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And Seek Their Counsel in the Matter [Qur'an, Sura 3, Verse 159]

By:
Namîk Kemal
Document type:
Articles and Essays

And Seek Their Counsel in the Matter [Qur'an, Sura 3, Verse 159]

Namîk Kemal

Commentary

Nam îk Kemal (Turkey, 1840–1888) was a leading advocate of constitutionalism and a famous poet and playwright. He received little formal education and spent much of his childhood accompanying his grandfather, a government official who served in various regions of the Ottoman Empire. In Kars, in eastern Anatolia, he studied Sufism. In Sofia, Bulgaria—then an Ottoman province—he learned Arabic and Persian, and produced his first poetry. In the 1860s, while working at the government Translation Bureau, he began writing newspaper articles on literature and social problems, especially women's education. He also joined a constitutionalist group later known as the Young Ottomans Society, and was banished from Istanbul through appointment as assistant governor of Erzurum. Kemal fled to Europe to publish an opposition journal, Hürriyet (Liberty). He penned most of the journal's articles—including the one translated here—explaining constitutionalism in an Islamic context and attempting to reconcile shari‘a (Islamic law) with European theories of law. In 1870, Kemal returned to Istanbul and founded the newspaper İbret (The Moral), until performance of his patriotic play Vatan yahud Silistre (Homeland or Silistria) prompted public demonstrations, and he was exiled to Cyprus. Pardoned after three years, Kemal was appointed to the Council of the State, and worked on the commission preparing the Ottoman constitution. The following year, the sultan turned against constitutionalism and had its proponents arrested. Kemal was banished to the islands of Rhodes and Chios—now in Greece—where he continued to write, defending Islam against Europeans’ accusations of backwardness.1 Ömer Faruk Akün, “Namîk Kemal,” İslam Ansiklopedisi (Encyclopedia of Islam), volume 9 (Istanbul, Turkey: Maarif Matbaasî, 1971), pp. 54–72; Mehmed Kaplan, Namîk Kemal (Namîk Kemal) (Istanbul, Turkey: İstanbul üniversitesi Edebiyat Fakültesi, 1948); Mithat Cemal Kuntay, Namîk Kemal Devrinin İnsanlarî ve Olaylarî Arasînda (Personalities and Events from the Time of NamîkKemal), 2 volumes (Istanbul, Turkey: Maarif Matbaasî and Millî Eğitim Basîmevi, 1944–1957); Şerif Mardin, The Genesis of Young Ottoman Thought (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1962), pp. 283–336; Mustafa Kemal Özön, Namîk Kemal ve İbret Gazetesi (Namîk Kemal and the Newspaper “The Moral”) (Istanbul, Turkey: Remzi Kitabevi, 1938).

Being created free by God, man is naturally obliged to benefit from this divine gift. General freedom is protected within society because society can produce a preponderant force to safeguard the individual from the fear of the aggression on the part of another individual.

Accordingly, the service rendered by society in this world is the creation of a preponderant force, absolutely indispensable for the protection of freedom, upon which the continued existence of humanity is dependent. Thus the constitutive element of sovereignty, which is charged with the establishment of right and the suppression of wrong, is that force that comes into being from the conjunction of individual forces. Therefore, just as all individuals have the natural right to exercise their own power, so too conjoined powers naturally belong to all individuals as a whole, and consequently in every society the right to sovereignty belongs to the public.

A shar‘ [religious law] proof of this claim is the following legal rule:

If the people of a town gathered and appointed someone as qadi [judge] over themselves to judge cases arising among them, the judicial activity of this person could not be valid; judicial authority would still belong to the qadi appointed by the state because jurisdiction is a right of the government. But if the people of a town gathered and pledged allegiance to someone for the sultanate or caliphate, this person would [indeed] become sultan or caliph, while the previous sultan or caliph would retain no authority whatever, because the imamate is a right of the umma [the Islamic community].

The public cannot perform the duties attached to this right for themselves, so the appointment of an imam [leader] and the establishment of a government are indispensable. This is obviously nothing other than society's delegating the performance of the aforementioned duties to some of its members. Accordingly, monarchs have no right to govern other than the authorization granted to them by the umma in the form of allegiance [bay‘a], and the authorization granted to ministers through appointment by monarchs. The apt saying in the hadith [tradition of the Prophet] “the leader of the tribe is its servant” hints at this.2 [Traditionally this saying of the Prophet was understood to commend a willingness on the part of someone in high office to perform small private services for his inferiors (as opposed to “pulling rank”). Here Namîk Kemal uses it rather to present rulership as a public service.—Trans.]

