Social theory

New Essay: A Duty to Remember?

"A Duty to Remember? Politics and Morality of Remembering Past Atrocities"

by Ziya Meral

Journal of International Political Anthropology, Vol 5 (2012) No.1 

An allusion to a “duty to remember” the dark episodes of history is a common occurrence in
today’s politics and popular discourse. The vision behind the call never to forget genocides,
massacres and wars is noble and praiseworthy. However, the way in which such events are
formulated and used is so embedded in the present as to raise serious questions about the
morality and political agendas of those who selectively undertake projects to enshrine past
atrocities. This essay seeks not only to decode the socio-political process for handling the past
but also to challenge the conventional belief that remembering the past will prevent future crimes
and heal countries. It goes on to argue for a balanced, realistic and ethical relationship between
the past and present.

Would acknowledging past prevent new crimes?

Published by Today's Zaman, 27 January 2012

Armenia’s Foreign Minister Eduard Nalbandian commended the French attempts to criminalize denial that the events of 1915 constituted genocide by saying “it is a very important mechanism to prevent new crimes against humanity.”

This idea is commonly accepted in academic and public circles as plain truth. Some go even further, saying that if Turkey had acknowledged the events of 1915 as genocide earlier on, the Holocaust would not have happened. Hitler is said to have been inspired by the lack of attention shown to the fate of the Armenians as he hatched plans to exterminate the Jews.

Sadly, just as the shallow popular psychology books that argue facing your own past will always heal you is an argument that is not grounded in reality, neither is the argument that officially acknowledging historical atrocities will prevent new ones. It is only an emotive discourse.
First of all, world history is full of examples of how historical grievances and incidents have been used to justify war, violence and political domination. For example, Rwandan Hutus were mindful of the suffering they faced under Tutsis and this was used as a justification for the killing of Tutsis during what is called the Rwandan genocide. Serb nationalists regularly referred to their defeat to Ottoman forces at the Battle of Kosovo in 1389 to reassure themselves that the time to set the record straight had come, as they marched on, killing Bosnian Muslims.

That is why yesterday’s victims can make the best of today’s perpetrators. As soon as a particular group internalizes the feeling of being wronged, it is vulnerable to suspending all further moral considerations or responsibilities and seeing itself as a legitimate user of power that can demand more significance and rights than others. See the crimes the US has committed following 9/11.

Secondly, even though the 20th century has left a legacy of memorializations of wars and genocides, they still do happen. World War I memorial sites had “never again” and “lest we forget” inscriptions on them, yet far from preventing further war, grievances from World War I were influential factors in the lead-up to World War II. So now, World War II memorial sites stand next to those of previous wars with the same inscriptions. Similarly, even though the Holocaust became a symbol of racial hatred and violence, genocides and racial violence continued and continue to happen today.

Thirdly, there is an extremely strong case to be made for letting go of the past. On the personal level, we know that dwelling too much on the past takes away our capacity to live in the present and achieve a better future. Nietzsche refers to this as plastic energy, meaning the capacity we have to remold ourselves, and warns that an obsession with the past will stop progress. In fact, individuals and countries regularly employ collective forgetting and amnesia to be able to start afresh and move on. This is all the more so in contexts of transitional justice, where countries are only able to stop conflict and coordinate a transition into peace by passing amnesty and amnesia laws.

The past does not exist. Its fragments are evoked, constructed and represented by us in the present tense. It is a neutral bag, full of bits and pieces that can be utilized for whatever narrative contemporary actors need for their purposes. Therefore, we have every right to be skeptical of any attempt to officially endorse and enforce a version of the past.

Saying this is not synonymous with promoting an “eternal sunshine of the spotless mind,” as Alexander Pope put it. Just as one can be naive about facing the past, one can also be naive about the importance of letting go of the past.

The challenge is not simply remembering or enshrining the past today but acknowledging it in the right way in order to enable a better future. That is where the French attempt to criminalize discussions over 1915 has gone wrong. It is stifling any chance of the debate and discussion much needed for Turks and Armenians to hear each other and process the past together.

