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Islamism: From Turkey to Canada

Vasarav is a tax attorney based in Montreal

I’m a Turkish-Canadian and I’m getting a sick sense of déjà vu these days.

Despite sporadic and relatively minor incidents of violence, for example a hotel set on fire in response to a Turkish publisher who wanted to publish The Satanic Verses, the 90s were relatively sanguine years for secularists in Turkey. We lived under the ever-watchful eye of an authoritarian yet secular military. They would not meddle with the day-to-day management of politics or the economy, but would issue tough statements in response to religious conservatism in the public sphere. They would even conduct a successful coup d’état against the Islamist government in 1997 when then Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan advocated the restoration of Sharia to replace secular Turkish law. His response is worth noting for posterity: ‘‘Of course it will be back; the only question is whether the process will be bloody or bloodless . . . we will make the process gradual so you will not feel any pain”

‘‘Of course it [Sharia] will be back; the only question is whether the process will be bloody or bloodless . . . we will make the process gradual so you will not feel any pain” –  Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan

Those days are long gone. Today, the scourge of Islamism is back stronger than ever, the army confined to its barracks and Islamist violence tolerated if not justified and celebrated by state officials. For those unfamiliar with the rise of Islamism in Turkey, a recap of recent history is provided for light reading.

Erbakan’s quote is relevant, because like many Canadians today, I too was unconcerned with what I thought a ‘fringe’ element in society was promoting in my secular country. Like frogs boiling in slowly warming water, the process was gradual as promised. Until the day the water became too hot for me and I had to leave my country for the safety of Canada.

I was born and raised in Istanbul. Having left Islam at the age of 14, I was proud to be an atheist. In the summer of 2010, I went to a music festival to party with friends. There, a glass of beer cost around 5 bucks, so we bought beer from the next-door gas station for 2 bucks a pop. There is also a mosque next to the venue. We thought that it was irrelevant because we weren’t going to drink in the mosque. Rebellious, we were; but stupid, we were not. Or so we thought.

As we were sipping our beers outside the festival gates a group of Islamists descended upon us. Clad in regulation length beards and traditional garb, they started yelling that we “shouldn’t be sinning this close to Allah’s house” and ought to “Get the f$%k out of there!” Emboldened by the lack of reaction, they began to kick empty wine bottles in our direction. As the bottles were shattering at our feet, I lost my rag and threw the beer can I was holding at the assailants and yelled, “Who the f$%k are you to chase me away in my hometown?!”

What happened next was to be the last straw, and would trigger the events that brought me to Canada.

They charged at us, screaming “Allah-u Akber.” One of them landed a frontal kick on my chest and I hit the ground head first and passed out. In hindsight, I am glad I did  because when I woke up in the bathroom of the festival area, I was covered in bruises. I had been beaten while I was unconscious. My vision was blurry from a concussion and a couple of my friends took me to the hospital in a taxi. I was refused treatment, though, because I hadn’t brought a report of the event from the police. Rather pissed off yet determined to get treatment, I went to the nearest police station to get a police report. As I was offering my testimony, I passed out again and while falling hit my head on the officer’s desk. I was immediately hospitalized, whisked away in an ambulance called by the police.

I realize that we’d always felt the creeping presence of Islamism but we refused to believe the Islamists would ever gain sufficient power to transform Turkish society in any real way.

From this point on, events would turn into a black parody: the hospital again refused me treatment as I still didn’t have a completed police report in hand. They also refused to discharge me since my hospital expenses would not be supported by my insurance if not duly registered. Around 1 am, realizing I was in over my head, I called my family. They in turn called their insurance agent and threatened to cancel the insurance policy for the entire family. In this way, I was finally treated and let go.

We decided to press charges against the assailants but the State Prosecutor’s office declined to take the case under the pretext that my injuries were not grave enough. As a result of such negligence, encouraged by the impunity with which they could hurt people, these thugs and their ilk continued to raid  art galleries and music stores in that neighbourhood in the months and years to come. Witnessing this descent into Islamism and aware of the danger for an atheist like myself, I arranged for a Master’s degree in Montreal and moved to Canada, where I still live.

