Abant Platform on Africa

İhsan Yılmaz
İhsan Yılmaz


Date posted: June 28, 2013

For three days I will be away from Turkey’s increasingly suffocating internal politics. For this reason alone I am grateful to the Journalists and Writers Foundation, organizer of the Abant Platform on Africa.

I think this three-day event will, among other things, show us, Turks, that there is a huge world outside Turkey and that we need to be humble about our country. Our Turkey-centric approach and our obsession with internal politics — which pave the way for ignorance of the outside world — will be challenged in this and similar meetings.

The meeting will have five sessions: One, “Africa: Images and Realities”; two, “Contribution of African Values to Universal Coexistence”; three, “Education in Africa: Challenges and Opportunities”; four, “Health in Africa: Challenges and Opportunities”; and five, “Economic Development of Africa: Different Approaches to Sustainable Growth.” I want to specifically focus on the first and second sessions.

The decision to have sessions on “Africa: Images and Realities” and “The Contribution of African Values to Universal Coexistence” reminds me of the Hizmet movement’s worldview. This worldview first and foremost rests on humility. Second, it does not see itself as having a “civilizing mission” but a mission to build bridges between different individuals, nations, groups, countries, religions and civilizations so that they will know each other better, accept each other as they are and cooperate for a better world. The first session’s title implies that we must be humble about our knowledge of Africa. Second, it suggests that it is wrong to project our constructions, myths and imaginings onto Africa. Third, we must make an effort to have an interactive dialogue with Africans, instead of speaking and making decisions on their behalf. These three themes are also suggested by the title of the second session.

The title “Contribution of African Values to Universal Coexistence” has more to tell us. It is both a subtle challenge and also an offer to help solve the problems of Western modernity, which focuses on values such as growth, “progress,” technology and power. From this perspective, Africa as it is has almost nothing to offer the world, it is at the consumer-end of these modernistic values. If that is the constructed case, then from a modernist perspective, Africa deserves to be conquered, ruled, civilized, colonized and controlled by more “progressed” civilizations.

To cut a long story short, just think of the movie “Avatar.” The genius of James Cameron has reminded us moderns once more how ignorant we are when it comes to other cultures and civilizations. We are not only ignorant but also despicably ridiculous; we aren’t even aware of our ignorance and claim to have a monopoly over the truth just because we are more powerful, thanks to our technology, than others. The Quran refers to us, humans, as God’s vicegerents on Earth, but we are also told that humans are the most ignorant and cruel to the truth (zaluman jahula). Colonizing humans in the movie Avatar learned their lesson the hard way. When it comes to Africa, it will take some time to come to terms with our ignorance and wrongdoings.

But when we do, we will have agonizingly and repentantly learned that before the colonization and shameless exploitation of Africa, it indeed had a civilization, a different understanding of the cosmos and an excellent worldview based on harmony and order in nature, where humans know and respect their limits and responsibilities. For several years, I have taught a course called “Legal Systems of Asia and Africa” at SOAS, University of London, and this course not only looks at Africans’ modern systems but their traditional ones as well. Our students learn the ways in which Africans have law and order in their society. Yet from an ignorant, modern, legal positivist perspective, all you can see is a chaotic jungle. In the name of being “scientific,” what a disservice to the truth!

It is high time such courses are offered at Turkish universities.

Source: Today’s Zaman, 28 June, 2013


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