A Theology of Guantanamo Bay

Philosopher Giorgio Agamben reminds us of the Roman figure homo sacer--the Sacred Man-- who, according to the Roman law, can be killed with impunity but cannot be sacrificed to gods. His biological life is divorced from political life putting him outside of the boundaries of what constitutes a human and what the rights of that human are. He not only does not belong to the realm of the ‘human’, but neither to the reality of the gods. What is not human and what does not have a ‘value’ can not be sacrificed to gods since its sacrifice would defile the sanctity of gods. Thus, homo sacer exists only as a biological body, not as a human. A theology which ascribes such a status inevitably shapes political forms.

During the 19th and 20th centuries a similar systematisation of which biological bodies would be ascribed the status of a ‘human’ was accomplished with the marriage of theological assumptions and the ‘findings’ of science that cemented the difference between biological life and political life. Theologically, there was developed the order of creation, levels of perfection and purity, and at which of these levels the Image of God is expressed in its perfect condition. Out of this cosmic ordering, there emerged the political theology that identified the nation, its security, significance and rights with this stage of advanced human lives, whose superiority has been proved by the shape of their skulls in line with the predetermined intellectual and athletic potential of ‘races’. Thus, Jews, Gypsies, mentally and physically handicapped were nothing but mere bodies that could and should be done away with so that they won’t ‘contaminate’ us.

Now racism—that is, the exclusion of a group on perceived grounds of difference and reasons—shows itself in properties of belonging, not in scientific criteria. You are either with ‘us’ or with ‘them’. But who are ‘we’? The bearers of civilization, justice, advancement, everything that is pure, good, noble, above all ‘we’ are the bearers of the Imago Dei, the Image of God! Who are ‘they’? Political representations of ‘them’, as seen visually in media representations, are whatever ‘we’ are not: evil, destructive, barbarian, uncivilized, backward. “They” are the bearers of the Image of the Devil! Therefore let us unite around a ‘crusade’ against the devil! The reproduction of ‘we’ and ‘them’ in this most common way is a theological one.

‘We’ act politically on such a theology in the never-ending war on terror, an infinite war with no visible enemies but only a theological embodiment of who ‘they’ are. This informs our ‘right’ for pre-emptive strike to secure ‘our way of life’, and in this process we theologically allocate the death tolls as well for which lives we can mourn. Some lives are more worthy to protect, mourn and cover in the media; say one life of ‘ours’ versus 3,000 of ‘them’ that die within a month, as Judith Butler powerfully argues in her book "The Precarious Life". In this disproportionality, what we mourn is the ‘collateral damage’. The ‘sin’ is that we could not live up to the militaristic precision and skill that ‘we’ possess, not the sin that ‘we’ have reduced ‘them’ to biological lives we can kill with impunity.

If one can be killed, since one is really not a human but only that of a biological being that embodies evil, then we can easily place such a being in an ‘indefinite detention’. We don’t even have to call them Prisoners of War, or have evidences of their crimes, or deal with them in the ‘justice’ which we embody. ‘We’ can keep them outside of the political sphere of international treaties, human rights conventions and not grant them even the right of a fair trial. These are all for ‘human beings’ who carry the Image of God, not for those biological bodies that still insist on living and breathing like a ‘human’ while all along who they really are is just the Devil. And the Devil is bad!

Even if now 'we' cannot show anything they have done thus far, since evil is so integral to their ontology they will surely one day do something wrong. Keeping 'them' outside of human community is a price ‘we’ have to pay. ‘We’ do not want to do these dirty and brutal things. President Bush 'wishes' to close down Guantanamo Bay. However, sacrifices have to be made for this ‘just’ war.

