Which Malaysia is real: Stiglitz’s or Hürriyet’s?
There is a disease that the old Turkish elite and the Turkish media, both of which are plagued by complexes, have been unable to recover from.
Whenever a development occurs in Turkey contrary to their will (even if it is beneficial for the country), they immediately launch a “blackening” campaign. As part of these campaigns, in which a strategy of total psychological warfare is pursued, a country is chosen as a victim at once, without delving into its objective realities. The history, demographics and culture of that country and the characteristics that make it a nation are all pushed aside; and if the development in Turkey being portrayed as negative cannot be curbed, this time they try to portray Turkey’s inevitable future by drawing a parallel between Turkey and that country.
While the “fear of becoming a communist country” hung over the Turks like the sword of Damocles in the Cold War era, it was given a radically religious character after the Iranian revolution of 1979. Without a doubt, this has a history all its own that dates back to the early years of the republic; however, it has become a very common thing in the last 25 to 30 years to make a storm in a teacup over the rhetoric of “Turkey is turning into Iran!” wherever a religious element is seen. But those trying to instill fear into society through the “Iranization” rhetoric turn a blind eye to the fact that Turkey’s cultural, religious, historical and social codes would never allow such a thing. The regime of the mullahs in Iran is nearly 30 years old, but there has not been a single tangible development which would demonstrate that Turkey has been influenced by Iran. This indicates that the fabricated Iranization fears have no connection with reality.
But this deliberately followed fallacy never casts a pall over the old elite or a certain part of the media, nor does it frustrate their determination. This group failed to persuade anyone to believe in the argument of an “Iranizing” Turkey, a theory based on the tiniest religious elements and the fact that individual religious preferences have become more visible in public places as a result of social mobilization -- and this time, without losing any time, they set about looking for a different and more marketable victim. Their new victim these days is Malaysia. According to these people and the media, Turkey is faced with the imminent danger of turning into a new Malaysia.
So which Malaysia?
If we are to buy into the argument put forward by newspapers, particularly Hürriyet, and the television stations of the Doğan Media Group, the headquarters of the psychological war, Malaysia, is a country where religious extremism, Islamic fundamentalism and religious impositions prevail over everything. According to the claim of this group, Turkey, which will become more “Islamized” through “peer pressure,” is rapidly undergoing a “Malaysialization” process. They take this claim a step further and purport that Turkey will become Malaysialized in 10 years, whereas Malaysia will become a new Iran in the same period of time. If we are to trust this claim, it’s incumbent upon us to conclude that Turkey, which hasn’t Iranized in the last 30 years, will indeed Iranize in 20 years time via Malaysialization. What a consistent formula! If only it were only a little pertinent to the facts.
As a matter of fact, neither Turkey nor the Turkish nation has any similarity with Malaysia or Iran except for religion (plus, there is a difference in sect with Iran). Turkey does not resemble them historically, socially or culturally, nor in terms of religious understanding. Moreover, there is nothing negative about coming to resemble the Malaysia I know of, contrary to the fears the media organs in question are trying to spread.
Am I the only person to state this? No. You must have read an article titled “The Malaysian Miracle” on the op-ed page of yesterday’s issue of Today’s Zaman, written by Joseph E. Stiglitz, a Nobel Prize-winning economist from Columbia University, who served as an advisor to former US President Bill Clinton. It’s completely impossible to find any similarity between the Malaysia as described by Stiglitz and the Malaysia of a certain segment of the Turkish media. To highlight these differences more emphatically, I’ll bring some very striking passages from his article to your attention once more:
“August 31 marked the 50th anniversary of Malaysia’s Merdeka: independence after more than 400 years of colonialism. Malaysia’s peaceful, non-violent struggle may not have received the attention that Mahatma Gandhi’s did in India, but what Malaysia has accomplished since then is impressive -- and has much to teach the world, both about economics, and about how to construct a vibrant multi-racial, multi-ethnic, multi-cultural society.
“The numbers themselves say a lot. At independence, Malaysia was one of the poorest countries in the world. Though reliable data are hard to come by, its GDP (in purchasing power parity terms) was comparable to that of Haiti, Honduras, and Egypt, and some 5% below that of Ghana. Today, Malaysia’s income is 7.8 times that of Ghana, more than five times that of Honduras, and more than 2.5 times that of Egypt. In the global growth league tables, Malaysia is in the top tier, along with China, Taiwan, South Korea, and Thailand.
