I come from a land where
words feel very heavy. I think every Turkish writer,
journalist, novelist, poet, or academic knows that words
can get one into trouble. We do know that because of a
poem, a novel, a short story, or an article, we
can be targeted, stigmatized by the government. We do know that we can be
almost lynched on social media by trolls, we can
perhaps be sued, put on trial, detained,
arrested or exiled, all because of words. So when we write, we
carry this knowledge at the back of our minds. And as a result there is
widespread self-censorship Among Turkey’s literati. But I think this is a very
difficult subject to talk about, Because how do you talk
about the kind of censorship that you internalize and
that you carry within. it is embarrassing but
there is too much tension, too much intimidation and too
much polarization in Turkey. and this has been going
on for a very long time, and whenever you bring
these elements together, it means there is
self-censorship. So overall, it’s a
very difficult habitat for us storytellers. but I also believe that if
you happen to be a writer from wounded democracies,
you do not have the luxury of being apolitical, and
this is a dilemma for us, because normally, as writers,
we are solitary creatures, what we do thrives upon
solitude, we are like hermits. or perhaps like mystics. When we publish a
book we are catapulted into the public space,
but otherwise we like to stay in our
own imaginary worlds, in our own story land, which
is a land without passports, without any borders. So I
think it’s challenging for introverted writers to
turn into activists in the public space. But as I said
if you come from such lands like Turkey, Nigeria, Venezuela,
Columbia, Tunisia, Egypt, you do not have the luxury
of being apolitical. Especially in places where
politics is divisive, aggressive, oppressive. Writers and poets cannot close their eyes or shut their doors. Doris Lessing once,
very famously said that, “literature is analysis
after the event.” But I think more and more, we
feel the need that sometimes literature needs to be
analysis during the event. Sometimes writers need to
respond while things are happening and when countries going through the
darkest tunnels. And such a country is
my motherland, Turkey. Over the years,
Ultranationalism, Islamism, Authoritarianism, and Sexism
have all been on the rise. Now some people might think that these are completely
disconnected processes, But, in my opinion, they
are deeply connected. So, in countries where
Authoritarianism escalates Nationalism also tends to rise. And when countries become
more and more nationalistic, Sexism also escalates. It is not a coincidence that as Turkey began
to lose its democracy, with a bewildering speed, violence against women
also increased in Turkey. And all of these are
happening under a government that has been in power
for a very long time, for more than 14 years; under a government that
has increasingly become more and more inward looking, and detached from Europe; a government that confuses
democracy with Majoritarianism. I think we need to
make it very clear that these are completely
different things. for a proper democracy
to exist and to function, one needs more than
the ballot box. You need rule of law,
separation of powers, definitely a free
and diverse media, an independent academia,
Women’s Rights, LGBT Rights, and freedom of speech. Together with all
these components a
democracy can thrive. If you don’t have any
of these elements, but only the ballot box, that system cannot be
called a democracy. It can be, at best, called
Majoritarianism, but worse yet, it will become
a very dark, dull and dangerous form of
Authoritarianism. And today Turkey has become
the world’s biggest jailer for journalists, surpassing
even China’s sad record. There are more than 150
journalists in prison. Among them, next to them,
there are columnists, editors, literary
editors, cartoonists. Thousands of academics
have lost their jobs, and when I say they
have lost their jobs we have to understand
that these people have almost no chance
of finding another job, in another university, because
once you are black-listed, once you’re stigmatized, that
door is completely closed. And they have families. Under a rule of law, every
human being is regarded as innocent until proven guilty, in Turkey, it is the
other way around. It’s topsy-turvy. Journalists are
labeled as guilty and then they’re expected
to prove their innocence in a system that has
lost separation of powers and that has lost the
independence of judiciary. We must also bear in mind,
in my opinion, that Turkey, in some ways resembles Russia. They both come from very
strong state traditions. Once upon a time they
were both multi-ethnic, multi-lingual empires. So this dream of going back
to the past, this golden-age, imaginary golden age of grandeur is very much alive in
Turkey, just like it is very much alive in Russia. At the same time, I think
we must not forget that the government and the people
are not the same thing. So if we focus too much
on Turkey’s politics, and politicians, we will get
very depressed and demoralized. But when you talk to
people, young people, women, minorities, people from
very different backgrounds, it is amazing to see there
are so many democrats, liberals,
progressives, dreamers, people who are
globally connected, under the harshest
circumstances. We might not hear their
voices, but they surely exist. And I think it’s very
important not to forget them it’s very important not
to disconnect with them and to support them. Within that framework, I believe women occupy
a very special place. For years, existing
political polarization also affected Turkey’s
women, and unfortunately women have been divided
into very rigid categories unable to break bread
together, share words together. But I believe, when women
are so badly divided, the only thing that benefits
from this is patriarchy itself. So we need a new
strong sisterhood, that can transcend
ideological boundaries and bring women from different
backgrounds together. Because, I think when
societies go backwards, and when they tumble down into fanaticism and
authoritarianism, we women have much
more to lose than men. So there’s an urgency