Theology enters into the stage at this point and helps us to assume that we live in a 'just' world, in which people get what they deserve and if the natural events do not provide that, those who believe in 'justice' should fight to settle the accounts. Yet, this blurs the deep-seated suspicion that we do not live in a just world, but rather a fallen one, and 'justice' is never met in such a context but remains to be the exclusive property of the powerful, of 'us'. Thus this war is ‘just’ in the sense that it is just for ‘us’ the human beings. This imagined ‘we’ has to be protected at the exclusion of the ‘other’, by the grace and help of God, ‘our’ God. And surely, God is on the side of non-evil and the righteous, isn’t he?

When we turn our eyes to our God, we see his Son who stands in front of the angry crowd, declaring that he came to set the captives free, to restore the sick, poor and sinful, meaning the outcasts, back to human community. We are told he is the one that leaves all of the flock behind to go after the lost sheep and that rejoices when one of the coins which were lost is found and is returned. At the very core of his gospel lies inclusion, restoration and integration of those who have been dehumanized by the religious saints, pure ones, the civilized, ‘we’. Much of his teachings criticise the hypocrisy of those who claim to know and love God when all the while their self-righteousness blinds them from the very core of knowing and loving God.

The core which produces the Good Samaritan. The core which eats and drinks with the 'unclean', sinful, weak and sick. The core which turns the other cheek. The core which chooses to forgive, show mercy and love, rather than wage a campaign of retribution and vengeance. In fact it is this core which Nietzsche despised the most about Christian faith. He saw this Christian reaction towards revenge and retribution to be decadence. That is why he didn't find the Christian notion of God 'noble'. He saw such a God who chooses mercy, forgiveness and inclusion, as unworthy of worship.

Jesus not only declares a completely opposite theology of relating to the 'other' who may have offended us, or may have even harmed us or may do so in the future, but also demands the same attitude from his followers. His imperative brings with it an automatic judgement, one will either hear his voice and follow his call or one will continue to develop a pure and godly 'we'. One will either seek his face in the zone in which dehumanization takes place or amongst 'us' , which is in its worst form when we presume to see his face when we look into the water.

We seek him in vain in our modern-day cathedrals of glory and power and higher values. He is in the prison, with those who are hungry, naked and vulnerable. He warns us that he will hold us accountable, not because we have failed to meet him among 'us', but because we have not run to his image, the image of God, which is in prison, naked and hungry.

Jesus identifies himself not with the powerful--who presume to decide which biological lives will be given the status of a human and thus granted political rights, and which ones will be reduced to mere physical existence—but rather with the despised, with the Homo Sacer. If Jesus were caught living the vicious subversive Gospel today, he would not be on a wooden cross, since the wooden cross no longer symbolizes what it did then: the dishonouring and dehumanization of the individual in the presence of the entire city as a punishment. He would be wearing an orange jumper, living in a cage, dishonoured and dehumanized, in the presence of the entire world who behold all this on the TV screen.

It is no surprise Dietrich Bonhoeffer declared that those who do not speak for Jews have no right to sing Gregorian chants, because failing to do so – failing to stop the dehumanization and death of millions of people in impunity--contradicts the very thing, the Gospel, that the church and Christianity is based upon. When the Church forgets the core which gives birth to her with an eternal imperative to follow, all of her functions, activities and sacraments become a self-judgement and a joke like that of the king who still believes in his majesty while all along the world recognizes that he is just naked.

In a milieu such as this, the church can assume its most usual role. The church can raise funds, do advocacy and organize protests for the release of the inmates, when she recognizes that the answer to our prayers for peace on earth is actualized when she assumes her calling. Yet, this reactive role is only a temporary band-aid to deep wounds.

There is one more thing the church can do that (if she does it) has the potential to literally change the world we live in. Surprisingly, this ‘thing’ is what we speak about the most: to live the Gospel of Jesus. Perhaps it is so familiar that we are now completely blind to its implications to the post-9/11 world we live in.

