The Turkish press is full of commentaries on Chief of General Staff Gen. İlker Başbuğ's intellectual caliber. After losing credibility in the eyes of the masses in Turkey following the post-April 27, 2007 memorandum, the army has recently been engaged in an initiative to improve its image and a reduction of militarist rhetoric. Gen. Başbuğ cited Jürgen Habermas, John Esposito and a few other Western thinkers to fortify his arguments. Critics responded that his citations were all taken out of their contexts and did not reflect the general ideas of the cited thinkers. Anyways, I will give the army the benefit of the doubt and hope that one day its mentality will be more or less influenced by Western academics like Habermas and Esposito. For the time being, it seems that Gen. Başbuğ's mentality has not at all been influenced by Habermas or Esposito, but by Bernard Lewis, Samuel Huntington and Daniel Pipes.
Let us forget about Esposito, as I'm sure if Kemalists ever read any of his many books, he would be condemned as a "Shariah lover." Let us look at some of Habermas' ideas and see if they fit our army's mentality. Habermas is one the most influential thinkers of our time. He has not only bridged continental and Anglo-American traditions of thought, but also engaged in philosophical debates with thinkers as diverse as Hans-Georg Gadamer, Hillary Putnam, Michel Foucault, John Rawls and Jacques Derrida. His major achievement is the theory of communicative reason or rationality. This theory, among other things, includes the argument, called "universal pragmatics," that human beings possess the communicative competence to bring about "mutual" understanding. Let alone endeavoring to mutually understand Turkish society, our army resists entering into dialogue with major media institutions that represent millions of people in the country.
Although Habermas criticized the Frankfurt School and postmodernist thought for excessive pessimism and exaggerations, he concedes that the Enlightenment is an unfinished project that needs to be corrected and complemented. I think our army will find even this much criticism blasphemous.
What is more, in his magnum opus, "The Theory of Communicative Action," he criticizes the one-sided process of modernization. Habermas is also known for his strong defense of civil society, which our army sees as a threat. He argues that democratic public life can only thrive if institutions enable citizens to debate matters of public importance. He also envisages a new era of political community that transcends the nation-state, based on ethnic and cultural likeness, for one based on the equal rights and obligations of legally vested citizens.
I think, if they start now, our militarists will only be able to digest all this in 20 years' time. At the moment it is easier and more convenient to think and act along the lines of Bernard Lewis and Huntington's thought, which focus on the mistaken concept of the "peculiarity of Muslims." As Edward Said critically addressed it, this essentialist and culturalist notion sees Islam as the issue. By underling the "exceptionalism" of Muslim societies, they perceive Islam as the root of authoritarian polities in Muslim societies. They argue that Islam is patriarchal and lacks any concept of citizenship and freedom and that it embodies a world from which freedom, democracy, openness and creativity are alien.
It is this picture of Islam that our generals in particular and Kemalists in general keep depicting all the time, without calling it Islam, but all other names. Otherwise, why would they keep talking about fear of Islamic communities, congregations and civil society institutions all the time, disregarding our pluralist history?