03/10/2014 08:57 pm ET Updated May 10, 2014

Turkey's PM Mr. Erdoğan's 'Othering' Is Unbearable

"Everyone deserves not just to survive, but to live," said British director Steve McQueen when he received the Best Picture award at the 86th Academy Awards ceremony. Many people thought diversity was also a winner this year. For the first time, the academy gave the award for the best picture to a film directed by a black filmmaker, Mr. McQueen, for 12 Years a Slave, and a Latino, Alfonso Cuaron of Gravity, won the Best Director award. The ceremony also had a gay host and was supervised by the first black president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Nowadays in the United States, talking about racial and ethnic diversity as a civic strength is very common and popular, but it wasn't so 50 years ago. However, when the civil rights movement started, White Anglo-Saxon Protestant (WASP) dominance became diluted. Now, aided by government-enforced diversity policies, the exclusive power of WASP elites has diminished. Today, every American is more optimistic about having a fair chance.

Cultural, moral, religious and ideological pluralism is a fact of society in Turkey, too. Turkey is very rich in its ethnic, religious, moral and ideological diversity. Turks, Kurds, Laz, Circassians, Sunnis, Alevis, Jews, Christians and atheists have been living together in Anatolia for centuries. Unfortunately, however, not everyone welcomes diversity. During the course of history we have been witness to many different occasions when someone or some groups who do not like the ways of others try to eliminate those differences and we end up having many conflicts in society.

Like the WASPs in the US, there is an elite group in Turkey called "White Turks," a group that represents the educated, wealthy, secular city people in the country. When the Justice and Development Party (AKP) came to power, the White Turks had to share their privileged position with the rest of the country. However, the recent picture shows that the status and political power was largely just transferred from White Turks to AKP Turks and "othering" has just continued, but the other way around. In my opinion, the situation is even worse now. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan attacks everyone who disagrees with him and makes them the "other" by publicly degrading and humiliating them. His "othering" has become unbearable since the Gezi Park protests last spring, when he called demonstrators "çapulcu" (marauders). Now he is finding new, different ways to discriminate against people. Last week he called students of Middle East Technical University (ODTÜ), which is Turkey's Harvard, leftists, terrorists and atheists because they had protested him. If this is not hate speech, if this is not targeting a particular group, what is? There are many such examples.

Mr. Erdoğan has to remember that diversity is a reality of human life. Both diversity and pluralism are natural in a modern democracy. We cannot think of democracy without them. People have to learn that they can cohabit with people of different beliefs, races and traditions. Each individual is important. So, respecting differences is a must for harmony in society. In a strong democracy, people expect to learn from each other. Leaders should acknowledge that to create radical change and to make a difference in a country, people need each other and that this creates closeness.

Since AKP politicians like making references to Islam, it has to be mentioned that Islam does not accept any kind of discrimination. It promotes peace, security and well-being and it is firmly against conflict and oppression. Islam always promotes peace and goodness. Justice is a key foundation of Islam: "Let not the hatred of others to you make you swerve to wrong and depart from justice" (5:8). So, whoever strays from those principals strays from Islam.

At the Academy Awards ceremony, Brad Pitt, who produced 12 Years a Slave, said, "It's important that we understand our history so we can understand who we were and who we are now and, most importantly, who we're going to be." He continued: "We hope that this film remains a gentle reminder that we're all equal. We all want the same: dignity and opportunity."

From artists to political leaders, the message should be the same: Our differences make us stronger. Our duty is not to try to eliminate, but rather to understand those differences for a peaceful future.

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