What is this Gospel? It speaks of love of the neighbour, which requires trust in God and taking the risk to care for the wounded Samaritan. It promotes inclusion of the ‘other’ and the restoration of their dignity rather than exclusion and dehumanization, which Jesus sharply and repeatedly condemned. This Gospel cherishes meekness and vulnerability, of loving and caring and humbling ourselves, rather than Nietzschean visions of great politicians who embody “strength” and “determination” to establish “our security” by moving beyond good and evil. It deconstructs the metaphysical “we” and “them” and unites us in the knowledge of our interdependence, createdness, vulnerability and need of forgiveness in the presence of a Holy God.

The Gospel gives no room for concepts such as “collateral damage” or Machiavellian means. For this Gospel, every human being is precious and every human life is worth living, saving and mourning for. After all, this is exactly why Christ died on the cross. Finally, this Gospel is about forgiveness and reconciliation, rather than seeking revenge and brutal retribution.

Several years have passed since 9/11, and none of us can really say that we now live in a better and safer world. At that junction in time, the Western church had a brilliant opportunity to actualize the Gospel and change the course of history. There is a growing consensus that masculine politics which followed 9/11 are not the solution, and now talks of inclusion, forgiveness, reconciliation and meekness dominate the secular circles. And I wonder why those who have a reason for their hope still keep quiet or are unable to see the profound implications of their faith to such debates…

Mustafa Akyol is a 'good' Muslim and I am a 'bad' Christian

Published in Turkish Daily News, 25 August 2007

Professor Mahmood Mamdani has drawn our attention to two different voices that dominated the American stage following September 11 attacks: the ‘clash of civilizations’-camp, spear headed by Samuel Huntington, which sees an inescapable, clear-cut conflict and the other option lead by Bernard Lewis, which suggests that the West should distinguish between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Muslims and work with them. Clearly, the US and the UK have chosen the later option. Within this framework, portraits of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Muslims were redefined in relation to pro-Western, pro-modern, pro-democratic attitudes and were resourced in order to push the ‘bad’ ones into the margins.

Such policies of enforcement and silencing are not new at all. When we look at the history of the Cold War and Afghanistan, we see how the US first enforced, armed, trained ‘good’ Muslims, i.e. Taliban and the likes of Bin Laden in the fight against the godless Communists, who have since then, as we all know, turned into ‘bad’ Muslims who are our barbaric and uncivilized enemies. A similar change is unfolding in Iraq: even though the ‘bad’ Muslims are out, supposed ‘good’ Muslims are still resisting playing the game according to the rules drawn for them.

As many commentators have pointed out before, ironically it took the violence done in the name of Islam to officially establish Islam as a “religion of peace”. Now, anyone in the West who wishes to highlight certain problems or issues that don’t fit the new strategy, such as gross Human Rights violations in most of the countries with a dominant Muslim population, will receive the cold treatment as an ‘Islamophobic’ whistleblower.

However, one would be mistaken to see the use of social control mechanisms to sterilize the ‘opposition’ only in relation to ‘taming’ Islam. Since 9/11, the same tools have been used on non-supportive academics by branding them as ‘enemy supporters’ through networks such as Campus Watch. Bureaucrats, who have expressed concerns over the ethics and policies of Bush administration, have been named ‘softies’. Other religious communities too were divided into the categories of ‘good’ and ‘bad’.

The makings of a ‘bad’ Christian:

I have written a rather academic (meaning dull and full of exotic terms) article sometime ago, titled ‘A Theology of Guantanamo Bay’, which argued that the worldview which can imagine a mechanism of exclusion like ‘indefinite detention’, similar to that of the Homo Sacer figure in the Roman law, is a theologically constructed one and that such a political theology contradicts the Christian faith in and through, and that any Christian who does not speak against it lives in utter contradiction, similar to the contradiction of a ‘Christian’ President sanctioning it.

Various US publications have turned down my article without commenting why. I have received sharp reactions to talks I have given on this topic from some American Christians, who have virtually identified Jesus Christ with US politics. The fact that I am a Turkish Muslim apostate apparently is a psychoanalytical reason why I am still resisting being a ‘good’ Christian supporting their quest. So in effect, the US policies have not only defined for us who is a ‘good’ Muslim and thus should be given airtime, and what dimensions of Islam should be highlighted or left out, but also have defined who a ‘good’ Christian is and who can be brought onto the lectern or quoted on media.

