I knew that, even at the start of the twenty-first century, there still weren’t enough checks on the military, and that women who wore head scarves were subject to discrimination, barred from certain jobs and universities.
Furthermore, when I thought about my own family, something about White’s critique of Kemalism felt familiar: the sense of embattlement and paranoia.
My father experienced his first religious doubts at the age of twelve, when he discovered Bergson and Comte in an Adana bookstore, and read that religion was part of a primitive and pre-scientific state of civilization; he has been an atheist since his teens. Her father, one of the civil engineers who helped to modernize Anatolia, was politically a staunch secularist and privately a devout Muslim (though not a proponent of head scarves, which nobody in the family wore).
In grade school, my mother read what the Koran said about skeptics—that God would close their eyes and ears—and got so depressed that she didn’t get out of bed for two days. by hundreds of thousands of Turkish secularists was motivated in part by a “fear” of the life styles of their more religious compatriots—by “snobbish” complaints that “religious Turks were uneducated and poor” and that “their pesky prayer rugs got underfoot in hospital halls.” It’s difficult to imagine the reporting in an equally condescending manner about the élitism of Americans who oppose the Christian right.
At the same time, I remember being warned as a child that there were anti-Turkish people in the world, people who held old grudges and could cause problems. P., a Kurdish-language channel débuted on Turkish national television; in 2009, Erdoğan went on the air and expressed good wishes in Kurdish.
For a while, Erdoğan really did seem to be trying to counter this kind of adversarial thinking—to open up business and diplomatic relations with Turkey’s neighbors, to lift the taboos on mentioning the “Kurdish issue” and the Armenian genocide. This would have been unthinkable a short time earlier.
But she would get even more annoyed than my father did when she thought that people were invoking God to do their jobs for them—for example, when she saw a bus with a sticker saying “Allah Protect Us.”Both my parents always told me that, in order to be a good person, it was neither necessary nor desirable to believe in God; it was more noble and efficient to do good for disinterested reasons, without thoughts of Heaven. They thought it had been unsustainable for Turkey to repress and deny its religion for so long—that the people had finally spoken out.
My father’s relatives in Adana were generally less educated and darker-complexioned.At the time, my grandparents were either very young or not yet born.Only my mother’s father was old enough to remember throwing his fez in the air on the Sultan’s birthday. They met in Turkey’s top medical school, moved to America in the nineteen-seventies, and became researchers and professors.Her parents told her that God was more merciful than she thought, and that people who did good would go to Heaven on the Day of Judgment, regardless of what they believed. The Western view of Erdoğan eventually soured, especially after the Gezi protests of 2013; he was criticized for alleged corruption and for increasingly authoritarian tactics toward journalists and opposition parties.I have always known my mother as an agnostic, less certain than my father that the universe hadn’t been created by some great intelligence. Suddenly, it was the secularists who seemed stodgy: racist, authoritarian, élitist, and slavishly pro-Western. But for a number of years all my American liberal friends who had any opinion at all on Turkey were pro-Erdoğan.Kemalism, not unlike Zionism, drew much of its energy from the fact that there could easily have been no Turkish state.At the end of the First World War, the victorious Allied powers assumed control over nearly all Anatolia; they divided some of it up into British and French mandates, and parcelled much of the rest out to the Greeks, the Armenians, and the Kurds.Instead, she went to boarding school, wrote a thesis on Balzac, and became a teacher.I felt grateful to Atatürk that my parents were so well educated, that they weren’t held back by superstition or religion, that they were true scientists, who taught me how to read when I was three and never doubted that I could become a writer.1924, a year after founding the Turkish Republic on the ruins of the Ottoman Empire, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the country’s new leader, abolished the Ottoman Caliphate, which had been the last remaining Sunni Islamic Caliphate since 1517.Having introduced a secular constitution and a Western-style civil and criminal legal code, Atatürk shut down the dervish lodges and religious schools, abolished polygamy, and introduced civil marriage and a national beauty contest.