A hero is born: Disappointments, hopes, and expectations after Turkey’s General Election

After his heartbreaking defeat by Erdogan, Ince gave this speech during a press conference that will echo in many people’s heads for a long time: “To Erdogan, please from now on stop acting like the general president of AKP. Become the president of 81 million people, put your arms around all people”. Ince continued, “I recommend you to use my slogan: The president of all. Become the president of all, from now on. End this tension that this nation is experiencing, put your arms around this nation, hug all of them.” He, then subtly mentioned his disappointment of what was to come for Turkey,  “If I were elected, that’s what I was going to do.” Ince continued, “I was ready to put my arms around the AKP supporters, as well as the nation as a whole. Now, that’s what I expect from Erdogan”.

Early Sunday morning, I got into my car, much like rest of the Turkish citizens, and drove off to my hometown to cast my vote, with a different kind of hope that I never had before. Muharrem Ince the presidential candidate that came out of the much passive Republican People’s Party (CHP), visited every inch of this beautiful yet hopeless country just under 51 days. Kids all around the nation sang his campaign song, his rallies pulled all time records for CHP, and I, for once, thought I could live here, in peace. The whole campaign was based on love, unlike Erdogan whose, words could only sound like hatred. Above all, Ince knew how to smile, and I saw, for once, that many people believed, like the New York Times article said, he was “the man who could topple Erdogan”.

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The story is simple: Muharrem Ince became the father that loved his two children so dearly and equally. The two children just couldn’t listen to each other over their differences, and he tried to teach them how to love. But, my guess is, it wasn’t quite the right time.

Ince spent the day in the YSK building, vowed to protect the votes of the nation from AKP’s illegal games that Turkey faced every single election since Turkey became a toy in Erdogan’s hands, in 2002 (Erdogan’s first win for his party AKP to have 365 MPs at the parliament). Once the clock hit about 9:30 pm, the media started airing the data from AA (Anadolu Agency), Ince warned the nation about the expected ballot manipulations. He was right, AKP started off strong with a high percentage, then landed on a 52.5% win, successfully playing with our feelings. İnce finished off with 30.68% breaking the record for a candidate of his party, CHP.

We were all aware of the extra ballots that have been given to people in exchange of a good amount of “pocket money”, the threats people received before entering the secured-voting area, and the home supplies they were provided to keep this economy that enables increasing poverty for another 5 years. An older lady I talked to right after elections said these words: “I prayed for a long time, I went to the ballots and I was praying on my way there. I was scared, I just hit Erdogan for the presidency”. This is just the pure feeling of oppression brought to many by something we cannot call democracy, anymore.

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The general elections contained the parliamentary elections, with AKP having the majority of seats with the help of its ally, MHP (AKP; 295 MPs, MHP, 49 MPs). Having over 300 MPs in the parliament, AKP secured the new constitution that was expected to run due to the referendum that was passed just over a year ago, in April 2017.

Erdogan now holds a dangerous amount of power, given to him by a scared, poor, and unaware nation. The president is able to directly appoint public officials, intervene in Turkey’s legal system at all costs, and declare a state of emergency whenever he finds suitable (Turkey is in a state of emergency since the coup of July 15, 2016). Moreover, the Turkish council is now unable to detect the MPs, unable to state verbal questions or receive information from the prime minister nor the MPS, and finally, the vote of confidence from the council is permanently taken out of the regimen.

Looking at this picture the Turkish nation voluntarily drew, I expected to be hopeless, scared and full of hatred to those who dragged our country under Erdogan’s presidency, once again.

The next day after I heard Muharrem Ince’s words at the press conference, I wasn’t any of that. He was the light that I could still trust within the familiar yet unbearable darkness. This time, it was bearable. Ince said, “We destroyed the dam of 30%, we can do the same for 50%. I am right here. If this nation tells me to walk in front of them, I am ready”. And millions whispered, “So, are we”.

