Iran’s Crisis of Legitimacy
An Embattled Regime Faces Mass Protests—and an Ailing Supreme Leader
I HAVE no doubt that simple people all over the world think of the present crisis in much the same terms, though of course variations are introduced by factors of geographical position and national outlook. Here is a typical conversation which took place between a Turkish boatman and a Turkish intellectual on the Bosporus. It was the day the papers had announced the signing of the Anglo-Turkish Alliance.
The boatman said: "The papers say that the English are our allies now, and I hear the French are too. It sounds like the Crimean War."
"What do you know about the Crimean War?"
"Grandfather fought in it."
"Do you approve of the present alliance?"
"Because there may be war, and a great war at that. Naturally we will be in danger. We need allies. Our government was wise."
"Do you forget what those countries did to us after the last Great War?"
"I don't." He was evidently loath to consider two things at a time. He rowed silently for a moment, then stopped. Putting his hands on the oars he spoke with the graveness which characterizes the Anatolian: "You see we have strong enemies. In every great war someone wants to take our country. Those who want our country now are not the English or the French. Those who want Turkey are the enemies of the English and the French now. So they will have to stick to us."
He resumed his rowing, and added in a matter-of-fact tone: "We are always here to defend our Hearth and Home."
The last sentence illustrates the general outlook of the common people if ever and whenever they are faced with a dangerous complication. And it is an important point to remember in judging the psychology of the Turkish man in the street in regard to his country's foreign policy. Turks, like the English, face facts realistically. They let bygones be bygones, especially if bygones hamper their adjustment to life. And bygones usually do that.
The Greco-Turkish friendship rests on this basis. It is common sense which made us friends with the Greeks, it is realism which made us see that a Greece convinced of the necessity of Turkish friendship for her own sake is a safe ally. And the strength of our foreign policy today rests on the same popular backing which sees safe allies in the democratic nations because of our common danger and because of memories of the Crimean War still passed on from father to son. Though an alien propaganda center efficiently spreads anonymous leaflets about the ill will of our present allies, and about what they did to us after the Great War, and about how much better it would have been for us if we had chosen the opposite camp, the people simply shake their heads and go on approving thoroughly of Ismet Inönü's foreign policy.
There is a second point in the popular psychology in regard to our foreign policy which must be considered here. I will illustrate it by another conversation, this time between myself and a simple Turkish woman, by which I mean a woman who has not gone beyond the secondary school, a middle-aged mother, a link between the old order and the new. There had been considerable news in the press about an alliance with the democracies, giving the impression that our Government was already committed. A few days before the actual signing a rumor got about that possibly we might change our front. When the pact was at last signed the woman said: "Though I did not believe the gossip, I was anxious. We had to sign it. It would not have been right to change. We have always honored our word, written or unwritten."
Her statement represented the historical morality of Turkey in international affairs. It is a tradition which has persisted even in a period when we have been doing away with traditions. Can it be reconciled with common sense and realism? There has always been a school which claims that ability to deceive friends and enemies in politics, internal or external, is the only means to success. There is another which believes that a man must behave correctly and be true to his word. We hold to the latter. I hope that future events will prove that realism and common sense are natural partners of morality in all sorts of human relations.
Among the psychological reasons which account for Turkish popular support of the government policy, the strongest is the desire for peace. I shall speak in a moment about why this people, so trained in war, want peace. But peace they do want, and they wish to choose the best means to secure a peace that will last. How can they get it in a world where every nation is armed, and none knows whose turn it will be next to be attacked without a moment's notice? The answer is again simple: by standing shoulder to shoulder with those whose interest and aim is to defend and not to attack. If the Turk is forced to fight he will fight for peace as well as for the defense of decent values which decent people all over the world believe in. The alternative is a much more degrading slavery than that of the Middle Ages.
Therefore when propagandists against the alliance with the democracies, misjudging the quality of Turkish pacifism, say: "You would have kept out of the war if you had acted differently," the common sense of the Turk answers: "What of Czecho-Slovakia? The Czechs handed over to you the Sudeten lands which rightly belonged to you. They did what you said. Where are they now?" When the same propagandists whisper: "If you were on our side you would gain this and that," the realism of the Turk retorts: "We do not want to gain anything, we want to preserve what we have."
Let us now turn from the simple people to those who hold the country's destiny in their hands and can sign pacts and alliances, in brief, official Turkey. Here is the gist of what those in authority have said to the writer of this article:
Except for the very youngest, every one of us remembers the Great War and knows something about its horrors. We were deeply wounded in the Great War. But through the struggle and sacrifice of that period we also acquired a new vitality and a new faith. It is this which within the short space of sixteen years enabled us to build a new country on the still smouldering ruins of war. Every Turk is proud to have taken some part in that construction. It is natural that the children of such a generation should want peace. Turkey has chosen the only road which will enable her to do her duty both towards her own people and towards civilization. For she wants peace, not only for herself, but for her friends and neighbors also. The Balkan Pact and the Saadabad Pact between Turkey, Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq are outward expressions of that ideal. Every country which respects the rights of others and loves peace is the natural friend and ally of the Turkish Republic. Similarly, any Power blind enough to threaten Turkey and her security in any form should be warned that every Turk who loves his country will, if need be, fight.
