BEDIUZZAMAN AND THE THIRTY-FIRST OF MARCH INCIDENT (PART 3)
The Court Martial
If further illustration is needed of Bediuzzaman’s unwavering fidelity to the cause he knew to be the only path of salvation for both the Ottomans and the Islamic world, and his extraordinary boldness and courage in furthering it, his defense speech to the court martial provides it. It is a restatement of his ideas, and at the same time forms a stinging condemnation both of the CUP and the new despotism they were creating in the name of constitutionalism, and of the military courts that had been set up in the name of justice following the 3l st of March Incident. Bediuzzaman had been held in prison before being sent before the court martial, which he described as a place of torture; it was this together with his experience of the mental hospital which prompted him to deliver this attack on the CUP’s betrayal of constitutionalism and gave the name to the speech when it appeared in book form. The basic lesson he had learnt from these `Two Schools of Misfortune’ was “compassion for the weak and an intense detestation of tyranny.”
The military courts were fairly awesome affairs with the pasas and officers who were acting as judges haughty and autocratic and holding absolute power of life and death over those brought before them. Formalities were of the most summary nature, and the sentences and executions carried out immediately. The day Bediuzzaman was brought before the court in Bayezid, the corpses of fifteen of its victims could be seen hanging in the square beyond the windows.
At the beginning of the hearing, Bediuzzaman was asked a number of , questions put to all the accused. One of these, asked by Hursid Pasa, the President of the Court, was: “Did you want the Seriat? Those wanting the Seriat are hanged like those out there.” Bediuzzaman replied:
“If I had a thousand lives, I would be ready to sacrifice all of them for one truth of the Seriat, for the Seriat is the source of prosperity and happiness, pure justice, and virtue. But not like those who revolted want it.”
Then he was asked: “Are you a member of the Society For Muslim Unity?” To which he replied:
“With pride. I am one of its most insignificant members. But in the way that I define it. Show me someone apart from those without religion who is not a member.”
Bediuzzaman told the court:
“Generals and officers! By way of introduction I say: the manly and brave do not stoop to crime. And if they are accused of it, they do not fear the punishment. If I am executed unjustly, I shall gain the reward of two martyrs. And if I remain in prison, prison is probably the most comfortable place of a tyrannical government whose freedom consists thus only of the word. To die oppressed is better than to live as oppressor.”
The main part of Bediuzzaman’s long defence took the form of describing the eleven and a half “crimes” for which he had been imprisoned. These were his main activities in the nine months of freedom, and were all in the cause of Islam and the constitution. They have mostly been described above, including his reasons for joining the Society For Muslim Unify and how he viewed it, and his movements during the revolt. Bediuzzaman then said: “…I have done one good thing in place of all these bad deeds. I shall tell you:
“I opposed this branch of despotism here, which has destroyed everyone’s enthusiasm and extinguished their joy; awakened feelings of hatred and partisanship, and given rise to the formation of recialist societies, whose name is constitutionalism and meaning is despotism, and who has besmirched the name of unity and progress… Since I am pledged to true constitutionalism based on the Seriat, whatever form despotism takes, even if it clothes itself in constitutionalism and calls itself that, I shall strike it wherever I encounter it. I think the enemies of constitutionalism arc those who make the enemies of mutual consultation many through showing constitutionalism to be tyrannical, ugly, and contrary to the Serial.”
“O you who command! I had a good name and I would have served the nation of Islam with it; you have destroyed it. I had an undeserved fame and I used to make my words of advice to the people effective with it; I am pleased to say you have razed it. Now I have a frail life of which I am weary. May I be damned if I begrudge the gallows it. May I not be a man if I do not go laughing to my death… You put me to the touchstone. I wonder how many of those you call the pure party would emerge sound if you put them to the touchstone. If constitutionalism consists of one party’s despotism, and it acts contrary to the Seriat, let all the world, men and jinn, bear witness that I am a reactionary…”
Bediuzzaman also wanted to set the record straight concerning the 3l st of March Incident, discipline in the Army, and the Seriat and its role, which from the start had been misinterpreted and misrepresented by newspapers of both sides. The seven main reasons he put forward for the revolt were substantially the same as those given above. Then saying to the court:
“Generals and officers! Now I want the punishment for my `crimes’, and the answers to my questions…”, Bediuzzaman put to them eleven and a half questions which pointed out that the majority of those involved were not blameworthy and suggested that injustices arising from CUP rule were the cause. These questions resulted in between forty and fifty prisoners being released.
Towards the end of his address, Bediuzzaman told the court that he was absolutely insistent on everything he had written in all his newspaper articles. Whether he was summoned to a court in the Era of the Prophet, or to one three hundred years hence, his case, “dressed according to how the fashion of the time required”, would be exactly the same. “The truth does not change; the truth is the truth.”
Bediuzzaman expected to be hanged by this court martial, which for its evidence had relied chiefly on informers and denouncers. Indeed, he had asked the court: “The detectives now are worse than the one’s before, how can their word be relied on? How can justice be built on what they say?” On learning that the court’s unanimous decision was for his acquittal, Bediuzzaman expressed no gratitude. He turned and left the court on being released, then walked from Bayezid to Sultan Ahmet at the head of the large ‘ crowd that had gathered, shouting: “Long live Hell for all tyrants! Long live Hell for all tyrants!”
The 31 st of March Incident was indeed as Bediuzzaman described it, “The Great Disaster”. Whatever the CUP’s role in it, it provided them with the opportunity they had been seeking. Firstly, they realized their long-held ambition to depose Sultan Abdulhamid. Immediately preceding the revolt, they had come out into the open and proclaimed themselves an official party. Then following it, they disbanded the opposition parties, a little later further reduced the powers of the Sultan, and gained tighter control over the State. The same year they introduced a number of measures which restricted freedom to a greater degree than under Abdulhamid. The Society for Muslim Unity was closed and disbanded; indeed, many of its leading members had met their end on the gallows of the military courts.
Bediuzzaman felt profound disillusion with Istanbul and its deceptively civilized exterior after what he had experienced in the short time he had been there. His gaze now returned to his native East. He wrote: “If civilization provides such a favorable ground for honour-destroying aggression and dissension-causing slander, cruel thoughts of revenge, satanic sophistry, and carelessness in matters of religion, let everyone witness that in place of this seat of malice known as the felicitous palace of civilization I prefer the wild nomad tents of the high mountains of Kurdistan, the place of absolute freedom… I thought that writers’ conduct should be worthy of literature. But I see some ill-mannered newspapers disseminating hatred. If that is how manners should be, and if public opinion is thus confused, bear witness that I have renounced such literature. I shall have no part in it. In place of the newspapers, I shall study the heavenly bodies and tableaux of the world in the high mountains of my native land….
“Yes, I prefer the wild life to civilization which is thus mixed with despotism, depravity, and degradation. This civilization makes individuals impoverished, dissolute, and immoral, whereas true civilization serves mankind’s progress and development and the realization of man’s potential. In this regard, therefore, to want civilization is to want humanity…
“Long live Islamic Constitutionalism! Long live the shining Freedom which has learnt a thorough lesson from the instruction of the reality of the Seriat! “