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As told by a 4-year-old: How to find your own imagination

I would like to introduce you to my cousin Masal (“tale” or “fairytale”), she happens to be a 4-year-old and she successfully taught me a class on “Imagination 101”. I’ll go in depth about the syllabus in a bit. As you can imagine, it’s not written on paper, ha! You will likely be accepted into the classes if you are willing to spend a minimum of 5 minutes (with lots of toilet breaks) and only voice your opinions through being the voice for one of her baby dolls. I assure you if you go back to using your own voice, that’s crossing the line in a 4-year-old’s world. And finally, everyone gets an A+.

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I spent a wonderful weekend with her cute little energetic personality, and here’s what she taught me:

1. You can be any colour you choose to be.

This, I learnt during one of our drawing and colouring sessions. Masal first asked me to draw a girl, and I did. A blonde-haired, blue-eyed girl with red lips. Then, she asked me to draw two ghosts next to her, one using the blue and one using a pink crayon. I really don’t know if she is ever impressed with my drawing skills, but her face surely lights up whenever I agree to draw with her. She later drew a girl herself, with pink hair, a pink outfit, followed by a pink ghost which shaped nothing like a ghost. It shaped more like a long scarf, or a blanket, but she believed it was a ghost.

When we finished drawing, we started colouring pictures of her favourite baby doll from a booklet that she held dearly. She happily shared it with me and started painting a doll. The poor doll had a green face, nude-coloured hair, body, eyes (this is her second favourite colour after dark purple) and legs that are half purple and half blue. Her sister Misra (“verse”) and I, told Masal that the girl she painted looked like she was about to puke. I jokingly asked “did she get car sick, honey?”, she answered: “No, that’s her face, there’s nothing wrong with her”. That was the first lesson learnt. As we age, we often stick to the norms, we don’t ever paint beyond the lines, and we do what we are taught that is right. Let me tell you what that all means. We lose our imagination. I hung Masal’s drawings up on our fridge as a reminder for myself that I can choose any colour I want, and look at things sideways, twist, turn and burn them.

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2. You determine your own boundaries and your own time.

My cousin is determined when she wants a playmate although most of the time she likes to play alone. During those times, if I am around (and her sister is not), I am the number-one-hot target. She finds me and does not leave me until I sit down and play for at least 5 minutes. My excuses include: “Honey, I need to take a shower”, “I need to dry my hair”, “But, I got this thing on my computer that I have to do”, “Can we do it after we eat dinner?”. Masal literally waits until I finish my shower, gets into the bathroom to show me where the drier is and puts me under internment until I sit down and play with her.

I say “Just 5 minutes”, and she agrees. Surprisingly, Masal actually has a good understanding of time (I do not know how), she will allow me to leave exactly when I complete the 5 minutes on the dot. I determine my own boundaries and she has hers. I have to make 2 dolls and a rabbit speak at a time and make sure they all get pretty good hairstyles for the doll-party and realize they have a magic rabbit who can speak human language.

3. Sometimes you let the other person win the race.

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I have been suffering from a knee injury for the past six months and oh boy, I complain a lot. During the whole weekend, Masal asked me to race her at the mall, in the parking lot, the house, the hallways, everywhere. I said I wouldn’t be able to win and said no. Guess I forgot, “No” does not exist in the kids’ world. The night before I was leaving to go back home, she said she injured her leg and it hurt. It was a lie but then we sat down together and complained a lot (together).

Right before I was going to bed, she said she wanted to race me. It was fair now because her leg hurt, too. So, we raised a 30-meter distance between the living room and her room. It was much like this: I walked, and she ran screaming. I was like “Oh my, you won twice! I am old!”, she said it was okay and now, it was my time to win. So, we raced again, I walked, she ran, she finished first. Then, she told me that I won. I asked, “But, how?”, she said I did good and it was fair. After I sat down, finishing it strong with effortless two wins, she kept running and raced herself? With the air in the house perhaps? I don’t know.

