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Dignity and the Turks: Thoughts on Taksim’s Events

Dignity and the Turks: Thoughts on Taksim’s Events

* Find my original Facebook post here
* Illustration by Sara El-Yafi 

Take a look at the Turkish protestors: An assemblage of religious women wearing headscarves standing side by side with secularists who may be defending the pleasures of alcohol consumption; irreligious people forming a human blockade around those kneeling down to pray in Taksim; soccer fans of the deadly rivals Galatasaray and Fenerbahçe exchanging scarves and chanting the same chants; socialists and nationalists each displaying their respective hand gestures in the same square; religious men and LGBTQ marching side by side; capitalists, environmentalists, Atatürkists and anarchists… These are people with outrageously diverse ideological stances and social identities, but they have one main point in common: Human dignity…

It seems this is a lesson that is very difficult to learn. Our history is plagued with the consequences of leaders and peoples who refuse to learn this eternal lesson: What fuels people’s madness is an assault on their human dignity.

“Political disagreements” don’t fuel demonstrations. It is not dispute over taxes, nor social classes, nor religion, nor economic development, nor urban projects, nor trees, nor tapping phone lines, nor megalomania that drive people to the streets, it is the strike on their human dignity. Dignity runs a lot deeper than respect. Respect is earned, whereas dignity is a birthright. It is our inherent worth and value; and striking anyone’s inner worth and value wakes the beast in them.

Had the police not assaulted the peaceful protesters, there would most probably not have been a series of demonstrations despite the Erdoganic reality: there would still have been an increasingly Islamic restriction on alcohol, journalists would still be jailed in Turkey more than any other country in the world, Turkish television would still be censored, phones would still be tapped, Erdogan’s urban projects would still plan on cutting down thousands of trees, and AKP institutional checks and balances would still not exist. The proof is, it’s been going on for a while now, and as in every democracy, you will always have disgruntled people; however, they are usually disgruntled at home, not on the streets. But strike them on their dignity, and they will crowd the streets even if it is for one reason.

So there is a great test for Erdogan here. If he fails to validate people’s call for dignity paralleling the discussions of the political issues, then he won’t be able to achieve any productive problem-solving. Unaddressed violations of dignity keep all parties from coming to an agreement. And even if he wins the next elections, the unvoiced indignities of his people will keep the conflict alive and seed bigger conflicts.

Written by Sara El-Yafi

14 Comments

  1. Caline Aoun · June 10, 2013

    did you actually draw that ?:)

  2. Amin Al-Ahmad · June 10, 2013

    Well said

  3. Nour Malas · June 10, 2013

    Hi Sara. I’ve been around Taksim and Gezi for the past few days, and while the sentiment of what you say is true, its far from the most radically diverse bunch of people ever. In fact, they’re mostly the same socio-economic profile, and many are political newbies who are excited to try their hand at raising their voice. And the veiled women are far and few between. It’s very festive and hopeful in the early evenings–a bit like 2005 Martyrs Square but with less political focus/direction.

    • Sara El-Yafi · June 10, 2013

      Thanks for letting us know Nour. It’s very true, Gezi reminds me a lot of the initial stages of the Cedar Revolution, all this “unity” that the Turks proudly talk about in the many articles across the web, no matter how accurate, seems to be breeding in them a sentiment of pride and purpose for them. Whether they represent 30% or 80% of the Turks, there’s a real voice for them now, but I just hope they won’t make the same mistakes we made in Lebanon, where we reacted to indignities by assaulting the assaulters’ dignity, which creates a vicious cycle and makes a society go broke not just on money, but on values and integrity.
      Stay safe.

  4. Taufiq Rahim · June 10, 2013

    Sara El-Yafi – Amazing as usual.

  5. Brooke Anderson · June 10, 2013

    Well drawn and well written

  6. Sumer Daou · June 10, 2013

    Good to see that Mme Khoury’s Art Plastic classes didn’t go in vain, well some of it to be fair 😉

  7. Ecem Elci · June 10, 2013

    Human rights and civil liberties…

  8. Bob Kretschmar · June 10, 2013

    Sara, this is a great analysis that I have forwarded to several people around the world who are trying to understand what’s going on in Istanbul.

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