Each umma can delegate command to a greater or lesser degree, according to its exigencies and ethics. It is nevertheless one of the basic principles of governance that, “regardless of time, place, and circumstance, state authority should be realized in the way which will least limit the freedom of the individual.” For example, no umma would wish to infringe this principle by such actions as appointing one of its members permanently as an absolute ruler, or bestowing legislative authority upon a [single] individual. Even if it wishes to do so, it could not rightfully proceed, because an individual has no right to wrong himself, neither does the public have the right to violate the rights of individuals. Furthermore, since it is a consequence of natural law that the circumstances of one generation affect the succeeding generations, no society can have the authority to choose a way of acting that would harm those who come after it.

There are two major means to keep the state within the limits of justice. The first is to emancipate the fundamental principles of the administration from the domain of implicit interpretations and to make them public. The excuses, cavils, and denials that may emanate from the state would thus be checked.

The second is the method of consultation, which takes the legislative power out of the hands of the members of the government.

The state is a moral personality. The making of laws is tantamount to its will, and the execution [of laws] is its actions. As long as both of these are held in the same hands, the actions of the government can never be saved from the unfettered exercise of will. Thus the necessity for a council of the umma arises from this.

Let us glance at the fundamental regulations of our administration. Today we are in possession of the Rescript of Gülhane [Ottoman reform program of 1839], the Rescript of Reform [Ottoman decree of 1856 guaranteeing equal rights for members of all religious communities], and the recently delivered imperial speech [of 1868, including a liberal critique of the Ottoman legal system]. Some rules that may be described as fundamental principles can be deduced from the general character of these documents by taking the real and essential meaning of certain phrases into consideration. Yet none of these documents has the clarity and methodical structure to constitute a base for the administration of a civilized state.

Furthermore, some of these documents contain limitations denying the freedom of the people, embodied in such phrases as “without reaching the degree of freedom,” and in some others many superfluities regarding the details of administration are found.

Since the rights of man are determined by reason and tradition, and the present state of affairs of our civilization is evident, the aforementioned imperial rescripts and decrees must be corrected by bringing these two principles into conformity. That is, their superfluities should be pruned, their obscurities should be clarified, and the necessary principles should be formulated—for example, the requisite freedom for everyone to scrutinize the state and criticize the actions of the government, either verbally or through publication, given that sovereignty belongs to the people. After this, a rescript of fundamental principles should be issued to ensure that the administration of the Ottoman state is indeed based upon freedom and justice. The inevitable consequence of this is the method of consultation, which is the very object of our discussion.

Let us first consider the truth of this Eastern Question which is so much talked about: As is known, Russia wants to annihilate the Sublime State [Ottoman Empire], while the Western states prevent her from carrying this out. And yet, while Russia has been attempting to accomplish her goal by provoking the Christian subjects of the Sublime State, Europe has been helping the complainants whom Russia has encouraged to come forward. At first glance, these actions may appear as a major contradiction. However, in fact, it is our state that compels the Europeans to follow this course.

When the Russians sent [Knyaz Aleksandr Sergeyevich] Menshikov [Russian general, 1787–1867] to Istanbul [in 1853] to protect their coreligionists [and the Crimean War broke out], the Western Powers sacrificed their resources and the lives of their men along with us in order to resist Russian intervention. At the end of the conflict, however, they proposed to us the reformation of our tyrannical administration. At that juncture the Sublime Porte should have succeeded in preventing all foreign interventions and securing our future existence by correcting the fundamentals of the state and obtaining a collective European guarantee as a constitutional state. Instead, the Sublime Porte mollified Europe by granting certain privileges to the Christians alone. Furthermore, by including these reforms in the Treaty of Paris, they [Ottoman statesmen] both promised to reform the conditions of the Christian subjects in the name of the sultan and granted the [European] guarantor states a right of supervision in this matter.

Now whenever Christians make allegations against the state, whether true or false, these result in their acquisition of rights. This is because the fundamentals of the administration are corrupt, the officials are not accountable, there is no consultation, and there is no oversight on the part of the umma. For these reasons the Europeans do not believe us, regardless of the magnitude of the privileges granted to the Christians to whom we have promised reform, and despite all the talk about their prosperity. And since the Europeans are accustomed to freedom, they say, “Could a country that lacks deputies to scrutinize the rules and make the ministers accountable enjoy order?” and “Can a man be free without being able to criticize members of the government verbally or through publication?” Another misfortune is that when members of the government speak about the contentedness of the people, Europeans conclude that the Muslims are ignorant of the pleasure of freedom and readily submit to the noose of oppression.

