Ece Temelkuran on Hope and Faith

What is hope to you?

Hope is a code word that refers to a “reason to act”. After I published my book How to Lose A Country, people started to ask me if there is hope. I guess they want to know if there is still a reason to act, or if all is lost. The funny thing is: I don’t think anything in their lives would change depending on my answer. That is why I call hope an emotional crutch.

You travelled the world, as an observer, and sometimes as a participant in upheaval: what events or experiences made you disenchanted with hope?

I am a storyteller. Journalism, my legitimate reason to be a vagabond, was my way of living in the stories. I was always an eye, a camera that didn’t stop recording. And as I travelled the world, I heard too many people ask me about hope. I told them that the rise of right-wing populism is a systemic problem and that no democracy is immune to it, and people were horrified. But when I told them that they have to act and that democracy should not be taken for granted, I became the killjoy.

Why is that?

We just don’t have a personal or passionate relationship to democracy. Not many people are willing to act. This is what happened in Turkey. It is not because we didn’t do what was necessary to overcome the challenges but, rather, that we did it too late and with too few people. Hope is the word that reminds me of this fact.

In your recent book, “Together: 10 Choices for a Better Now”, you prefer to talk about faith instead of hope – why is that?

Hope is too fragile a word for our harsh times. Faith, in contrast, is an irrefutable concept. When you believe in something, your actions are shaped by that unshakable stance. Faith is the most magical and most formidable human skill – the only skill that we can depend on in this fight against the extinction of humankind, the planet and hope.

Faith is the only skill that we can depend on in this fight against the extinction of humankind.

People might have hope, but they seem to lack faith.

I agree, and fascism is the state of total loss of faith in humankind. That is why I repeat the word. We are on the verge of a systemic collapse. If we want to create the will to survive this collapse, we have to believe that there is something beyond this system.

What is the difference between hope and faith in the context of revolution?

Revolution is too big a word. People use the word irresponsibly, forgetting the blood it contains and the deaths it requires. When you believe in revolution, you certainly need faith – a faith you can die for. Hope is the word for victims whereas faith is the word that makes personal sacrifice possible. But when you look at human history you see that after every revolution a system is built that, in its essence, is not much different from the previous one.

What is the difference between hope and faith in the face of climate change?

The world is constantly telling us that humans are bad. But we have to have faith that humans can be better and more essential to this planet. We have to believe that we deserve to exist as well. Hope is quite irrelevant when you look at the current situation from this perspective.

You write: “Today’s political movements, the ones that are determined to set a new direction for humankind or are proposing an exit from our political and moral maze, should not neglect the people’s need for and ability to have faith.” Can you explain this?

We are living in an age where we are once again faced with a political movement that thrives on controlling and manipulating the politics of emotions and moral values. And progressives have nothing to say about emotions or morality. I understand the reasons. Emotions have a habit of getting out of hand, they are too elusive to discuss. But we progressives must have some sort of consensus, especially today when the progressive discourse is partitioned into questions of identity. It has been quite a long time since we have talked about human love, for instance. Our ability to have faith is something that we cannot dismiss, especially in a world where knowing is being replaced by believing.

“Faith is the only word that can at once accommodate all those concepts that seem to be in pieces: self-esteem, confidence, trust.” Another quote of yours. Is faith part of a distinct political philosophy for our times?

I believe it is. I know it sounds dangerous for many progressives, but they’ll arrive there in the end. My thinking has been shaped by listening to many ordinary people around the world. Faith is the only word that holds water for times when there is a sense that all is lost. And today is one of those times.

What you talk about sounds like what the philosopher Martin Hägglund calls “secular faith”. He goes back to Marx – you are a person of the left, what is your reference?

I grew up in a world defined by two piles of books. Marxist discourse and the deconstruction of that discourse. If you are secular and talking about the heartless world it is almost impossible to go back to Marx. But then we need to develop the core idea of giving a heart to the heartless world.

“Hope was too weak a word to do the job”, you write, “only our inherent determination to create beauty can save us”. How does beauty help?

The idea of beauty came to me after I asked myself the question: how can I believe in humankind? As I dug deeper, the only thing that I could come up with, the indestructible seed of my faith in humankind, is our inherent determination to create beauty. It is only through admitting this feature of ours that we can restore our damaged faith in ourselves. It is only when we believe in ourselves, that we can act. Beauty therefore is the reason to act.

You talk about “the line between poetry and the foggy realm of theology”. How do you stay clear of that foggy realm?

I don’t. I get in and try to get out intact in terms of my politics. It is only in that foggy realm that you see the essence of humankind. The essence that once created the gods.

Can you complete this sentence: for me, this is personal because –

I am in pain.

ECE TEMELKURAN is a novelist and political commentator whose work explores issues that are controversial in Turkey, such as the Kurdish and Armenian struggles and freedom of expression. Born in a political family and educated as a lawyer, Temelkuran began her journalism career in 1993. She was fired in 2011 for criticising the Turkish government and subsequently forced into exile. Temelkuran has written novels and numerous non-fiction books, most recently Together: 10 Choices for a Better Now. She lives in Croatia and will be a fellow at THE NEW INSTITUTE beginning in Spring 2022.

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