Human angle



One civilisation; different nations


by  Prof. Dr. Özer OZANKAYA




One of the most dangerous situations for societies is to be drawn into a confusion of concepts. One of the concepts most frequently distorted today is the concept of “civilisation”. The discourse of the “clash of civilisations” exaggerates the differences between nations which exist for natural and historical reasons, and conceals from view the fact that, in an era when the world has shrunk so much, there can be only one civilisation for the whole of humanity: the civilisation of science, technology and democracy.


This is not an innocent misunderstanding. Forces seeking to prevent societies from developing freely often stoke the adoration of tradition and the complex of taking pride in gravestones, on the pretext of respect for beliefs, thereby artificially prolonging the life spans of anachronistic, unscientific institutions and opinions. Exploited people are kept uneducated, unemployed and unskilful, and then they are also distracted by useless expressions such as “clash of civilisations” and “moderate Islam” - as if there were more than one civilisation and these were capable of competing with one other. This permits the Political West to prevent other nations from reaching a level at which they can compete, particularly in the industrial realm, and assists its local collaborators to maintain their repression of uneducated, unemployed, poor masses.


Today, one of the main factors hindering peace, order, solidarity and wealth both within many countries and in international life is the way in which the masses are prevented from correctly understanding the conditions of their own societies and of the world through the propagation of useless expressions such as “clash of civilisations” and “moderate Islam”. The concept of “civilisation” is rarely used in public with its dictionary definition. The fact that the concepts of culture and civilisation are synonymous is thereby disguised. Almost for a century, particularly in the Islam world, the external and internal centres of power have reduced the concept of “civilisation” to the technology that can only be bought ready-made from abroad (i.e., from the West), while defining “culture” as the sum of institutions, norms and moral values which they claim will never be influenced by this technology.


Modern culture


It is misconceptualisation of this sort which underlies the demagogic propaganda “Let’s buy civilisation from the West but keep our culture intact, because it is national and sacred.” The existence of mutual interaction between the institutions, norms and values of a society on the one hand and the technology which it uses on the other happens to escape observation. So does the fact that progress in physical science and technology is only possible within a system of secular, political, juridical, educational, familial, artistic and moral institutions and values based on free thought - happens to escape observation.


Yet given intercontinental transport, communications and interaction, it can be said that there is now one civilisation or culture in the world. In everyday language, it is known as modern culture or modern civilisation. We could call it science-civilisation or democracy-civilisation. It is the civilisation or culture in which science, art, technology, governance, law, family life, education, production, distribution, transportation etc. are arranged scientifically – i.e., in an atmosphere of freedom, rationally and based on secularism. Indeed, both science and democracy are based upon the same standards and can be achieved through the application of the same standards. Sociology, hated and subdued by the proponents of the discourses of “moderate Islam” and “clash of civilisations”, defines modern culture -  or civilisation - as a culture that has (a) secular and democratic governance, (b) free science, art and philosophy, (c) an economy based on advanced technology and (d) an advanced written language.


Folklore and crisis


In the underdeveloped countries, folklore is often quite wrongly presented as civilisation. Folklore is neither science, nor art, nor technology. Local endemic knowledge of herbs is no substitute for the science and techniques of pharmacy; local folk theatre is no substitute for the art of the theatre; folk songs and dance are no substitute for the arts of music and dance; nor can the understanding of authority and the value found in traditional rural communities be a substitute for democratic rule of law. Folklore can merely contribute to different styles, tastes and colours of civilisation at the national level as the raw material of science, art and technology. This is the fact that we want to explain with the observation of Hence our insistence that while nations have different characteristics, there is only one civilisation.


The essence of the crisis which humanity has been experiencing for the past 150 years is not the “clash of civilisations” but the way in which the Political West has cooperated with medieval local institutions of power in order to prevent the countries which it wants to control for the sake of cheap raw material, cheap labour and a ready market from reaching the level of science, technology and art. On the one hand, the masses are kept uneducated, unemployed and unskilled; on the other they are encouraged to take a meaningless pride in their folkloric values and practices as if these constituted an “authentic civilisation” or even “national identity”. In the end, disappointment sets in at the defeat of folklore in the face of science, art and technology. It becomes clear that it does not provide the wherewithal for competing with the West, for gaining independence from it or for acquiring a real identity. And this disappointment leads the masses, in the darkness of ignorance, to turn to desperate responses including terror.


The Ottoman experience


Turkey has become, and is being turned into, a target area for this risky adventure with the concept of civilisation. In the middle of the 19th century, at a time when the Ottoman state had become a colony in all but name, some attempts were made at administrative, legal and educational modernisation. These steps were not taken freely but under the colonial guidance of the Political West. They therefore remained incomplete and inconsistent. Those who argued that modernisation should not merely be formal but also intellectual, qualitative and holistic immediately faced reactionary responses. In accordance with the aims of the Political West, the feudal and religious authorities started to create confusion in society around the artificially separated concepts of culture and civilisation.


Some said that the real power of the West derived from its transition to institutional structures depending not religious dogmas but rational and scientific thought. A handful of intellectual bureaucrats argued that the science of the new era was not religion but the sciences of reason and that government must be based on human rights and dependent on law. But the advocates of religious repression regarded any suggestion of arrangements based on reason in the social domain as a criminal assault on religion. They asserted that the human mind could not comprehend the needs of the social and moral system, which were determined by empyrean commandments, and treated the aims and desires of the West as nothing more than heresy. From the West, only technique could be adopted; anything institutional or intellectual must be shunned. “Our civilisation is weak but our culture is superior!” they meaninglessly declared, “Let’s take technique (“civilisation”) from the West but maintain our culture!” 


Independence and reason


The Turkish Republic took the view that there is only one civilisation in our era: the secular culture or civilisation, based on freedom and representing the most advanced level of the state, the family, education, economics, science, technology, arts and philosophy. There was no confusion of concepts here. This view became the basis of all the social institutions of the Republic of Turkey. It is the essential factor that made Turkish society the only independent, free, developed and peaceful society in the Islamic world.


However, internal reactionary forces were at work during the War of Independence and the revolutions of the Republic. There was, for example, opposition to the abolition of the caliphate on the grounds that it was a source of identity for the Turkish nation, a cultural asset and a source of pride. The United Kingdom too was in favour of this institution. But Mustafa Kemal was not deceived. “Foreigners are not attacking the caliphate,” he pointed out, “yet the Turkish nation is constantly under attack. To attack the Turkish nation more easily, the continuation of the caliphate is preferred.”


Listening to Clinton


Since the end of the Cold War, the USA has taken to considering undemocratic institutions and practices such as sheikhs, sects and the re-packing of women into bag-like costumes not as contradictions of Helsinki but as “differences between civilisations”. At the same time they have attacked Kemalism, the force that saved our society from such repression and made freedom, peace and welfare possible. In recent years, the EU has joined in this approach. All this is in line with the pattern of behaviour of the Political West explained above. It is bringing not freedom, peace and wealth but repression, terror and poverty both to the Middle East and to Middle East.         


The former president of the United States, Bill Clinton, recently called on the West to demonstrate to other nations that it was capable of not running after selfish interests and that it wanted to establish a world based on common objectives together with them. In that case, he said, the respectability of the West would increase in their eyes. The world, he said, needed proof that reason, intelligence and good will are more powerful than historical destiny. His words are an appropriate conclusion to this article.




(DIPLOMAT  -  August 2005  -  Ankara)