Thanks to professor Omid Safi we were able to meet Ibrahim Kalin, the chief policy adviser to Turkish Prime Minister, for a sit down discussion and open forum questioning. Expecting an old, stuck-up, busy politician, I was pleasantly surprised when Mr. Kalin walked through the door and introduced himself to all of us. Still full of youth but driven by experience, knowledge and wisdom, Kalin was outgoing and approachable. He fielded questions ranging from current Turkish foreign policy to religious philosophy and explained his answers fluidly and coherently. Kalin was confident and charismatic and obviously had a heart for Turkey. While the conversation produced some great questions and was highly interesting, I was somewhat disappointed because my opportunity to ask a question came close to five minutes before the meeting ended, so Kalin was only able to give me a general response. I had asked something concerning Turkish world standing in the wake of the secularization of the state and because I didn’t receive a full answer I decided to see what Mr. Kalin had already written on the subject. I found two articles: one talking about religion in Turkey and the other about Turkish goals for modern political power.
In the first, Kalin mentions that religion receives little recognition in the contemporary Turkish Political conversation leading to a state of ambiguity and conflict. He states,
“the fathers of Turkish modernization had hoped for an ethno-secularist modernization where the social ideals of traditional Islam would have been supplanted by the ethnic genius of the Turks, the enviable qualities of Turkishness, the glory of Turkish history, etc. The political norms and institutions of traditional Islam and Ottoman political culture would have been replaced by the secular nation-state, its institutions of limited representation, a controlled democracy and a modern notion of citizenship.”
However, Kalin recognizes that this was not the case and that the process of modernization led to a rift between Islamic-Ottoman tradition and new age political agenda. Kalin continues by saying that the universities and educational systems, which would have supposedly protected and preserved the Islamic tradition in Turkey through academics, have unfortunately worked to isolate themselves away from the tradition’s contemporary social implications by only touching on basic and cliche topics like radical Islamic fundamentalism and have failed to focus on more complex ideas regarding the sociology of religion in respect to the majority of the Turkish population. Kalin also mentions the media as perpetuating a similar misunderstanding and overall ambiguity of religion in Turkey. He says, “The media manipulation of religious issues and most recently the debates about the headscarf suggest that the media is no place to talk reasonably about religion. The result: a wrenching cacophony of ignorance, a deafening silence of reason.” Statements like this leave no space to wonder why then there continues to be in-fighting between religious conservatives and the secularists who both fear the imminent domination of their position by the other.
Kalin recognizes that this conversation about the state of religion in Turkey is part of the nation’s identity, which he emphasizes in his second article on Turkish political power. In it he writes about the political ideas of soft power and public diplomacy. Kalin defines soft power as:
“‘the ability to get what you want through attraction rather than coercion or payments.’ This is possible through persuading the other party through convincing arguments and rational policies. Here, credibility and the ability to persuade constitute the main elements of soft power.”
And Public diplomacy as a strategic communication tool which:
“comprises ‘understanding, informing and influencing the public…[to build] a strategic language of communication based on objective facts and truth.’”
Soft power is Turkey’s rising form of international political power. Rather than using aggression and force or money and bribes, neither of which Turkey has ample opportunity or resource for, the use of rational persuasion, conversation and debate are Turkey’s road to power. However, soft power is based on a strong cultural identity and existence of established and successful institutions including: art, literature, architecture, education, science and technology, tourism and platforms for economic cooperation. The continued strengthening of these institutions is integral to the emergence of Turkey’s soft power. As well, a modernized, secular political system, which emphasizes democratic principles and individual freedoms is another must-have to produce an effective soft power campaign.
In way of public diplomacy the identifying characteristic is also a well formulated national narrative, image, and identity. In this vein Kalin suggests that current political affairs indicate the formation of a unique “Turkish story” which is gaining attention and traction. He says that events like, “Extra-judicial killings, torture in prisons, following ill-advised policies on the Kurdish issue, human rights abuses, religious minorities, freedom of thought and belief and similar problems have all reinforced a highly negative image for Turkey both domestically and internationally.” Nontheless, Kalin recognizes that these are mistakes of the past and what matters is the reaffirmation of the current political stances and attitudes which, to him, more adequately constitute the Turkish identity. He says, “For instance, in relation to the tradition versus modernity debate, Turkey is perceived as a country that is able successfully to fuse traditional Islamic-Ottoman culture with socioeconomic modernization.” While this is true, we cannot forget about the ongoing struggle in this debate as Kalin identified in the first article above. Simply because Turkey is making progress in this arena and the world is seeming to recognize it does not mean that the job is done and the conflict is reconciled. There is still work to be done. Still, the tides are changing for Turkey daily. With the formation of a complex public policy that uses soft power and public diplomacy in order to assert itself as a nation of stature in the world, Turkey is succeeding in its struggle for global identity. Kalin proudly and optimistically states that,
“the Turkish public no longer sees itself as a problematic and small footnote in the Euro-centric historical narrative. Like all societies that are able to produce their own values within history, Turkish society is to see itself as an active agent in the formation of its own history.”
Kalin, Ibrahim. “Soft Power and Public Diplomacy in Turkey.” PERCEPTIONS. Vol. XVI. Number 3 (2011): 5-23.
Kalin, Ibrahim. “Talking About Religion in Turkey.” SETA. 28 Oct. 2008. Web. 8 Feb. 2013. <http://arsiv.setav.org/public/HaberDetay.aspx?Dil=tr&hid=12385&q=talking-about-religion-in-turkey>.