‘Good’ Muslims can turn out to be ‘bad’ anytime:

The 20th century has clearly shown how quickly ‘good’ Muslims can be declared ‘bad’. The Muslim voices which the US and UK seek to enforce today may be muted tomorrow, thus today’s reformers can turn into nuisances very soon, especially in Europe as increasing amount of voices are calling for a ‘tougher stand’.

To be fair, the voices of the likes of Tariq Ramadan or Mustafa Akyol, whose sincerity and intellect I have tremendous respect for, need to be heard more, but more in the Islamic world rather than the West. By choosing the Muslims we like and turning our faces away from the ones we don’t, we leave out the voices we need to hear and engage the most, as they are often the ones forming the opinions of the masses or creating ‘problems’. So, I wonder whether the current policies of supporting ‘good’ Palestinians- i.e. Fatah, and muting ‘bad’ Palestinians- i.e. Hamas, in the hope that problems will vaporize, serves more as a therapeutic dose of hope for us rather than a solid basis for an actual long term solution. It obviously did not work in dealing with global militant jihadists, Afghanistan and Iraq.

In terms of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Christians, well, the greatest portion of the non-Western Christians is increasingly agreeing on a language of ‘good’ and ‘bad’, significantly different from our counterparts in North America. After all, the highest numerical growth rate of Christianity today is recorded in Latin America, Africa and Asia, which have been shifting the centre of Christianity away from lands (and political agendas) that see themselves as ‘chosen nations’.

We need to mourn the loss of Ottoman Empire!

Published in Turkish Daily News, 13 August 2007

It may sound funny to suggest that we the Turks have to mourn for a past loss, when there is so much going on that demands our attention in the age of BlackBerrys, on- the-go cappuccinos and frequent flyer programs. Yet, the sages tell us that certain problems, which keep repeating themselves in contemporary events, are often symptoms of things that remain unresolved.

Turkey has mastered being ‘modern' in line with the modes of thinking which were available in the ‘modern' era. However, the complexities of the 21st century demand a completely different set of skills and strategies. It is a given that Turkey needs to upgrade a lot of its modes of thinking on a wide range of issues from minorities to religion and from politics to diplomacy, but before we can even begin to entertain any thoughts of a new direction, we need to process a past trauma that is diluting our perception of ourselves, of the world and of the others, thus inhibiting us from a new future. As the ethnic, political, religious and social turmoil we witnessed during 2006 and 2007 points out, we are at a conjunction stuck between our past and future. The angel of history has travelled a long way with the storms of progress since the days of Benjamin when he had to face a decision between facing the past debris or the future. Now that his wings are strong enough for him to stand still in the midst of storm, he can and has to “awaken the dead and make whole what has been smashed.”

The link between the Ottoman Empire and Turkish Republic:

The modern nation-state with its Western calendar, bureaucracy, legal structures, alphabet and vocabulary is indeed a sharp break from the multi-ethnic Empire in many ways. Yet, as sociologist Paul Connerton reminds, every radical break is linked to the memories of the past in a paradoxical way; the more radical the break the more dependence on the old. We depend on the memory of the Empire more than we like to admit, but our relationship to it remains inconsistent and full of tension. Turkish nationalists regularly utilize the past golden age within their narratives, but where the golden age ceases to be sparkling and recalls rather darker episodes, the memory of the Empire is shelved. The Republic often represents the ‘modern' and the superior, but sometimes the Empire is spoken of as ‘superior' in terms of political power and the myths of respect for minorities, which is represented as an ‘advanced' solution for today's dilemmas.

