Politics, religion, and culture where East meets West

Posts Tagged ‘concepts

Linguistic imperialism

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I’ve only quoted Carl Schmitt once before on this blog. He deserves some more mention. So here’s a good quote, from The Nomos of the Earth:

A historically meaningful imperialism is not only or essentially military panoply, not only financial and economic prosperity, but, also, this ability to determine in and of itself the content of political and legal concepts. . . . A nation is conquered first when it acquiesces to a foreign vocabulary, a foreign concept of law, especially international law. 

Written by M. James

February 20, 2014 at 11:16 am

Posted in History, Politics

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Gökalp on ümmet, devlet, and millet

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Though this particular problem may be historical, the general problem is a timeless one. What follows is a brilliant exposition of the three central concepts surrounding early Turkish modernization, and the three groups who fought for ownership of those concepts:

Gökalp, Ziya, “The Ideal of Nationalism: three currents of thought,” trans. Niyazi Berkes, Nationalism in Asia and Africa, ed. Elie Kedourie

When we look at social realities, we cannot fail to see that an Islamic ümmet, an Ottoman state (devlet), a Turkish or an Arab nation (millet) do exist. However, if this statement corresponds to any reality, the term “ümmet” must denote the totality of those people who profess the same religion, the “state” all those who are administered under the same government, and the “nation” all those who speak the same language. The statement will be valid and will correspond to reality only if the above definitions are accepted. It seems, then, that those who do not accept this statement deny it, not because its meaning does not correspond to reality, but because they do not believe that these words are suitable for denoting the respective meanings.

The Islamists say that the word “nation” [millet; Arabic milla] denotes what we cover by the word “ümmet.” The term “milla,” they say, means “sect” in Arabic. The perfection of a language means the existence of a meaning for every word and a word for every meaning, and also the existence of words expressing several meanings. Even if we ourselves do not do this, the language itself will. It is for this reason that the current [Turkish] language uses the word “ümmet” for those who belong to the same religion, and the word “millet” for those who speak the same language. As the majority of the people uses them with these specific meanings, we too must accept them. There is no use creating difficulties on questions of terminology.

The Ottomanists, on the other hand, believe that the “state” and the “nation” are synonymous. To them, the sum total of the citizens of a state constitutes a nation. This might be true, if we disregarded reality and took only the logical relation between the concepts into account. As a matter of fact, to have a state composed of peoples who speak the same language, or to make only those peoples who speak the same language an independent state, seems more natural and most desirable. But are existing states formed that way? If not, then how is it justifiable to disregard that which is existing and to believe that what ought to exist is really existing?

The Turkists, on the other hand, criticizing the theses of these groups, come to the following conclusions: (a) the ümmet and the nation are different things; (b) the nation and the state are also not the same. One may object to these conclusions, but only in so far as they do not correspond to sociological realities, and not by insisting that these realities should not be so. We must fit our concepts to the realities and not the realities to our own concepts!

Written by M. James

November 19, 2013 at 5:00 pm

Defining the “Turkish model”

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After a few happy months, I once again stumbled upon the counterfeit concept of the “Turkish model,” which had neither form nor matter before Arab dictators started spontaneously going out of vogue. Since then, the concept has served as a lodestone for all varieties of vacuous Middle-East punditry. Today, however, a colleague managed to ease my rage at the unremitting concept by supplying an amusing ex tempore definition of the “model.”

. . . what American policymakers think Arab dissidents think about Turkish populism.

Accurate or not, I think that this “definition” suggests that the concept has outlived its usefulness. The democratization ruse in Egypt, the resignation of Ennahda in Tunisia, the stalemate in Syria, and the Gezi Park protests have, after all, stripped the idea of its original, hopeful context. The reality has always been more complex than the concept suggested.

But the columnists clamor for bread. If nothing remains to be said about the “Turkish model,” then a new concept, equally myopic, will grace your doorstep soon.

Written by M. James

October 22, 2013 at 12:09 pm