[Politik] Civilian death and martyrdom in academia

I listened to that name yesterday, in a podcast of Açık Radyo (Open Radio), with some delay. And I realized — and I actually realize similar absurdities all the time — that scholars quoted in my masters thesis, in my dissertation (underway & in spe), so far living in footnotes and elsewhere in my writings, are „purged“ from their positions, sometimes even upon (!) retirement. More concretely, I refer to Cevat Geray, one of the names in the link here, who had worked on demographic policies, settlement, urbanization, and other issues relevant to my studies.

The „purge“ of Cevat Geray, together with so many other scholars, would probably have left me behind speechless, if anything could leave me behind speechless, nowadays. Like – why not? – book burnings, a not so absurd comparison, after all. And no: apparently, the reason for this „purge“ was not bad scholarly conduct (like plagiarism), not even harsh scientific critique (and I also looked critically at his work), or even lies in the CV (nothing unknown in Berlin, I could add) – but anti-political drive in the most literal Arendtian sense.

All this only emphasizes: the intention of these „purges“ is to rewrite history, to transcribe reality, to create „total institutions“ of frontal teaching of total truths, instead of education, „Bildung“ – however you’d define and name the sense and purpose of university, with all its pros, cons, pitfalls, fallacies. But what are facts, what are post-facts, what the heck does history mean, for the sake of power accumulation? University is everywhere, all the time under pressure, due to the most different reasons; Germany (where I am enrolled at university) is not excluded from these challenges, at all. Vigilance has always been essential, and nothing has been overcome for good.

Today, I participated in a discussion with my dear friend Z. on his experiences in contemporary Turkey’s academia, as a foreign student from a neighbouring country. He was, for some reasons, attracted by Turkey’s universities, as I was too. More than once. The experiences that he shared were so essential and so absurd that I won’t reproduce them in detail. Basically, it was about linguistic interference of one language into another, whereas one of the two languages was allowed to be named, while the other one’s naming was forbidden. His professor wrote him in an email that he should, whatsoever, not name the interfering language, because it „may be a problem in our country“. Needless to say, this would ruin the whole analysis of his paper. Most of the comments were supportive of my friend’s disagreement, while one of the commentators, obviously from inside embedded Turkish „scholarship“ (feeling at ease with it), argued in sophisticated English that everything „needs to be understood“, that this was just the „normal“ way of how things should be and ARE. Only to sum it up.

My conclusion was that there can’t be science – whatever may be your academic degree or rhetorical knowledge – if taboos of the wildest kind are setting the agenda, and if critique is not allowed, for critique being the mother of science. The mother, the father, the godfather, the stepmother, the unexpected distant cousin, your advising sister, your questioning children: critique can and must pop up here and there, and it may trigger unease, unpleasant discussions, disagreement, heated debates. Having these kinship metaphors in mind, I wondered what would be the closest relative to science in Turkey today – or should I rather specify: in „New Turkey“? I should probably specify, because I owe so much to my Turkish and „Türkiyeli“ colleagues and friends, many of whom are now forced into roles of victims, and they can’t even give a „like“ on facebook, if they want to avoid civilian death.

„Death“ is actually quite a hitting point. I think what comes closest to an adequate denomination of science’s most reliable relative in „New Turkey“ could be „Martyr“, in whatever specific, gendered role, if you ignore for a while its genuinely cis-male gendered perception. Martyr, ‚Şehit‘ in Turkish, is an often-quoted commonplace in the belligerent parlance of „New Turkey“’s new elite – although in the given case, feel free to take it literally. People who are „purged“ out of academia (whether „alive“, retired, whatever), for being critical, for being deprived of their conditio humana, are forced into speechlessness, if they can’t make it to some other place where they can work and publish.

And a last important thought: what is your, my agency as a „foreigner“? You probably know the feeling that comes with „foreigners“ criticizing „your country“ – which is, I hold, a fallacy, despite everything. For two or more reasons: first, the idea that a „foreigner“ should focalize „her“ or „his“ country first and foremost (and alone), is part of the nexus of methodological nationalism. The underlying assumption is that every country and its members should be primarily concerned with their „own“. While this is, perhaps, still partially true, it would mean that scholars can only focalize their „own country’s“ issues, and it ignores the possibility that there are people who don’t have „their own country“, who give a damn on nations and „their country“, who have lost their country, who have more than one countries – or who have none at all. Or who focalize issues „in-between“. And there are stateless persons, after all. Moreover, the idea of „university“ would make no sense – in this sense. Why do we speak and write English, why do we learn other languages? Finally – and this disturbs me even more than everything – there are people on „safe islands“ who DO study „other“ countries, and who keep silent. While nobody has to speak up on everything (people are, after all, concerned with their work), I heard very often people saying „I won’t make my critique public, because one day, they may reject my visa application, and I won’t find a job there.“ It’s up to you how to qualify this thought.


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