The fall and its aftermath:

One can argue that since the fall of the Empire, we have not had a chance to lower our guard and process our history. The fall was followed by an immense effort to save our motherland. A certain narrative and language had to be created and maintained with an iron fist in order to form a ‘nation' out of the debris of a multi-ethnic empire. The momentum, the survival instinct, defence mechanism or whatever you name it, which has brought us thus far, no longer serves its purposes. Some 90 years have passed since the actual events, but they still remain afresh in our culture and memories. Once ‘we' ruled and then found ourselves called ‘the sick man of Europe'. The people, who had conquered the known world, were forced to watch as their lands were invaded by their previous subjects. The loss was traumatic; from the people of a mighty empire to a people vulnerable to colonisation, from wide borders ranging from the Balkans to North Africa, to the Near East, to shrinking borders close to the Aegean shores of the motherland.

From a historical trauma to common sense:

Contemporary generations who have no direct experiences of a life under the glorious Empire and its fall are only socialized into this trauma. They are given a specific narrative from youth. The cities in which they live present themselves as palimpsests which give a concrete form to what is being whispered in textbooks and collected (not collective) memories of the past. From commemorations they partake to the names of the streets on which they walk, everyday they confront this narrative as a reality. Thus the text of the trauma evolves into being an internalized truth evoking certain emotional and intellectual responses in the forms of ‘common sense'.

The traces of the trauma can be seen in the contemporary references to the 1929 Treaty of Sevres and the graffiti that graces many bus stops and walls nowadays; “Dünya Türk Olsun!” (Let the World become Turks). Both of these are symptoms of an unhealthy fear and anxiety felt in the face of 21st century realities, which confront everyone in the world, not just the Turks. The memory of Sevres is recollected as a template to make sense of what is happening now. Foreign nations are making plans behind closed doors to divide, invade, loot or colonise our country. This, we have seen before and it just confirms what we have always known; Turks have no friends other than Turks. It's a “fact”. Just like everyone knows that non-Muslim minorities either work with ‘Zionists' for the glory of Israel or with ‘Crusaders' for the colonial West. We are being stripped of our power and glory just like before. It should not be the Turks who bow down as victims in front of globalization, the EU, the US or whoever is trying to tame or manipulate us. It should be us who hold the leash again. Let us rule the world and let them follow our demands or in European terminology; ‘our way of life'.

Excessive mistrust and melancholy:

In addition to the beautiful architecture, artwork and mementos that shape us spatially and aesthetically, two legacies of the Empire continue to form the mental template, which we use to interpret the world, construct a narrative and respond to domestic or foreign events.

The first one is excessive mistrust. The loss of the Empire left us with a deep scar. We see the world and our country through the lenses of a victim who has been betrayed, hurt and abused. Behind all of our angry outbursts and over confident nationalistic declarations lie a deep fear of an imminent loss of everything we hold dear. Just like anyone who has been hurt, we have developed defence mechanisms to protect our vulnerability. And just like them, we have to decide on whether or not such defence is necessary now and whether it is, in fact, hindering us from healing and forming new and meaningful relationships. Turkey is no longer in the fragile position she was after WWI and does not face the same enemies or dangers. The memory of trauma is not only causing us to interpret the contemporary problems through the wrong lenses but also pushes us to create self-fulfilled prophecies. Our attitudes towards ethnic and religious minorities and towards the EU and the US are all shaped by it.

The second one is melancholy, a sense of loss not tied to a specific object but rather a narcissistic obsession. On one hand we are convinced of our greatness over anyone else in the world, on the other hand we despise the fact that we are not in the place we deserve. On one hand it is the outsiders who are guilty of us not leaping forward, but on the other hand our mouths are full of criticisms of our own governments, state and people, as expressed in the fatalistic sentiments of “bizden adam olmaz” (nothing good will become of us). Yet, our self-degradation is paradoxically linked to a shame and honour based worldview, which makes us hyper sensitive to anyone “insulting Turkishness”. The more fragile and fearful an identity is, the more it will seek to assert itself aggressively and defensively. It seems that we are fixed on the reflection we see on the water to the point of being not able to move.