After giving these interpretations of public psychology and of official opinion, and after drawing attention to the striking resemblance between the two, I should like to define the present crisis from still another angle -- that of the twentieth century. For, to me at least, the present crisis is merely an acute phase of the accumulated travail, birth pains and growing pains of the new era which has that name. Though the twentieth century is forty years old it still has not recovered from the shock it received when it was fourteen.
Materialism, egoism, racism, complacency, hysterical pacifism, hysterical mysticism have grown to such extremes and combined in such a way as to lead inevitably to the present disaster. Materialism, interpreted both from the individual and the national point of view, led to an unlimited egoism. There seemed no place for any other value, "I" occupied so much space. That led in turn to a series of dictators with divinity complexes. Nothing less than the whole habitable earth could suffice them. Racism, the ideology of the chosen race, threatened every people who happened to be born outside of it. Hysterical pacifism in the democratic countries was another malignant growth. For the hysterical pacifist is the deadliest enemy of peace. Whoever wants peace without being ready to pay for its maintenance with the sacrifice of the best in life, nay with life itself, will have no peace. Hysterical mysticism became the handmaid of every unreasonable or bullying human organization. But most of all it was complacency which caused these malignant growths to reach such gigantic proportions. Intellectuals who sensed the danger sat in heated rooms and discussed the situation in poetical terms. No one attempted to define the danger and the necessity to act. And when the body of a sick man refuses to react strongly against disease, and his mind shirks the necessity of an operation, he is doomed.
This seemed the case of Western civilization in the year 1939. I thought the twentieth century was about to turn into the ghastliest, the most nightmarish, in human history. It might, I thought, land us back into a dark age, but organized, refined and perpetuated with twentieth century techniques. Then, during the last months of my stay in Paris in that year, a change seemed to come in the atmosphere. There emerged a new and unexpected sanity of view, a gradual rise in courage to face the surgeon's knife, a sturdier will to live, a hope that still the century might be saved.
In 1940 I believe in the possibility of the survival of Western civilization, that is, in the possibility of its being regenerated. Millions and millions of men and women share the same faith. Their struggle to restore sanity and then peace to a sorely stricken world has only just begun. But so long as the unity of purpose lasts, so long as the struggle to prepare for the worst continues, so long as there is courage to face the consequences, whatever they may be, then the world has reason to hope that after all the twentieth century may lead humanity forward and not backward.
Now let me try and describe Turkey's permanent aims. The American reader may say: "You started the article from the wrong end. You have wandered away into a twentieth century allegory. Why are you beating about the bush? If Turkey's aims do not seem permanent to you, say so briefly and be finished."
I gave precedence to public psychology in discussing Turkey's aims in the present crisis because its oneness with the official outlook invests it with permanence. I jumped to the twentieth century because all aims are affected one way or another by the century they belong to. I left the permanent aims of Turkey to the last because we have to be clear about the term permanent.
If one asked almost any American about the permanent aims of the United States the answer invariably would be, "To safeguard democracy." With due consideration to the more or less varying interpretations the twentieth century may put on democracy, one still may stick the label "Permanent" on American democracy. For, though the impact of events or personalities may have quickened or slackened the belief in democratic principles and the local practice of them, America has remained democratic. Further, through a reasonably long past, gallant sacrifices have been made for the safeguarding of democracy in America. They invest it with the atmosphere of habit, of permanence.
In a book called "Turkey Faces West"[i] I have put down Turkey's aims as I see them in the light of personal experience and historical knowledge. Turkey has been facing West from the first years of the nineteenth century. Destiny has forced her to be a Western country. The struggle between the old order and the new lasted in all for nearly a century. There was stiff resistance and gallant sacrifice. Now the Old is wiped out. The mission and the duty of the Turk of today is no longer to fight the Old, but to discriminate between the bad and the good of the New.
Three radical attempts were made to Westernize Turkey -- in 1826, 1839 and 1908. Barring Abdul Hamid's reign (1876-1908), Turkey struggled valiantly during most of this time on the road to Westernization. With Lausanne, another New Turkey was created, this time a republican one. Ataturk and Ismet Inönü were its leading spirits. Because of its foundations in the past, because of the unusual daring and force of those who created the Republic, it rests on safe and solid ground. Ataturk is no more. Ismet Inönü is today the supreme leading figure of New Turkey. What I had to say about Ataturk's genius as a ruler and reformer I have said in "Turkey Faces West." Suffice it to say that modern Turkey is irrevocably Western.