Looking back, I realize that we’d always felt the creeping presence of Islamism but we refused to believe the Islamists would ever gain sufficient power to transform Turkish society in any real way. Allied with another religious minority, the Alawites, we, the secularists, remained secure in our belief that the country was exactly the way we believed it to be. We couldn’t have been more wrong.

Under AKP, the ruling Islamist party for the last 15 years, there would not be justice for us, those outside the tribe or the ‘Ummah’. For we were not ‘good Muslims’, the kind of good Muslim given a pass even when caught stealing. We became the outsiders in our own country.

In this untenable predicament Canada, to me, exemplified hope: a safe haven from Islamism and blasphemy laws, and a bastion of secular values and free speech. A place where I would not have to suffer persecution for criticizing a barbaric ideology or shame for daring to live out my secular values.

However, with the Canadian Parliament’s approval of the anti-Islamophobia motion M-103, I’m starting to doubt that. The political Left that is supposed to be the secularist’s natural ally cries Islamophobia at any criticism of this ideology or its brutal practices. Unlike in Turkey in the 1990’s, the Islamists in Canada don’t have to do much but set the country’s Regressive Liberals loose to cannibalize their own secular values. Led by a Prime Minister who is happy to conduct his own pacification Olympics, a move that is reminiscent of a victim of domestic violence who fears the next outburst, rather than the elected member of a secular nation, Canada is in the grip of the same multiculturalism-fueled slide into chaos that Europe has spiraled into in the last decade.

How can Liberals possibly pretend to be pro-human rights and anti-oppression when they refuse to call out the abuses committed within Muslim communities? When they not only do not condemn the persecution of ex-Muslims, the classic canary in the coalmine of the collapsing secular experiment, but in turn accuse them of bigotry and Islamophobia. Why is it suddenly ok to shoot the canary?

Why is it suddenly ok to shoot the canary?

This misguided Regressive Leftist stance, this ‘tolerance of intolerance’ that exemplifies the end-game of such a political stance, does not lead to less intolerance. It rather erodes the very tolerance that undergirds every secular society on the planet.

Ask any secularist who has fled a rapidly Islamizing state, as I have, and they will tell you the same thing: they’ve seen this movie before. And it never ends well.


[1] The Rise of Political Islam and the AKP, Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University, p. 42

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  • turkmusik

    This is a powerful statement for those who will listen. Thank you for writing it. Vasarav, what can be done now in Turkey? Erdogan is setting up an Islamo-fascist state, that seems clear. But there are many who do not want it. Yet, when I read about it (I’m not Turkish), it seems that the opposition is almost equal in numbers, better educated, and more affluent. The problem seems to be that the opposition is fragmented. A unified front is needed. How might it emerge?

  • Terry Webster

    A very good read! (Though bits of it need editing to keep it from sounding of “stream of consciousness” dictation.) As English is not his native language, this can be overlooked.

  • Halil ŞEN

    Bir noktayı kanıtlamak adına Madımak katliamını “[…] relatively minor incidents of violence, for example a hotel set on fire ” şeklinde örnek göstermeniz ve gerekçeyi “in response to a Turkish publisher who wanted to publish The Satanic Verses” şeklinde özetlemeniz ve özellikle bunu “the 90s were relatively sanguine years for secularists in Turkey” noktasını kanıtlamak için yapmış olmanız hiç yakışık almamış.

    Minör olarak anılan olay 15bin kişinin hiç bir şekilde dağıtılmadığı(!), gerekçesi Alevilere karşı nefret olan ve özellikle kayıplar düşünüldüğü zaman hiç de küsümsenemeyecek bir eylemdir. Bu olayın nasıl ele alındığı ve nasıl sonuçlandığı düşünüldüğünde aslında bugün yaşadıklarımızın bir habercisi olduğu çok açık değil mi?

    Bunun dışında söylediklerimizin hepsine katılmamak elde değil. Girizgahdaki bu argümanınıza bu kadar takılmamın sebep belki de bu seneye kadar bu olayı derinlemesine bilmiyor olmamdır. Yazınız için teşekkürler. Yeni hayatınızda bol şans.

    Sevgi ve saygılarımla,
    h.

  • Jenny Hill

    Excellent read. I wish more would see these types of testimonies.