What will be the result of all this? The state will undoubtedly sink if it does not modify its present absolutism.

It is true that the Western Powers have defended us up to now, for the sake of protecting their commercial interests and safeguarding the European balance [of power] against the aggression of the northern savages [Russia]; and in the future they will continue to do so as much as they can.

Yet given these [Christian] complaints of victimization, the Western Powers cannot refrain from putting pressure on us, or at least standing as the protector of rebels, because they do not want to leave Russia alone in its intervention. This is an era in which nobody can resist public opinion. The claim that “rule belongs to the victor”3 [This saying is generally taken to mean “one judges by the mainstream, ignoring exceptional cases.”—Trans.] cannot be applied unless concealed behind a thousand curtains of deceit, even if a clear preponderance exists. In any case, the idea of granting autonomy to each and every ethnic group in the Ottoman lands and thereby creating a confederation like Germany has been debated in Europe for a long time. However, this idea does not enjoy much currency for now, because those famously shrewd European states know that this policy would be vulnerable to separatism, and there can be no barrier against Russia as strong as a united Ottoman state. In spite of this, every intelligent person realizes that as long as this tyrannical administration prevails in the state, foreign interventions cannot be stopped.

The continuation of foreign intervention (as is well known, the treasury lost three or four million purses [1.5 or 2 billion Ottoman piasters] because of the Crete insurrection alone) will soon reduce the state to a condition in which it lacks the power to resist Russian invasion as well as the [Ottoman] allies could do. Then the Europeans will be compelled to choose the lesser of two evils [that is, a costly intervention to defend the Ottomans or a costly acceptance of Russian domination of the region].

No means other than the method of consultation can be found to dispel these troubles. Then it will be known that everyone is free. Then Europe will treat us as a civilized nation, instead of regarding us as a scarecrow planted against Russia, as is now the case. Then if the people of a province resort to arms under the pretext of being oppressed, when they have deputies in the council of the nation, they will be unable to justify their claim to Europe. Therefore, almost all external threats toward the state will be eliminated.

Let us now glance at the internal dimensions of the matter:

To begin with, even the ministers cannot deny that today the nation is faced with the threat of extinction. One of the major reasons for this is that the country's wealth is in sharp decline. Would buildings and other expenses have plunged the treasury to its present level if we had already adopted the method of consultation and established an assembly of the people? Could the internal debt of 22 million liras have been raised to 40 million through consolidation? Would [the government] have had the audacity to declare that the value of the consolidated longterm debt was 29 million liras, when it was calculated as less than 26.5 million [liras]? Would the [tax] regulations for salt, tobacco, and road construction, whose thousand harms caused the destruction of so many regions, have been put into effect? On what basis can we assume that the future actions of the government will not conform to its past habits, so long as our administration maintains its present character? Is it not a matter of experience that trying what has already been tried can only lead to regret?

Second, we should not forget the fact that our people harbor a deep hatred and mistrust toward the present administration. Everybody views official declarations as attempts at disinformation. In fact, even when the government distributed cotton seed to the provinces free of charge because of the American Civil War, some farmers refused to accept it. When asked the reason for their rejection of this munificence, they responded: “Nothing good can come from the state. Who knows what hidden agenda there may be? We would not dare to accept it.”

And how could people not be mistrustful? A hundred thousand policies have been put into effect. All caused harm because the foundations are corrupt. Many persons who had the confidence of the public came to occupy high office, but they could not accomplish anything, for the same reason: the rottenness of the foundations. Is there any possibility that in the future people will have a warm affection for the government unless they themselves supervise the administration? Furthermore, when a while ago the French emperor used the occasion of the Cretan crisis to advise the Sublime Porte that it should seek the public opinion of the people of Turkistan [Turkey] regarding the necessary reforms, the Sublime Porte responded by saying: “We cannot commit suicide by drinking so lethal a poison as public opinion.”

In fact, the opinion of the public is not a poison but an elixir of health. Just as a physician can only help individuals regain health with the support of their organs, so also the administration's measures to reform the character of the state, which is a moral personality, depend upon the assistance of the people who are the constituent elements of the state. The only measure that will eliminate the present oppression and profligacy, and put an end to the mistrust of the people, is the adoption of the method of consultation. In fact, what has been said above proves this claim.

