Many thanks to Dan Filler for including me in the Faculty Lounge.
This has been an interesting summer for social change. Here in the U.S. we have witnessed Supreme Court decisions dealing with a range of significant issues from affirmative action, voting rights to same-sex marriage. Even as we wait to see how these decisions will effectuate changes on the ground, those of us teaching U.S. constitutional law are already thinking of incorporating these decisions into our syllabi. I know I am- however, this is only a part of what has kept me awake at nights since the last week of May.
As I arrived in Boston at the end of May for the Law and Society Conference, I was already following the small scale sit-in in Istanbul, protesting the Turkish government’s plans to demolish Gezi Park, a much-loved park with historical and socio-political significance (which I will explore in future posts). The initial sit-in consisted of around 50 people. On May 30th, the police raided the tents of the sleeping protestors with tear gas. Many have marked this raid as the trigger point of the following mass protests throughout Turkey. Needless to say, on May 31st, I spent most of the day in my hotel room in front of my computer and on the phone with relatives and friends following the developments in Istanbul. Those of us outside of Istanbul only had social media and our private connections as news sources, as the mainstream Turkish media continued with regularly scheduled programming as if there were no water cannons or massive clouds of pepper spray and tear gas on the streets of Istanbul. For example, rather than report on the real news of the protests, CNN Turk showed a documentary on penguins - the Penguin has since become a subversive symbol for the protestors, with various penguin images (like these ones) frequenting social media.
About a month after the Turkish protests began, Egyptians took to the streets on June 30th, with street crowds gathering in the preceding days. June 30 protests were one of the largest mass protests in human history, and certainly the largest in Egyptian history. On July 3rd, the Egyptian military declared that it removed President Mohamed Morsi’s elected government from office. The debate about whether this constituted a military coup continues. Some, if not many, commentators were quick to draw parallels and comparisons between Turkey and Egypt (both with histories of military coups), framing the anti-government protests in both countries as battles between Islamism and secularism. In the following weeks, I will discuss why I think discourses based on this dichotomy between Islamism and secularism are either flawed or simply ignorant of various other realities on the ground.
Next week I will be traveling to Turkey- first to Istanbul, then to my hometown Denizli (where the police has not interrupted the protests, in stark contrast to the majority of cities in Turkey) and to Izmir. While in Turkey I will speak to politicians, academics, supporters of the current government, organizers of the protests and a variety of protestors from sexual minority rights advocates to Muslim groups. I will share some of these discussions in my posts here while I address broader topics such as democratic legitimacy, democratic right to protest and the role of the military in sustaining or destroying democratic growth. Issues such as democratic legitimacy and the limits of the right to revolt are relevant not only for younger democracies like Turkey and Egypt, but also for more mature ones like the United States. At which point do the groups who feel marginalized have a right to undertake mass protests, and to which extent does the availability of fair elections negate this right? As I listen to various narratives in Turkey, my perspective on the protests and democracy will be enriched and my list of questions about legitimacy and revolt will expand. I hope you remain interested and join my conversations in Turkey, albeit electronically.