By Muhammad Ali Siddiqi
June 11, 2014
TWO of the Middle East’s non-Arab countries enjoy a priceless advantage which Pakistan lacks. Republics have replaced monarchies in Turkey and Iran, but that doesn’t mean the two states lack historical continuity. The issue is of direct relevance to the quality of governance in Pakistan and the people’s attitude towards the state.
The continuity we are talking about can be seen in two forms in Turkey and Iran — the existence of pre-republic state institutions, which have served to underwrite governance and command the citizenry’s respect; two, the Turkish and Iranian peoples’ awareness of their states’ roots in history. This respect for state institutions and the strong ‘we’ feeling are the glue that holds the state and citizens together. For that reason, neither Turkey nor Iran has any chance of descending into chaos — a nightmare now haunting Pakistan.
The Turks refer to their state as Devlet Baba — devlah being Arabic for state. The obvious translation is Fatherland, like the German Vaterland. But father in English doesn’t have the same connotation as ‘Baba’ in Turkish. Father in English represents authority; Baba represents a loving, all-embracing father-figure children look to for protection and solution of their problems.
This attitude is entrenched among the Turkish people about their republic and is a source of social and political stability that underpins the ‘normal’ governmental functioning.
Respect for state institutions holds state and society together.
It also helps avoid that adversarial relationship which one finds in Pakistan between the people and government. Surprisingly, in spite of having a secular constitution, all Turkish governments have continued one vital Ottoman tradition — mosque imams are paid by the government. This has served to choke a major source of mischief and discord.
In his anti-royalist zeal, Kemal Ataturk renounced everything connected to the Ottoman monarchy and exiled the royals, who were forbidden from returning to Turkey. But Ataturk didn’t change the national flag, which continues to be the white Ottoman crescent and star against a red background. This was a very wise move in historical terms and was intended to serve as a reminder to the Turkish army and people that the army of the modern Turkish republic was the inheritor of the Ottoman army’s 600 years of martial traditions.
This has fostered a strong sense of nationalism among the Turks despite ethnic and sectarian divisions. Today, the leader of the opposition and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erodgan’s scourge is Kemal Kilicdaroglu, who is Alevi.
Ataturk’s renunciation of the republic’s Ottoman past is resented not only by religious and conservative elements but also by Turkish intellectuals and academia, who believe disowning the Ottomans amounts to taking away the Turkish people’s pride in their past. They point out that the French republic has never disowned the monarchy’s enormous contribution to French culture.
Iran’s is a slightly different case, because the state doesn’t have the same continuity as that of its civilisation that goes back to the times of Cyrus the Great (6th century BC). The state unity was broken when the Arab conquest (7th century AD) ended the Sassanid dynasty. It re-emerged in state form when the Il Khan dynasty gradually shed its Mongol character and was absorbed into the sophisticated Iranian culture that has for centuries served as an attachment for all conquerors.
However, it is from the Safavid times onward that Iran can be said to have emerged as a modern nation-state. This gap between the disappearance of the Sassanid dynasty and the re-emergence of the Iranian state has not served to dilute the pride the Iranians have in their cultural heritage, a mix of Aryan-Semitic-Turkic influences, and has provided a strong political base for the Iranian state irrespective of the character of the regime.
All Iranian minorities — Azeris, Kurds, Turkmen, Arabs and Baloch — are bilingual and share and cherish common cultural traits, despite regional differences. The Khomeini revolution gave a religious tinge to the Iranian people’s patriotic fervour as seen during the war with Iraq, and the Arabs of Khuzestan didn’t rise to welcome Saddam Hussein’s army.
A popular shibboleth is — Irané maa behtar uz behisht (our Iran better than paradise). It is noteworthy that, during the revolution, the mobs attacked only the symbols of royal and Savak tyranny, and private property by and large remained safe. For that reason Iran was spared the kind of vandalism Pakistan sees whenever mobs go into action — and that is quite often.
Pakistan is a ‘new’ country and despite a culture rooted in history it lacks the advantage which historical continuity bestows on a state. Things need not have gone that bad if political rhetoric had been kept within bounds. Instead, the kind of political discourse that has developed over the decades has served to plant the seeds of an aimless, self-perpetuating rebellion and encouraged anarchic tendencies. Only a collective commitment to democracy and the Constitution can dam the tide of fissiparous tendencies.
Muhammad Ali Siddiqi is a staff member.