“Moreover, the benefits of the growth have been shared. Hard-core poverty is set to be eliminated by 2010, with the overall poverty rate falling to 2.8 percent. Malaysia has succeeded in markedly reducing the income divides that separated various ethnic groups, not by bringing the top down, but by bringing the bottom up. Part of the country’s success in reducing poverty reflects strong job creation. While unemployment is a problem in most of the world, Malaysia has been importing labor. In the 50 years since independence, 7.24 million jobs have been created, an increase of 261 percent, which would be equivalent to the creation of 105 million jobs in the United States.
“Malaysia’s success thus should be studied both by those looking for economic prosperity and those seeking to understand how our world can live together, not just with toleration, but also with respect, sharing their common humanity and working together to achieve common goals.”
Here are two Malaysias, as explained by Stiglitz and as claimed by the Turkish media. It’s up to you to choose which one to believe.
Turkey suffers from Malaysia 'phobia'
The New Anatolian / Ankara
27 September 2007
When Richard Holbrooke, one of the top diplomats who served as US ambassador to the UN under Bill Clinton administration and chief negator at the Dayton peace agreement, mentioned the recent elections in Turkey and stated, "The West has said what it wants is a moderate form of Islam in the World. Here you have one of the two most democratic states in the Muslim world, the other one being Malaysia," he may not have realized he was unearthing a concern of certain parts in Turkey of becoming an Islamic state.
The concern reached a peak and turned into a `phobia` when Professor Serif Mardin said in an interview that it is not possible to say Turkey won't become Malaysia.
The concern come in the midst of the new Constitution draft debate which is allegedly aimed at lifting the headscarf ban in universities.
President Abdullah Gül, during his first official trip to Northern Cyprus, has answered the questions of those who fear Turkey will become a country like Malaysia: "How could one think like this?" asked Gül, adding: "Turkey is negotiating with the EU for full membership. If there are people who still have worries on the scarf issue, then we should fear those people instead."
But his statement did not ease the tension.
There are three recent serials in Turkish press displaying totally different faces of Malaysia. Hurriyet newspaper's Malaysia is dangerous while Sabah newspaper eases the concern by showing the pictures of girls wearing headscarves next to woman wearing a miniskirt. Meanwhile, the title of the Milliyet's serial is both far and close. On the other hand, columnists expressed differing views. Malaysian academicians and intellectuals are interviewed in an effort to learn the mistakes of Malaysia in line with the growing concern among the public becoming another Malaysia down the road of an Islamic state.
Majority of average Turkish people have little information about Malaysia. Different aspects of the country and differing views cause a confusion about the facts of Malaysia and Turkish people question the reliability of information provided by different sources revealing differing information.
Hurriyet's headline was based on the quote Malik Imtiaz a Malaysian lawyer as saying that `I would not imagine the current position of Malaysia a decade ago. I have told Turkish intellectuals three years ago that Turkey is becoming Islamist. Their response was that Turkey has safety valves, but the results of July 22 elections revealed that I was right."
Three pictures at the front page of Hurriyet accompanied the serial were about headscarf and displaying girls and boys at the Islam university having separate areas for recreation.
On the other hand, Milliyet's Malaysia is both far and close and underlined similarities of escalating political Islam between two countries but also mentions differences about the facts of two countries.
Meanwhile Sabah newspaper mentions that there are woman wearing headscarf but there are also those wearing miniskirts.
Actually, this is not the first time when Malaysia and Turkey were compared with each other. Previously two political leaders of Muslim countries who come to the fore from the 1980s stand out: the late Turkish President Turgut Ozal and Malaysia's former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammed.
The two had stood out both for their character and their political vision. Neither used power for amassing personal fortune or paving the path of relatives and cronies with gold. Both managed not to become the subject of a cult of personality, a disease that has destroyed many Muslim leaders.
At the same time they were arguably the only senior Muslim politicians to rise above the day-to-day management of affairs and to develop a strategic political vision.
Not surprisingly, Turkey and Malaysia are, perhaps, the only Muslim states today that could be regarded as relatively successful in both economic and political terms. Many see them as the only "Islamic" models worth looking at.