FREEDOM AND CONSTITUTIONALISM (PART 1)
Bediuzzaman was saved from his place of custody in Istanbul and taken secretly to Salonica. There he stayed as a guest in the house of Manyasizade Refik Bey, who was to be Minister of Justice in the first Cabinet following the proclamation of the Constitution, and was at that lime Chairman of the Central Committee of the Committee of Union and Progress in Salonica. Through him Bediuzzaman made the acquaintance of the leading figures of the CUP.
As was mentioned above, the CUP was one group within the. Young Turk movement, which formed the main focus of opposition to Sultan Abdulhamid, and had members both within Turkey and in Europe. In Turkey, the movement was well suppressed, but conditions favoured ,its growth, particularly among army officers, the composition of whom was changing as a result of the reforms. It was in Salonica, a place open to diverse influences, I that a group of officers together with a number of others, founded a revolutionary secret society in 1906. And subsequently establishing relations with ‘ one of the groups of Young Turks in Paris, adopted their name of the Committee of Union and Progress.
It is important at this point. to clarify Bediuzzaman’s attitude towards politics generally, and towards the Young ‘Turks. We can make two main points. Firstly, Bediuzzaman’s involvement with politics was always with the aim of making politics serve religion, to point out Islamic principles and give direction to those in power: He was never involved in politics for their own sake, or for power, prestige or position. The Committee of Union and Progress in Salonica were a `mixed bunch’, what unified them was their patriotism and desire to save the crumbling Empire. The majority of them being army officers, they had little experience of politics and political administration, and even when they forced the proclamation of the Constitution, they had no political plan or programme. For the most part, their attitude towards Islam was positive; and not only as the main politically unifying factor of the Empire. Even the secular theorists from among the Young Turks such as Ahmed Riza and Abdullah Cevdet accepted the positive function of Islam in society. Bediuzzaman himself later wrote:
“At the beginning of the Constitutional Period I saw that there were atheists who had infiltrated the CUP who accepted that Islam and the Seriat of Muhammed contained exalted principles extremely beneficial and valuable for the life of society and particularly Ottoman policies and who supported the Seriat with all their strength…” But while a majority of them were in any event not hostile to Islam, due to their secular backgrounds and education, they had been influenced in varying degrees by European ideas; many were uninformed about their religion and were lax in the practice of it. An important reason, therefore, in Bediuzzaman associating with the Young ‘Turks before the Constitution was proclaimed was to persuade them that for the Empire’s future progress and well-being, Freedom must be established on the Seriat and Islam adhered to, as well as for himself to be able to serve this end. But again it must be stressed that while he continued to support those Young Turks who shared this end, he became a strenuous opponent of those of them who deviated from it. For their part, the leading members of the CUP in Salonica were impressed by the calibre of this famous young scholar, and, as a man of religion and an unswerving supporter of Freedom, were keen to employ him in the propagation of his ideas on Freedom.
The second point to make about Bediuzzaman and politics will perhaps illuminate this further. Bediuzzaman was a realist; he accepted the current situation, and, looking to the future, sought ways of directing the trend of events into Islamic channels. For example, subsequent to the French Revolution, the ideas of liberty, equality, justice, and the rule of law had been universally accepted as preferable to despotism and arbitrary rule; the trend towards representative government was inevitable and unavoidable, in the Ottoman Empire as well as in Europe. Bediuzzaman accepted the trend, and through pointing out that these luminous concepts are not the exclusive property of the West as the Europeans would have it, but are fundamental to Islam, showed the way towards developing a truly Islamic form of government. This demonstrating that consultation, equality before the law, justice, freedom, and brotherhood are enjoined by Islam and were practiced by the Prophet Muhammed and his immediate successors, and that despotism is contrary to Islam, is not apologetics nor some belated and dubious claim to them as is often portrayed, but is a genuine statement of fact, and is, furthermore, a recognition of the dynamic nature of the Seriat
Bediuzzaman’s success in spreading these ideas in Salonica caused him to be looked on very favorably by the Committee of Union and Progress, and in regard to this, the Commander of the Third Army, then stationed in Salonica, Field Marshal Ibrahim Pasa, summoned him in order to meet him. Undaunted by the Pasa’s rank and the sensitivity of the issues, Bediuzzaman put forwards his ideas with his usual fearlessness in the interview. The Pasa must have been persuaded of them to a degree anyway for he afterwards asked Kazim Nami, his political advisor: “Did you know this Bediuzzaman before? He is extremely knowledgeable in every subject… his ideas are different just like his dress…” The meeting caused quite a sensation and reports of it appeared in the Young Turk newspapers published in Paris. They praised Bediuzzaman as a hope for Freedom and Justice in the area of religion and learning.