for us to come together and perhaps the new impetus for
a better democracy in Turkey is going to come
from Turkey’s women. Women of all backgrounds,
Turkish, Kurdish, Alevi, Armenian, Jewish. We need to
revive that kind of feminism and women’s movement
that is all embracing and that goes hand-in-hand
with the LGBT movement. Once as a nation in
Turkey we saw ourselves, historically and culturally
as part of Europe. So when I look at our literary
journeys, as Turkish writers, we grew up reading French
literature, Italian literature, English literature, in
addition to Russian literature. It’s very interesting that
Persian and Arabic literature has not been translated
into Turkish until recently. That’s a mistake for sure, but
it’s also a sign that shows that the country’s literati saw
themselves as part of Europe and not as part of
the Middle-East. Now, that mood has
completely changed in Turkey. The dominant mood right
now is euro-skepticism. And Turkey’s political elite
are telling the young people that, you know what, we
tried, it didn’t work, it’s better to abandon
the dream of EU and it’s better to think
about other alternatives. The other alternatives that
they’re talking about include the Shanghai Pact. So
they’re saying we should join Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, China and Russia, and have an
alternative pact there. And that’s an easier
place, of course, for a country with a sad
record of human rights. But, I think there
are people, overall, both inside Turkey and outside
Turkey, who will claim, including some experts, who
will claim that maybe democracy is not the right forum, not the right regime
for the Middle-East. They are telling us that it doesn’t work in
this part of the world. And they’re also saying,
maybe we have to make a choice between stability and democracy. And they’re saying
we have to prioritize stability over democracy. And I think people who believe
in this false dichotomy have learned nothing
from history. Because history has
shown us, time and again that undemocratic nations
are very unhappy nations and unhappy nations
cannot possibly be stable in the long run. So I spoke about Turkey, but
I also have been watching what’s happening in
the world, in Europe and in America, with a
weird sense of deja vu because some of the
things we see elsewhere, weirdly resemble what
happened in Turkey before. So the patterns feel
strangely familiar. For instance, the sharp
polarization in societies around false divisions
of us versus them. The blurring of the line
between fact and fiction, the reinvention of the
past as an age of grandeur and this rhetoric about making
our countries “great again,” the emphasis on
strong leadership, the fragility of
liberal democracy in the hands of
populist demagogues and the attack
against intellectuals and this romanticization
of an imaginary “volk,” this emphasis on
so-called “real people” as if there could
be an unreal people. Poland, or Hungary, very much resembling what happened in
Turkey before, but also to a certain degree, the
movements in the Netherlands, in France, it is as if there’s a template
and we see this being repeated again and again. So what
I’m trying to say is the loss of democracy in Turkey, holds important lessons for
progressives everywhere. What happened in my country
can happen anywhere. It can even happen here. There are three
elements in my opinion to take into consideration. Firstly, populist movements
have a disproportionate impact on mainstream politics. Even when they
stay in opposition, once they are in the game they
force mainstream politicians to adopt a much
more nationalistic,
jingoistic rhetoric. For instance, like we’ve
seen in the Netherlands. When they come to
power, secondly, they
benefit enormously from manipulating
state apparatus, and also controlling the media. I think this is an age in which
journalism is under attack. And thirdly, even though they
like to claim that they are very nationalistic, in
today’s globalized age I think all populist movements
are deeply interconnected and they encourage each
other, they feed each other. So what do we do? I think we need to understand
that conventional politics in the form of Left
versus Right, is no more. There are new dividing lines that we need to take into
consideration, including the duality between
urban and countryside such as we’ve seen in Austria, or we have seen in Turkey
in the latest referendum. These new divisions
require a new and an all-embracing approach that can go beyond party
politics and partisanship. I think we need to
find a new language that also speaks to
people’s emotions. Emotions are being very
much underestimated in mainstream political theory, but they’re very important
for us storytellers. I think we need to put more emotional intelligence
on the table. Because this is the age
in which emotions guide, shape and distort politics. When I say emotions,
it’s the age of angst, the age of apprehension
and the age of anger. If we only speak to
people who think like us, vote like us, talk like us, that means we’re staying
in our own mental ghettos, and it is a very dangerous
thing to be surrounded by tribes or to be
surrounded by sameness. So in conclusion,
I’d like to remind ourselves of what
the Lebanese thinker and philosopher Khalil
Gibran used to say, he used to say that in his life he had
some unwanted teachers, and he learned silence from
people who were talkative. He used to say that
he learned tolerance, from the intolerant and
kindness from the unkind. I think it’s a beautiful
way of thinking and maybe we need to
apply the same method. So we will learn the indispensability of
democracy from autocrats, we will learn the beauty of pluralism
from ultra-nationalists, we will learn the need for internationalism
from isolationists. Therefore allow me to go back and correct what I
said at the very beginning. I think it’s not only
Turkish or Nigerian or Egyptian writers,
it is all of us, East and West, whatever
our profession, from whichever walk
of life we come from, we all need to become activists
in this age, in my opinion. We need to become activists
for empathy, for diversity for pluralistic democracy
and, very importantly, I think for a global
solidarity. Thank you. (applause)

