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Taksim and Elsewhere

On the Nature of Revolutions and Protests

by SUFYAN BIN UZAYR

Human history has always been a story of reform on one hand and revolution on the other. No matter what the circumstances or conditions be, time and again, humanity has witnessed its share of uprisings and unrest, which in turn have resulted in a change in the social order, be it for good or for worse.

Take, for instance, the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, which led to the establishment of a Communist regime in the region. Fast forward to 1990-91, and that very regime perished due to unrest and revolution in the erstwhile USSR states. Karl Marx, for example, had projected global revolution as the sole solution to the conditions and problems that prevailed in his times. In fact, Marxist thought is where the difference between reform and revolution became evident: the former being a phase where revolution is not even considered essential, where the latter is the phase where global revolution becomes a necessity in order to bring about a change in the setup.

However, not all revolutions are black and white. If there are uprisings on account of economic fluctuations, poverty, hunger, unemployment, religion — it is understandable enough. The Catholic-Protestant wars in medieval Europe, the Civil War of America, the disintegration of USSR, the present-day protests in Greece — all of this is perfectly logical, and at least has a reason to it. However, not all revolutions are borne out of conflict or crisis, and this is where logic seems to falter at times. States that are often taken to be representatives of the “right model” are nowadays witnessing revolutionary uprisings and protests. Turkey is a living example.

Why?

This is not really a new concept. The Iranian Revolution of 1979 too, in a way, was a revolution that occurred in an otherwise peaceful and, if I may say so, progressive society. The pre-revolution Iranian regime had good terms with the Western world, and Iran as a country too was on a progressive track towards the Western model of development. The Revolution under Khomeini, as a result, was not a revolt against poverty, economic fluctuation or hunger. It was more of a defiance against the then regime, and an effort to reclaim power.

Can the Turkish protests be called the same?

To put it in perspective, after the fall of the Ottoman Empire, Turkey has not really done bad. As a country, Turkey is far from perfect; yet, at the end of the day, Turkey has, so far, served as a wonderful model of a conglomerate of liberal values and Islam. Of course, there were and still are hiccups in the Turkish model too: the issue of the Kurds, the unresolved question about Armenian genocide, the debate between imposition of Islamic laws or secularism, etc. Yet, the overall picture that Turkey offers seemed to be a promising one — a model that other Islamic states in the Gulf should not have hesitated in learning from. Unlike most of the super-European countries that surround it, Turkey surely is not on the path of economic harakiri.

Then came Taksim Square. The picture changed.

Initially, folks claimed that the planned transformation of a nearby park into a shopping structure was the underlying cause behind the protests at Taksim Square. While this may probably have been the immediate cause, it definitely was not the only one. Right-wing pseudo-media grabbed the opportunity to show how the protests were entirely about secularism versus orthodox extremist Islam and how Turkish society in general was doomed.

Until recently, very little attention was paid towards the protesters’ anti-capitalist manifestations. Come back to that park again. Does not the privatization of public space by the government, and the people’s opposition to this move, show a debate about capitalism in Turkey? In fact, when the protests at Taksim Square target the authoritarian regime, they also hint at the unease that the average Turk is experiencing with the capitalist model of economy. Furthermore, this is where the Turkish protests become different from the other protests in the region: the protests at Taksim Square are seeking a transformation or alteration in the current model, unlike those at Tahrir Square which sought to eliminate every aspect of the then model.

Speaking of differences, the Turkish protests share many such differences with protests elsewhere. The Arab Spring, for instance, sought a change, primarily, in political authority. Freedom, democracy and all of that — at the end of it all, it was an uprising against the political leadership itself. The Turk scenario, on the other hand, does not really have one definite or concrete factor behind it.

What exactly is the primary goal behind the protests at Taksim Square? Trust me, if it were just the park, it would’ve been sorted long ago. Even the Turkish government knows that things are much deeper than that. Truth is, the Turkish protesters are not standing for or against any particular thing: religious fanaticism, democracy, freedom, capitalism, whatever! Instead, the Taksim Square and other protests across Turkey are just a manifestation of that cumulative feeling of unease, discontent and frustration that the average Turk has been experiencing for the past several years. The question about the true nature and intent of the Turkish protests is an open one; it is certain, however, that the protests are not just epistemological in nature but also truly ontological.

Coming back to global capitalism. It just cannot be denied that all these worldwide protests have an economic backing to them: the Greeks are upset with the economic situation in their country and their government’s inability to change it; the Turks are upset about the transformation of public space in privately owned commercial entity; and so on.

Turkey, Greece, Egypt, Iran, Spain, everywhere else: all these protests have political and ideological issues, even social issues. But the underlying economic problems are what spark the movement in the first place! In fact, even though we can probably never single out one particular cause as the mother effect of them all, the economic situation and the side-effects of global capitalism have a huge role to play. And when it comes to capitalism, these protests do not hate capitalism as a system per se; instead, the anguish is against the local ill-effects that have surfaced as an outcome of capitalism. And like it or not, but if you can put the local angst to rest, you can solve most of these protests. Greeks who are taking to the streets want a shift in the economic situation of their country — yet, you give them jobs, and majority of them will not care about the national debt. Between next-door troubles and global worries, the nearer one always wins!

Present-day protests, irrespective of the country, share certain common features and ideals. They may or may not succeed. Doesn’t matter. At the end of the day, this can serve as the starting point for the rise of a true Global community — one that is not tied down by notions of nationalism. While the revolutionaries are fighting for the present, the future of our society also depends on them!

Sufyan bin Uzayr is a writer based in India and the Editor of Brave New World (www.bravenewworld.in). He is associated with numerous websites and print publications and has also authored a book named “Sufism: A Brief History”. You can visit his website (www.sufyanism.com) or find him on Facebook (www.facebook.com/sufyanism).