Another figure of some fame, or notoriety, got to hear of Bediuzzaman and his activities, and that was Emanuel Karaso, later the Jewish deputy for Salonica, and Grand Master of the Macedonia Risorta Masons’ Lodge. No doubt wanting to find a way of influencing such a talent and using it for his own purposes, he sought a meeting with Bediuzzaman. Bediuzzaman agreed, but the Grand Master left abruptly half way through the conversation, and confessed to those waiting for him outside: “If I had stayed any longer, he would have made a Muslim of me!”
In July, 1908, the events in Macedonia leading to the proclamation of the Constitution followed on one after the other. During a meeting of the Central Committee of the CUP, it was decided that the first speech should be given by Bediuzzaman. This decision is recorded in the memoirs of Atif Bey, also present.
“Despite it [Freedom] being first proclaimed in Manastir, the original decision was for it to be in Salonica, which we called the Cradle of Freedom. We had met in Manyasizade Refik Bey’s house. There were eleven of us, of whom eight were in the Army. Refik Bey was in the chair, and there was Bediuzzaman Said Kurdi representing religion, and Hafiz ibrahim Efendi, who had supported the CUP in every respect from the start and was later Deputy for Ipekli. It was decided that the first speech should be given by Bediuzzaman, who attracted attention with everything he did. When Fethi Bey (later CUP General Secretary, and, as Fethi Okay, was Prime Minister under the Republic) suggested we fix its subject, Refit Bey replied pointing to Bediuzzaman: `I am of the opinion that whatever the Hazret says, it will be applauded.’ In truth, I still recall the speech. I was astonished, he spoke not about different forms of government and the like, but said that the real need of the country was for roads, bridges, aeroplanes, railways, trade, factories, and institutions of science and learning.”
Indeed, in the speech he gave, firstly impromptu in Beyazit in Istanbul immediately following the proclamation of the Constitution, . and subsequently in Freedom Square in Salonica, Bediuzzaman explained to the people the meaning of constitutionalism, and how they should regard it, and that if the Seriat was made the source of it, “This oppressed nation will progress a thousand times further than in former times.”
· ‘Address to Freedom’
The text of the speech, entitled `Address to Freedom’, is too long to include here in its entirety, so we shall rather briefly point out the main ideas it describes, and include parts of it by way of illustration. But first, it is worth noting the importance Bediuzzaman attached to illuminating and mobilizing the ordinary people and community of believers in the struggle for progress, as is illustrated by the few introductory sentences to the Address to Freedom. For while the proclamation of the Constitution was greeted with jubilation it was still believed by many that the new Govemment was irreligious and that it was not permissible to obey it, a belief that was clearly open to exploitation by its opponents.
In addition, in regard to politics, the fundamental ideas that Bediuzzaman adhered to was that all the community should participate in the political process, and that the government should reflect the nation’s will, and that, furthermore, government based on these principles was enjoined by Islam. Following the proclamation of the Constitution, therefore, Bediuzzaman expended much effort addressing the ordinary people, and especially his fellows Kurds, who had been subject to negative propaganda about the Constitution and were deeply suspicious of it, in order to explain to them its meaning, and their own rights and responsibilities towards it. And so, in an introductory passage to the Address to Freedom, Bediuzzaman addresses his audience directly and asks them to participate mentally in what he is going to discuss. Let their hearts be open…”For there is work to do for your zeal, religious feeling, and endeavor; they are going to discuss certain matters; they are going to kindle a light from the dark comers of the heart.”
Rather than being merely an ode in praise of Freedom, the Address to Freedom is primarily an exhortation to adhere to Islam and its morality in the new era. With the advent of Freedom, the Ottoman nation has been given the opportunity to progress and establish true civilization as in former times, but this will only be achieved if they make the Seriat the foundation of Freedom. It points out the detrimental effects of despotism on the one hand, and the possibilities for progress that Freedom provides on the other. Together with this, it constitutes a programme of what must be achieved and what must be avoided in order to preserve Freedom and secure progress. In doing this It describes some of the causes of the Ottoman decline.
“O Freedom! … I convey these glad tidings to you, that if you make the Seriat, which is life itself, the source of life, and if you grow in that paradise, this oppressed nation will progress a thousand limes further than in former times. If, that is, it takes you as its guide in all matters and does not besmirch you through harboring personal enmity and thoughts of revenge… Freedom has exhumed us from The grave of desolation and despotism, and summoned us to the paradise of unity and love of nation…”
“…The doors of a suffering-free paradise of progress and civilization have been opened to us… The Constitution, which is in accordance with the Seriat, is the introduction to the sovereignty of the nation and invites us to enter like the treasury-guard of Paradise. O my oppressed compatriots! Let us go and enter!