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God, I love this kid. Maybe, we all need a 4-year-old to tell us what to do. And just maybe, that’s how we all can find our imagination.

American CEOs, Politicians and “the impossible” Pluralism

The following content is confidential, and there are no titles or names given that would put anyone in danger. Although I do not identify as a Christian, this post explores the Christian worldview and its approach to vocation through guest speakers from Washington, DC.

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The American flag and the inaugration stairs, Capitol Hill Building.

All Abrahamic religions, in some way or another, are based on the same truth that once the ultimate mission of shaping the world is accomplished, they will bring peace and harmony on earth. However, the ways and methods they claim that will bring peace often involve changing the other, at times forcing the other, eliminating the other, or eliminating themselves from the other. We are all well aware that the easiest way to achieve conformity requires a little help from national politics. It sounds much like escapism, it is an escape from the beautiful pluralism we can strive to achieve, and it is, in essence, what we all are called for.

Inazu gracefully states in the very first chapter of his book that Americans fail to agree on “the purpose of [their] country, the nature of the common good and the meaning of human flourishing” (p. 15, Inazu). While we try to coexist, we fail to do so in peace. As Christians (and all other religions) would do, we find the solution in relying on the state. We delegate the holy power on a golden tray, trust with our eyes closed, and watch the state polarize us subtly.

So, what happens next? In a valuable conversation, the president of a DC-based Christian Forum said, “Our identities become political. Our religious identities become political. And, it becomes increasingly hard to find which is true and which is not”. As Christians, we face the risk of over-politicizing our faith and being present within our culture through partisan eyes only. Yes, politicizing faith creates political gain at all costs, but what happens next is disillusioning. She continued, “People start talking about elections in apocalyptic terms, our relationships start depending on the political views of the other, and in other words, this over-simplifies our faith”. She is right, we voluntarily over-simplify our faith, but is our faith really that shallow that it promotes burning the bridges between us?

The answer is no, but we still shatter things into pieces. According to Volf, “some of faith’s damaging effects can be attributed largely to differences of perspectives”, but not all. Most are simply ill-effects, or how Volf refers to them, malfunctions of religion. The Abrahamic (prophetic) religions, at their core, are based on ascend and return, and that is where we encounter the malfunctions.

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The artwork at the basement of the Washington National Cathedral.

Ascend is when the prophet rises to encounter with the divine, and receive the message which then changes him. To allow the message to change us, we need to have faith in the meaning of the language. When we politicize religion we hold a risk of hollowing out the language about God from within, due to losing faith in the encounter with God. We employ God and religious language to promote perspectives that are not related to the Divine. This is when we face functional reduction, as Volf says, “shaping people and their social realities, but in which God now lies dead, no longer a transformative reality, alive only as a topographic memory” (p. 11). Politics tirelessly use the language of God, over-simplifying faith, and losing its Divine meaning.

The return malfunctions arise at the time of delivering God’s message and correspond to two sins in Christian tradition: sins of omission, as we fail to deliver the language itself and pick parts of it, and sins of commission, when we impose it on the unwilling (Volf, p. 13). Max Weber’s argument on his classic The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, can be applied to what we face in politics today (p. 14). Politicians play the game by preset rules without applying the moral considerations because their end goal of winning is greater than all. Politics imposes its own rules to those who wish to participate in it, compelling them to conform. Volf adds, “In this new polytheism, we follow the voice of one god at work, another at home, and maybe yet another at church. Each sphere resists the claims of the one God to shape all of life” (p. 14).

There are many challenges that communicators and advocates face when developing strategic planning for organizations. The director of a global communications advising firm, talked about one of the hardest crisis management plan he had worked on for the BP, during the time when BP experienced an oil spill in one the Macondo Prospect. Upon analyzing such a tough situation, he gave the simple solution we all would not expect: Transparency. “The break down of trust requires new levels of transparency”, He said, “How did we take BP out of being a brand behind an industrial disaster? How is BP still in our lives?”, he continued. According to the Director, it was hard to convince BP to put a camera down to where the oil spill was, but they trusted the communications group, apologized, shared to the truth with their constituents, and asked engineers around the world for help. As Lederach would agree, truth brought freedom and reconciliation (p. 52).