As for the imagined detrimental effects that would stem from the adoption of the method of consultation, in reality these have no basis. First, it is said that the establishment of a council of the people would violate the rights of the sultan. As was made clear in our introduction, the right of the sultan in our country is to govern on the basis of the will of the people and the principles of freedom. His title is “one charged with kingship” [sahib al-mulk], not “owner of kingship” [malik al-mulk, a title reserved for God in the Qur'an, Sura 3, Verse 26]. His Imperial Majesty the sultan is heir to the esteemed Ottoman dynasty, which established its state by protecting religion. It was thanks to this fact that the [Ottoman sultan] became the cynosure of the people and the caliph of Islam. The religion of Muhammad rejects the absolutist claim to outright ownership [of the state] in the incontrovertible verse: “Whose is the kingdom today? God's, the One, the Omnipotent.” [Qur'an, Sura 40, Verse 16]4 [Namîk Kemal appears to have deliberately omitted a word—al-yawma—that shows that the verse refers to the Day of Judgment.—Trans.]

Second, it is argued that the religious and cultural heterogeneity of the Ottoman lands and the ignorance of the people are reasons against this [the adoption of consultation]. In the gatherings of highly important personages, it is asked how a people speaking seventytwo different tongues could be convened in one assembly, and what kind of response would be given if [some of] the deputies to be convened opposed dispatching troops to Crete because they wished to protect the Greeks, or raised an objection to appropriations for holy sites and pious foundations.

O my God! In all provinces there are provincial councils. Members from all denominations serve in these councils, and all of them debate issues in the official language [Turkish]. How can anybody speak of linguistic heterogeneity in light of this obvious fact? Is it supposed that a council of the people is a seditious assembly whose members are absolutely independent, and whose administration is not based on any rules? Once the fundamental principles and the internal regulations of the assembly are issued, who would dare to protect those, like the rebels of Crete, who desire to separate themselves from the integral nation? Who would dare to say a word about [Islamic] religious expenditures [purchasing non-Muslim land], in return for which [non-Muslim communities] have acquired real estate valued several times more?

Let us come to the matter of ignorance. Montenegro, Serbia, and Egypt each have councils of the people. Why should [our people's] ignorance prevent us [from having a council], if it did not prevent these lands? Are we at a lower level of culture than even the savages of Montenegro? Can it be that we could not find people to become deputies, whose only necessary qualification will be attaining the age of majority, when we can find people in the provinces to become members of the State Council, membership in which is dependent upon possessing perfected political skills?

O Ottoman liberals! Do not give any credit to such deceptive superstitions. Give serious thought to the dangerous situation in which the nation finds itself today. While doing so, take into consideration the accomplishments that the opposition has already achieved. It will be obvious that the salvation of the state today is dependent upon the adoption of the method of consultation, and upon continuing the opposition aimed at achieving this method of administration. If we have any love for the nation, let us be fervent in advancing this meritorious policy. Let us be fervent so that we can move forward without delay.

Bibliography references:

Namîk Kemal, “Wa shawirhum fi’l-amr” (And Seek Their Counsel in the Matter), Hürriyet (Liberty), London, England, number 4, July 20, 1868, pp. 1–4. Translation from Turkish and introduction by M. Şükrü Hanioğlu.

Notes:

1. Ömer Faruk Akün, “Namîk Kemal,” İslam Ansiklopedisi (Encyclopedia of Islam), volume 9 (Istanbul, Turkey: Maarif Matbaasî, 1971), pp. 54–72; Mehmed Kaplan, Namîk Kemal (Namîk Kemal) (Istanbul, Turkey: İstanbul üniversitesi Edebiyat Fakültesi, 1948); Mithat Cemal Kuntay, Namîk Kemal Devrinin İnsanlarî ve Olaylarî Arasînda (Personalities and Events from the Time of NamîkKemal), 2 volumes (Istanbul, Turkey: Maarif Matbaasî and Millî Eğitim Basîmevi, 1944–1957); Şerif Mardin, The Genesis of Young Ottoman Thought (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1962), pp. 283–336; Mustafa Kemal Özön, Namîk Kemal ve İbret Gazetesi (Namîk Kemal and the Newspaper “The Moral”) (Istanbul, Turkey: Remzi Kitabevi, 1938).

2. [Traditionally this saying of the Prophet was understood to commend a willingness on the part of someone in high office to perform small private services for his inferiors (as opposed to “pulling rank”). Here Namîk Kemal uses it rather to present rulership as a public service.—Trans.]

3. [This saying is generally taken to mean “one judges by the mainstream, ignoring exceptional cases.”—Trans.]

4. [Namîk Kemal appears to have deliberately omitted a word—al-yawma—that shows that the verse refers to the Day of Judgment.—Trans.]

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