So, having pointed out That sovereignty will now lie with the nation, Bediuzzaman goes onto describe “five doors” That have to be entered, or five principles to which the State should be bound so that this paradise might be attained. The first is “the union of hearts”. This has been described as preserving the consciousness of the Ottoman State’s unity and wholeness, especially in the face of the nationalist and separatist movements of the minorities. The second door is “love of the nation”. That is, the individuals who make up the nation being aware of their nationhood and nurturing love for one another. Remembering that “The foundation and spirit of our true riationhood is Islam.” The Third is “education”, which refers to the cultural and educational level of the nation being raised to a satisfactory point. The fourth is human endcavour ; that is, everyone being guaranteed work, and receiving fair recompense for their labour. And the fifth door is “the giving. up of dissipation”, which is understood as the giving up of ostentation and extravagance, both on an individual level and as a society, which cause discord, and were a malaise afflicting state officials in particular at that time.
Bediuzzaman points out the harmful effects of the vice and immorality that result from despotism, material as well as moral, while “The voice of Freedom and justice… raises to life our emotions, hopes, exalted national aspirations, and fine Islamic character and morality, all of which were dead.”
After immediately wharning against killing these again “through dissipation and carelessness in religion”, Bediuzzaman predicts that unity, adherence to Islamic morality together with the successful functioning of the constitutional government and genuine practice of the Islamic principle of consultation will result in the Ottoman nation soon “competing neck and neck with the civilized nations.” The metaphors for progress Bediuzzaman uses in the passage demonstrate his own belief in science and technology.
Bediuzzaman lays great stress on the need to adhere to Islamic morality for true progress and civilization to be achieved, and next voices his constant fear that if Freedom is understood as license, it will be lost and will result in a return to despotism, “for Freedom flourishes and is realized through the observance of the ordinances and conduct of the Seriat, and good morals.”
Bediuzzaman next warns against acquiring “the sins and evils of civilization” and abandoning its virtues. The Ottomans should imitate the Japanese in taking from Western civilization what will assist them in progress, while preserving their own national customs:
“We shall take with pleasure the points of Europe-like technology and industry – that will assist us in progress and civilization. However,…. we shall forbid the sins and evils of civilization from entering the bounds of Freedom and our civilization with the sword of the Seriat, so that the young people in our civilization will be protected by the pure, cold spring of life of the Seriat. We must imitate the Japanese in acquiring civilization, for in taking only the virtues of civilization from Europe they preserved their national customs, which arc the leaven of every nation’s continuance. Since our national customs grew up within Islam, they should be clung on to in two respects.”
By contrasting conditions under the old and new regimes, Bediuzzaman goes on to describe five indestructible truths on which Freedom will be established. They are as follows: the First Truth is unity, the Second, science, learning, and civilization. The Third Truth is a new generation of able and enlightened men to lead and administer the nation. Bediuzzaman describes how with “the rain of Freedom”, the abilities and potentialities of everyone, even common villagers, will develop and be expanded so that “the vigorous field of Asia and Rumelia well produce the crops” of the brilliant and superior men so badly needed. “And the East will be to the West what dawn is to sunset. If, that is, they do not wither up through the languor of idleness and poison of malice.”
The Fourth Truth is the Seriat. Bediuzzaman explains: “Since the Illustrious Seriat has come from the Pre-Eternal Word of God, it will go to PostEternity.” For it is dynamic. The Seriat adapts and expands in relation to man’s development. It comprises equality, justice, and true freedom with all its relations and requirements. The initial period of Islam is proof of this. Therefore, Bediuzzaman says, their present unfortunate condition results from four causes: failure to observe the Seriat, arbitrary and erroneous interpretations of it, bigotry on the part of certain “ignorant externalist scholars”, and fourthly, “abandoning through ill-fortune and bad choice, the virtues of Europe, which are difficult to acquire, and imitating like parrots or children the sins and evils of civilization, which are agreeable to man’s base appetites.”
The Fifth Truth is the Parliament, and the Islamic principle of mutual consultation. In this complex modem age, it is only through a constituent assembly, consultation, and freedom of thought that the state can be upheld, administered, and guided.
Bediuzzaman completes the Address with three “warnings”. Firstly state officials who are prepared to adapt to the new regime must be treated with respect and their experience must be benefited from. Secondly, he points out that the sickness afflicting the Empire has spread from the centre of the Caliphate, from Istanbul, and goes on to urge reconciliation between “the three main branches of the `public guide”‘, the scholars of the Madrases, those of secular schools, and the Sufis in the tekkes. This point was discussed above, as was the following, third wharning, which concerns the preachers. Again, Bediuzzaman is urging them to renew their ideas and methods, and speak conformably with the needs of the times.