* 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.