If Turkey can recover its memory, if Turkey maintains peace with its Muslim identity on the one hand and its long history with Christians on the other, I believe this country will hold the key to the 21st century. Maybe I should write many different articles trying to explain what I am trying to tell you now, but let us view this column as an introduction to this vast area.
While the Ottoman Empire was disintegrating, it wasn’t only the Christians who were massacred; the Muslim identity of this country was also denied completely. It appears paradoxical, does it not? This is what makes understanding Turkey so difficult. Christians were massacred to purify Anatolia, to create a nation-state. These massacres were carried out by the very people who tried to modernize Turkey. These “modern” people orchestrated massacres to create a nation-state that is based on a Muslim identity but also, in order to “modernize” society and to create a “modern state,” they banned every kind of expression of religious identity in the public sphere and exerted extreme control over every part of religious life. During these massacres, many devoted Muslims disobeyed orders and tried to save non-Muslims, believing this was what their religion ordered them to do.
Today is Sept. 11, the eighth anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the twin towers in New York. Today our hearts will be with the innocent Americans whose only mistake was being in those buildings at the time of the attacks. It is not nice to speculate over incidents involving human suffering, incidents that are very tragic. But to prevent them from happening again, we should try to understand what conditions made their occurrence possible.
What would you think if I offered you the thought that there is a strong link between the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and these heinous attacks on the twin towers in New York? I call this the suspended butterfly effect. The classic butterfly effect theory holds that if a butterfly flaps its wings in China, it will set off a tornado in California. The historical butterfly effect also worked like that: The wind created by the collapse of the Ottoman Empire unfortunately turned into a tornado in New York in 2001. The collapse of the Ottoman Empire and the abolishment of the caliphate (the central religious and moral authority for all Muslims) created a huge vacuum in the Muslim world, a vacuum from which the whole world still suffers.
Would it be possible for Osama bin Laden to issue a fatwa for jihad if a Muslim world had a caliphate that had the hearts and minds of all Muslims and was also loyal to democratic values? With the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, Muslims lost a central authority, and today the whole world suffers from the lack of this central Muslin authority that would dare tell bin Laden that he misinterprets the Quran and that Islam is a religion of peace, not the kind of war he masterminds.
Not only the lack of a caliphate but also the collapse of the Ottoman Empire had a huge impact on the Muslim world. The vacuum left by the Ottoman Empire was filled with endless wars and conflicts. Today we are again at a critical conjuncture. Some are not aware, but Turkey’s exclusion from Europe will have a similar butterfly effect to that of the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. The whole Muslim world is watching the progress. If the mentality of French President Nicolas Sarkozy defines the future of Europe, Turkey will be excluded and Europe will be a “Christian” entity. This will be the beginning of a disastrous chain reaction in the world in which al-Qaeda and radicalism win and reason loses.
I have a different scenario. Turkish Muslim democrats will make peace with the past of this country. Turkey will remember being a Muslims country but also remember its Christians, their suffering, their anguish, their pain. Muslims will start the reconciliation process with non-Muslims. This will be the beginning of a peace between Islam and Christianity. Turkey will be the womb of the universal reconciliation of religions. Turkey will regain its role of being the leader of the Muslim world and at the same time it will be a member of the European Union. It will show the whole world that a Muslim country can be democratic, secular and European. Europe will change the whole course of history with Turkey’s help, and Turkey will overcome its memory loss and recover from its painful neurosis. Sept. 11 started in Turkey and it will end here!