We need to “work through” our past! :

Our perception of a global conspiracy to destroy Turkey at the first possible opportunity using a wide range of tactics from Human Rights to EU negotiations may make sense in the cyclical referencing of conspiracy theories that dominate the best seller lists, but it suffers from serious exaggeration and non-corresponding truths. This only weakens our nation intellectually and politically and hinders Turkey from maximizing her potential to be a key player in the 21st century. It also puts our people in an extremely vulnerable position to be exploited by anyone who wishes to capitalize our fears into raw power, votes or book sales. We need to process our past for our own sake, not because the international community is increasingly reminding us of various dark episodes of our history.

We can, of course, choose to ignore the past and continue to run along the path we know too well. Sadly, the unresolved past will pop up here and there in the forms of leakage or repetition. May it be in pointless murders of the members of ethnic and religious minorities or steps away from a mature democracy that cherishes freedom of speech, opinion and belief, sooner or later, the effects of an unresolved past will show themselves again.

A Declaration of Universal Human Vulnerability

Published in Turkish Daily News, 26 May 2007

There are two Hrant Dinks for the larger sections of Turkish society; Hrant Dink before his murder and Hrant Dink after his murder. Before his murder, except for those who read his writings and knew him personally, representations of Hrant Dink was a courageous man of convictions, which have caused quite a stir among Turks and Armenians alike. He was in fact a danger for anyone who held a black and white view of the past and present. “Hrant Dink” was a name separated from the man, a face without a body.

As his dead body lied on the ground something extremely important happened. Due to demands of political trauma management, there were a lot of high-level public declarations of condemnation, which owned him as a ‘child of our nation'. However, what caused the emergence of the new Hrant Dink was the hole on the sole of his shoes, not the declarations which were a bullet too late and often without a rhyme. A dead body and blood could have still been understood as the ‘rightful end' of a troublemaker. Yet, his warn out shoes pointed to the man behind the name; a man, fragile and human, not a monster or a powerful enemy. It was only this demystification of Hrant Dink as a vulnerable human being that granted him his humanity back and enabled people to hear his voice. Finally, we saw that Dink was not a powerful enemy, but a sensitive soul rushing among us like a pigeon.


Dehumanization of human beings is really what makes an ethnic, racial or political murder possible. First, the body is effaced, his/hers uniqueness or truth is distorted, thus making the flesh embodiment of whatever the enemy or evil or dirt or danger is. Then, hatred or commitment to higher aspirations can easily find their ‘rightful' out channelling on a human being. We have seen this paradoxically in the public comments following the murders of three Christians in Malatya- Necati, Uğur and Tillman. In the wise words of Devlet Bahçeli, the head of Turkish Nationalist Party, “we condemn these murders, but missionaries are not innocent!” Exegetically speaking, the dependent clause that follows the ‘humane' reaction is the main point of the declaration, which is the backbone of the dehumanization that lead to their murder. It seems that the only thing we condemn is the brutal method used and its political implications for us.When the Police entered the room where they were tied to chairs and their throats were cut, what they found was not a hidden Crusader ‘cevşen' (Islamic amulets which their murderers wore for protection) under their clothes, but only flesh and blood. It was in fact this fragile body that was kept away from us in the escalation of events that lead to their murders. They were dehumanized first as modern day Crusaders whose goals were something darker than just propagating their beliefs. Local media in Malatya took away their humanity first by placing them in a narrative of historical and national conflict, helping the murderers to legitimize their acts without facing any moral dilemma.

Nunca Mas and the failure of law:

So in a sense, we have not learned anything from the bloody 20th century in which at least 60 million people alone were killed by genocides and ethnic cleansings. What made mass atrocities possible at the first place was the racial constructions and dehumanisations, which made ‘vermin' out of Jews, ‘cockroaches' out of Tutsis, ‘rapists' and ‘baby factories' out of Bosnian Muslims, ‘lesser' human beings out of Gypsies and ‘waste' out of the handicapped. Amidst these representations, the language of ‘inherent dignity' of a human being does not help us at all, as the media and rhetoric capture for us what constitutes a human being and whose life is worth to protect at the expense of the other. Against all of the intentions of post World War II cosmopolitan desires to ensure that such things happen Never Again (Nunca Mas) and attempts to establish “Universal” declarations and covenants, the wheels of dehumanization continue to turn and produce new ways the human being can be done away with easily. As one of the most respected thinkers of our age, Giorgio Agamben points out; we are now living in an era in which the state of exception is the norm. In this legal status that legally decides to suspend the law, the language of ‘universal rights' too looses a corresponding truth out side of its own word plays. Terror laws, Emergency Laws or Patriot Acts are all legal frameworks that take away any legal protection a human being may ever have. Any given moment the sovereign can decide to not grant any rights to his subjects.

Shifting sand:

Unlike the fixed boundaries of previous centuries- caste systems, classes and racial formations based on ‘scientific truths', today the line that separates who is constituted a Human Being or a mere body and can be easily done away with, is quite liquid. As a sweeping sociological answer to the chicken and egg's chronology, racism, which is the exclusion of the other on perceived grounds of difference or danger, comes before the construction of ‘race'. Nowadays, racism shows itself in the properties of belonging, not so much the sizes of the skulls or god-given levels of biological superiorities: You are either with ‘us' or with ‘them'. Since ‘us' can no more be constructed biologically, you are one ‘us' to the extent you are aligned with ‘us' not just with your place of birth, language and ID, but primarily with what we think and how we see the world. The negative reference point that equally makes us into ‘us' is the threat we are all facing from ‘them'. In the age of global panic attacks and worries of security, the definition of who constitutes a danger and is one of ‘them' changes daily. And as the men wearing orange jumpers and catching tan on a tropical island know too well, all you need is to be caught in the wrong place and time, with a wrong physical outlook and a different view of the world. Yet, for those of us who feel safe with which part of the narrative we belong, the bad news is that there is a high chance that tomorrow's newspapers will inform the world that now it is you and me who is out of the game. Then, in vain, we will scream for our ‘rights' and ‘inherent dignity'. When one is dehumanized, he or she is just a body who has no rights or dignity!

Lowest common denominator:

Sadly, the dark side of the 20th century still lingers in its 21st century forms. Since, we the post-everythingists find it very difficult to hold on to universal moral reference points, and our semi-sacred beliefs in universal human rights have been bastardized, there is not much left for us to appeal as a reason on why we should not kill our neighbour, except the final line of defence: human vulnerability. In this extremely interdependent world, we are all truly vulnerable to being hurt by others who may live in far away lands from us. As the failures of neo-con masculine attempts to make the world safer have proven, we become more vulnerable when we try to protect our vulnerability by the use of force, exclusion and homogenization. Only by seeking to protect the vulnerability and fragility of the other, can we protect our own. Unlike the politics of dominance and muscular power, what we need now is a feminine one that sees the relationship not as means but the ultimate end, chooses to listen and above all is moved by the vulnerability of the other to help and care not just one of ‘us' but ‘them' as well.

Imperative of a new way of imagining identity and politics:

For all we know, we can no longer continue this way. The blood of our political imaginations is now causing us to see nightmares like that of Raskolnikov. We don't need new laws or new political systems or awakening of some long dead utopias, but a firm belief in the Universal Human Vulnerability that we share with every single human being on this planet and not allowing the fear of the possibility of being hurt by the other lead us into the temptation of turning into monsters ourselves. Cherishing this vulnerability and using it positively means that we should train our children not convinced of their superiority from the others and of the danger the other present to ‘us', but convinced of the greatness in the other and what we share with them. The main pressure point we need to put our fingers on, if we want to stop this bleeding, is not high level politics but a whole hearted rejection of dehumanization that we read, hear and see in day to day life. Only when the individuals, not states, ratify this Personal Covenant for the Protection of Human Vulnerability, (which by the way does not exist), can we have some sort of hope for future. Only when there is no ‘but' following the sentence ‘we condemn these', can we stop seeing dead bodies lying on the side walk with holes on their shoes.