A country's internal development necessarily accords with its own indigenous cultural and historical forces. Just as democracy colors American life, so Westernization colors ours. What type, one may ask? For there is the West of the democracies and the West of the totalitarians. In the year 1940, one can say that it is the democratic type which Turkey has finally had to adopt. Our partnership with the great democracies for defense and for the safeguarding of broad human values will thus have to be longtermed. If the war ends tomorrow we shall have to go on coöperating for the safeguarding of peace and for the restoration of sanity and the values for which we had been ready to die. Past experience and the road of destiny have led us to democracy and tie us to the nations which exemplify it.
That this is fully realized by the rulers of present-day Turkey is evident in the historical speech made by our prime minister, Refik Saydam, on January 18, 1940. He said: "Our régime is based on constitutional principles. We respect the liberties of all. . . . A system which aims to rule without control [irresponsibly] is an easy one, but such a system is not acceptable to us. Our goal is not to govern without control, but to ensure prosperity and progress through the safest methods. The safest way, in our opinion, is the one which leads to a responsible democratic régime."
Refik Saydam's words must be considered as the result both of sixteen years of experience in power and of an ability to discern what is best for Turkey's internal development. Turkey is at the moment far advanced in its transition. The final adjustment of what has so far been accomplished along educational, social, economic and other lines demands wisdom and foresight and patience rather than force. The adjustment must be made in as democratic a spirit as conditions in the country permit. Ismet Inönü and Refik Saydam have the experience and ability for carrying through this difficult and delicate task.
The foreign policy of any country is determined by its national interests as well as by its cultural and moral inclinations. From this angle, too, Turkish foreign policy has aims which we can speak of as permanent. There is no space here for a comprehensive survey, but we nevertheless may glance at that area which at the moment figures on the front pages of the world press -- the Balkans -- and also at the policies of the Powers which seem to have designs there.
Alliances with the Balkan nations for both economic and defensive purposes are important for Turkish security. They also are necessary for the security of the Balkan nations. Republican Turkey realized this and took a prominent part in promoting the Balkan Pact. If the countries concerned remain closely united among themselves and with Turkey they can hold their own, can escape being caught in imperialist designs of Great Powers, and can live in peace and prosperity. This much can be added definitely: If in the near future one of them breaches the common front and brings war to the Near East that one will not be Turkey.
Italy talks poetically about the Mediterranean being her national sea. The designs she has had on Turkish coast towns can never be realized without the connivance of England and France and the help of Germany and Russia. It is out of the question that England and France would connive at an Italian annexation of Turkish territories now. Even at a time when Italy was their ally they did their best to restrain her from gaining too much power in the Mediterranean. And Italians must be astute enough to see that whatever Germany may promise now, she is the last Power to allow them to establish themselves in an area which she considers part of her own "Lebensraum." We hope, then, that out of common sense Italy may keep out of the Balkan adventure. But common sense has not been characteristic of any of the totalitarians. They play for very high stakes and they may take high risks. Therefore Turkey must be ready for the worst. From this point of view, both now and in the future, Turkey has to cooperate with England and France to keep peace in the Near East.
Turkey's relations with Russia have been more than friendly for the last twenty years. New Russia stood by us at a critical period in our history. We have been loyal to each other. Further, the new régime in Russia had an admirable peace policy; it set a good example in foreign affairs. Unfortunately all that was changed by the Soviet's alliance with Nazi Germany, followed by its recent campaigns in Poland and in Finland. Is Soviet Russia really reverting to the imperialism of Tsarist days? We find it both painful and hard to believe. Good relations between Turkey and Russia are of primary importance for both countries. A Russian attack on Turkey at the moment would involve harder sacrifices and greater risks than any involved in the campaign in Finland. It would mean a fight to a finish with seventeen million Turks, men and women. Germany, who now encourages Russia to march on Turkey, would merely wait her time to turn on Russia. All this, however, is the reasoning of ordinary common sense; and, as I have already noted, the totalitarians are guided by considerations entirely different from common sense. Hence Turkey must be ready to face the worst from the Russian side. The only preventive for such a calamity -- if it can be prevented -- is the alliance with England and France.
Turkey has had friendly relations with Germany since the Great War. Economically we were tied to Germany by fifty percent of our imports and exports. This ought to have been enough to ensure enduring cordiality. But unfortunately Nazi Germany claims parts of the Near East, even parts of Turkey, as her "Lebensraum." In the face of this menace what can Turkey do but ally herself with Britain and France, the only two countries which can and must restrain German as well as Russian imperialistic expansion in the Near East?
I need add nothing more. Destiny imposes Turkey's alliances and historical necessity will make them permanent.
Ataturk, after leading the epic struggle of the Turks to a successful conclusion, had the good luck to be left free to carry through his reforms and internal changes with no war cloud on the horizon. Ismet Inönü came to power at a menacing moment in world history. I say in all sincerity that it would be difficult to conceive anyone more suited to the task of seeing Turkey through the present crisis. As a man, he is representative of the simple Turk at his best. He understands both the weak and the strong points of the human materials which form the ruling machinery. His personality creates an atmosphere of national unity at home; and in foreign relations his experience and his high moral qualities give him a special position on the international peace front.
[i] New Haven: Yale University Press, 1930.