The chief communications officer of a national multi-religious organization, deals with both internal and external communications, and he had insights to share on messaging. His golden advice when making decisions for the sake of the organization was to put away personal feelings and think about what benefits the organization the most which would hopefully eliminate any confusions on messaging as well. However, he added, “It is crucial to always be ready for the worst case scenario although the hope is that it never happens. When we anticipate the messages that can fall flat, an organization can work backward from the least bad scenario”.

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The famous Rotunda, Senate Building.

Moreover, communicators and advocates are well aware that politics provide a platform for faith to be hyperactive, imposing it on the unwilling. While speaking in a religious voice may not be oppressive, bringing religions solutions to solve public issues may very well can be. It should not be the duty of the state to object the church’s perspective, defend the church or define what is right and wrong under the light of religion. As DC-based Religious Forum Director put into words what we all forget at times, “The church does not need to define its place in society, the church is society”. And, Hunter would add, the basic intent and desire behind delegating the religious power to the state “is to dominate, control, or rule” (p. 106), in other words, simply doing what Christianity does not want you to do.

According to the Forum Director, “whatever power we give to the state, the state can never solve our problems for us”, and Volf and Hunter would argue, using the state as a referee to solve or settle problems would create a psychology of ressentiment. Ressentiment involves anger, envy, hate, rage and revenge as the motivation for political action, causing us to push one another away rather than striving to walk the fine line of coexistence. So, in spite of all these malfunctions we hold dearly, how do we coexist?

The culture of ressentiment focuses on “our needs only”, however, it is important we put the effort and “try to understand the concerns of each group has on their own terms” (Hunter, p. 110). Inazu offers a three-step solution to achieve pluralism as God intended it to be, through tolerance, humility, and patience. Tolerance allows us to accept one another’s differences and develop endurance while doing so. Humility helps us project our self-reflected values to those who have different views. And finally, patience eliminates coercion and violence, in the midst of the long road of establishing coexistence in harmony.

The leader of a global peacemaking organization, is someone who dedicated his life to find peace in the face of conflict. He says, “Conflict is a dynamic learning opportunity for genuine relationships” and he takes the posture of the learner during his travels, instead of imposing his own views on others. One of his life-changing experiences was in the Middle East when he met a man named Issam*, who was a server at the hotel the leader of this organization was staying with his family. Issam asked him why was it that Americans hated him, and he said: “You need to stop hearing about us, and start hearing from us”.

The Leader believes in these words religiously “My flourishing is connected to your flourishing”. And he claims to coexist with harmony, peacefully and beautifully, we must see humanity, dignity, and the image of God in everyone, just like Jesus did when he talked to the Samaritan woman (John 4). We must immerse in conflict, equipped with tools to heal rather than to win. We must be contend, and not try to find ways to get even but get creative in the way we show love. And finally, we must strive to restore, share our table with former enemies and celebrate the big and small ways God is restoring our world.

Similarly, an official from the Obama Administration, says the only utmost important Christian political duty is to “love thy neighbor”, and “seek the peace and prosperity of the [your] city” (Jer 29:7). We hear many say “Jesus could have been just as faithful working in politics”, but we can all agree that politics is not hospitable towards followers of Christ, and often results in disappointment or religious isolation. “But, how we fight with the tendency to escape when we face conflict is simple: Have the right size of expectations, pursue justice, and have humility”.

If we keep putting a greater identity to politics than it deserves, we are in danger. And taking the final advice of the Obama official: “It takes disinvesting ourselves in politics”. Then, Christians will be capable of creating good culture as they work modeling the image of God, and will finally find the beauty in coexisting, despite all of our deep and at times painful differences.