Maurice Vega

17 Responses

  1. You need to live in Turkey to talk about Turkey. It is so nice to talk trash about a country to make headlines from a lala land. Choose another topic for yourself to shine and whine…

  2. WOW! You nailed it Ms. Elif Shafak! I am not into politics at all! I have had eliminated the names of the countries you mentioned in order to stand on the "politically correct" grounds whilst attentively listening to every word, comma, question or exclamation mark wholeheartedly spoken by the very brave woman of substance. For me all it counts is your cosmopolitan identity. Besides thank you for reminding me of The Prophet Khalil Gibran's WWW(warm words of wisdom) P.S. As for your outspoken verbal and writing style, I wish I was as brave as Elif Safak, the Turkish author, columnist, speaker and academic… Hurmetler!

  3. Loss of Democracy? Turkey was never democratic. As a member of a non-muslim minority, we always had to exercise self sansurship…

  4. Many people from Turkey don't like Erdogan's regime , especially in large cities. I traveled to Istanbul two years ago and talked with many turkishes citizens who hates him and what he is doing with the country.
    Erdogan's electoral base is in rural regions of Turkey.

  5. As Turkish may I ask to Elif Shafak that has she come across to the knowledge that there was coup attempt in Turkey and during the coup hundreds of Turkish citizens have been killed. where was her location during her country was under attack? Has she ever made any comment dooming the coup attempt that caused death of her countryman in her so called motherland? as an so called author has ever come to her soul and mind that she could write a poem a word against killing innocent citizens? easy to use words and play at words and say lynch and make oneself so sensitive and point as victim. as calling herself The Londoner has she ever visited any family members of died during coup attempt? or has she ever thought of writing a poem? sadly world has no information that she has published her essays and had column in Gulenist coup attempt publishing newspapers and magazines!!! Has she ever doomed that blooded terrorist group because of their coup attempts hundreds of Turkish people died? Has she ever given speech of regret that she has written in that terrorist groups newspapers and magazines?
    Of course story of little daughter and girl would attract any human being attention and sorry: in fact with that sad looking face has she ever given any public speech? I have lived about 20 years abroad and seen enough to observe manipulative writers just like in any country. For instance; writers authors name Edward Snowden as traitor. As much he cheers the democracy he shows evidences about his own country how USA off the rail when it comes to surveillance its own citizens and lies that they have not. Does Elif shafak knows as Londoner, UK also equally surveillance British citizens. Would she have any comment n that such sad antidemocratic fact!!! points would go further and further. as much politicians may corrupt as she describes, there are corrupted or ignorant authors and writers just because they are simply human beings. Dystopians come from human beings now matter what which profession they may have such as politician, writers, authors…. It is a fact since the ancient Greek times to modern times.

  6. What a fucking bullshit that is Elif safak ? It seems you r a politician more than a writer ?? I was a supporters of you in the most of case but this last speech just a bullshit ..I can not believe . Easy to say you r under the anti-Turkey propaganda affect from a western perspective .Because your knowledge is limited about the latest developments and events ..Have you been in Turkey in a row ? If you don't know anything about the counrty ..then what the hell talking about it ?

  7. She always talk about this issue again and again. But I think that she have a prejudice against the Turkish goverment. To listen her that is not true method to understand what happening in Turkey

  8. These guys are neocons, warmongers, exposed by Jimmy Dore's

    Note, she didn't mention Saudi Arabia, because they are an allie.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Post comment