24 June 2015, House of Lords
The Centre for Turkey Studies hosted a Westminster Debate with keynote speaker Professor Dr Bekir Karliga, Chief Advisor to the Prime Minister of Turkey, Coordinator of Alliance of Civilisations, and Chairman of the International Istanbul Civilisation Studies Centre. This debate was kindly hosted by Lord Sheikh with the assistance of Lady Sheikh and chaired by Lord Temple-Morris.
Prof Karliga’s speech was translated by Andrew Penny.
Lord Temple-Morris opened the event, expressing interest in Turkey and noting the significance of the role of CEFTUS, given Turkey’s importance in the contemporary Middle East. He stated that Turkey’s role in the region is crucial, and domestic satisfaction in the country is necessary for it to be able to play a balancing role amid the current crisis. Lord Temple-Morris continued to state that Professor Dr Bekir Karliga and his work on civilisation is key in this, and noted the importance of the role of Islam and Islamic civilisation in particular in promoting peace and humanitarian values.
Professor Dr Karliga opened by expressing his concerns for a Middle East full of violence, bloodshed and disregard for humanity, human rights and dignity and expressed deep concern for the future of civilisation.
He quoted the American researcher Leslie Lipson, saying that Western civilisation has never needed moral revolution as much as at present, and argued that this has been needed since the second half of the 20th Century. He quoted further, saying that over the last 200 years the West has become intoxicated with consumerism, materialism and commercial supremacy. Professor Dr Karliga then stated that this situation, coupled with growing populations in underdeveloped areas, will make the planet uninhabitable. He argued that a revolution in our institutions and secondly in values is required, and that this happening simultaneously could save humanity.
Professor Dr Karliga gave a broad historical overview of philosophical change beginning in the 13th Century with Islamic philosophers, leading onto the European Renaissance. He stated that the changes of the Renaissance created problems and religious difference which fostered war between European states and plunged Europe into chaos. He continued, stating that in the 1640s, the nation state as a political unit was widely accepted in Europe. Western countries, he said, then gained superiority over the wider world in the18th Century due to the industrial revolution.
He said that the Enlightenment replaced the previous dogmatic scholastic approach and the only criteria favoured was intelligence rather than belief, and the development of positivist philosophy marginalised spiritual values. He stated that at the same time, the view developed that being civilised and the West were mutual and that it could not occur outside organically. From here, Professor Dr Karliga argued that positivism, materialism and orientalism developed over the 19th Century causing a Eurocentric approach linked with imperialism. He stated that over the first half of the 20th century, the First and Second World Wars and the development of nuclear weapons threatened the existence of the planet, he evidenced this by stating that in this time, according to the Swedish research institute well over a trillion dollars were spent on arms.
He stated that the foremost concerns of the 21st Century is freedom and rights. He regarded freedom as a matter of consciousness. Freedom according to Professor Dr Karliga is a value combining humane virtues of peace, friendship and tolerance. He stated that it could not be forgotten that science and materialism though bringing wealth, cannot always bring happiness. He also said that presently rights are equally important to freedom, because without them equilibrium cannot exist in society.
Professor Dr Karliga said that justice and law must be the basis of our values and that democracy is accepted now as the most suitable administrative means of protecting human rights, honour and dignity. He argued that for two-hundred years, it has served as the primary basis for modern ideas. He continued saying that globally and immediately, positivism is insufficient to protect peace and rights, religious and spiritual moral values are key to the solution. He argued that religions’ main aims are to redesign and repair this spiritual existence and that the main message of religions is the same, namely to establish peace, love and respect as the main features of the world, which are universal values.
He stated that Islam in particular is based on peaceful co-existence and tolerance giving the example of the root of the word Islam itself, “selam” which means peace. He continued, noting that a common Muslim greeting is selam or “peace be upon you” and that this attitude works to help people to live together in peace with other communities. He said that in Islam war is not a main principle but a temporary and exceptional last resort. He stated further that Islamic doctrines demanded that non-Muslims such as Christians and Jews be treated well by Muslims, and that when the Prophet Muhammad was on his deathbed, he said that those perpetrating injustice against non-Muslims would suffer on judgement day.
Professor Dr Karliga also discussed secularism, defining it as separation of religion and state, he stated that it can be used to safeguard freedom of conscience and religion and that it contains principles of human rights equality and justice. He noted however that different interpretations of secularism can be open and free, but also rigid, dogmatic and based on aggressive materialism and positivism. He expressed the view that difference is emphasised over commonalities and in today’s world and that more than ever before, a new universal civilisation is needed. He stated that fanaticism and radicalism should be condemned and love promoted by all, and that the creation of a new, universal and virtuous worldview was possible by doing so.
He claimed that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan advocates this new alliance of civilisations worldview, which is presently being developed by scholars in Turkey and elsewhere, is a strong step towards peace and universalisation. Professor Dr Karliga continued, noting that 127 countries and 20 international institutions have joined and support this effort. He continued stating that a committee has been set up in Turkey to help the movement’s progress. Research centres have been established at different universities offering Master’s programmes in English, Turkish, Arabic and Spanish since 2012. Discussing his own efforts and initiatives, he also stated that the International Istanbul Civilisation Studies Centre he established is carrying out various research projects.
He stated that the Turkish Republic has adopted the principles of the social state and has combined Islam and democracy and has advocated the peaceful co-existence of different ethno-religious groups. He concluded, stating that Turkey with its wealth of historical experience, it is well suited to play a strong role in spreading the new universal world view.
A question and answer session followed.