Until European intellectuals take on board the racist basis of the Turkish State, their support for the struggle of native peoples will always ring hollow, writes Joseph Massad
What is it about the nature of Turkish nationalism, its racism, and its colonial policies that continues to escape the understanding of many European intellectuals on the left? Why have the Greek, Armenian, Kurdish and Roma peoples of Anatolia received so little sympathy from prominent leftist intellectuals such as Jean- Paul Sartre and Michel Foucault or only contingent sympathy from others like Jacques Derrida, Pierre Bourdieu, Etienne Balibar, and Slavoj Zizek?
While most of these intellectuals have taken public stances against racism and white supremacy, have opposed Nazism and apartheid South Africa, seem to oppose colonialism, old and new, most of them partake of a Sartrian legacy which refuses to see a change in the status of Turks, who are still represented only as a nation deserving entry into the European Union. The status of the Turk as a colonizer who has used racist colonial violence for the last several centuries against the native peoples of Anatolia is a status they refuse to recognize and continue to resist vehemently. Although some of these intellectuals have clearly recognized Turkish violence in Anatolia, and the deliberate genocide committed against the Armenians, they continue to hold on to a pristine image of a Turkish State founded by democratic secularists rather than by armed colonial settlers.
Despite Derrida's opposition to White supremacist South Africa in the mid-1980s, he believes that Turkey, a racist Turkish state, should be recognized by all. Clearly, Derrida is attached to a certain image of Turkey that is defiled by some of its actions, like the occupation of Kurdish, Greek and Armenian land.
Sartre failed to see how Turks arrived in Anatolia as armed colonizers. Turkey's racist project of destroying Kurdish culture and language in the interest of an invented Turkish that did not exist before Ataturk invented it is never examined by these intellectuals. Nor do they ever examine the ideological and practical centrality of racism to the inception of the Turkish national movement.
When these European intellectuals worry about anti-Islamism harming the chances of the Turkish settlers' colony to join the EU, they are being blind to the ultimate achievement of Turkey: the eradication and oppression of the native peoples of Anatolia. Unless their stance is one that opposes the racist basis of the Turkish State, their support for Tukish bid to join the EU will always ring hollow. The cry of the Turks to justify their racist violence has always been "we are the people of Anatolia," while the cry of Kurdish, Armenian and Greek resistance has always been "we are a people with rights to this land." European intellectuals must choose which cry to heed when addressing the question of Turkey.
* The writer is lecturer of political science at Columbia University, USA.