Akif Ersoy, had already stated a basic formula for the resolution in this matter; we should take the technique and useful data of the West and leave their culture behind. Later on, this formula had been criticized by the Islamist intellectual. In the essence of those criticisms, there was the assumption that technique and culture cannot be separated from each other. Technique was created by a culture and that if technique is being adopted, then the culture will follow it mandatorily.

In my opinion, there were no problems in the selectivity presented by the Sebilürreşad circles. No chance had been given to that thesis, and likewise, the culture, which had been approved as an ideology by the Western colonialism, had been imposed before the Western technology entered Turkey and the Islamic world. The Western culture had been formed by the direct or indirect imposition of colonialist politics, not as a result of the Western technology in the Islam world; thus, this culture is even more inhuman than its original version in the West.

The Republic, as a political willpower, resulted with the liquidation of the others by the ones, who adopted modernization as a Westernization project. After all, there wasn’t any political willpower left to pursue the option of importing a technology without culture.


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