Liberal at Home, Conservative Abroad


Mert Erenel, Contributing Writer

My whole life, starting from my early childhood spent in San Francisco to later growing up in Istanbul, Turkey, I’ve always perceived myself as anything but conservative. Yet NYU’s predominantly liberal population sees me as just that.

Having spent over a year on this campus, I’ve shared my moral, philosophical and political views with my peers. From what I’ve been told and people’s reactions toward me, I can infer that I am placed to the right of center. And as the political tolerance toward differing opinions in this country is reaching close to zero, I can see that many people around me — ranging from classmates to close friends — show a great deal of discomfort with their association to me, some of them even thinking that I’m a stereotypical hard-line conservative who is against welfare programs, anti-feminist, anti-gay and supports Donald Trump. I am none of those things.

How I endorse individual freedom is what renders my beliefs as conservative. But the central idea of my values derive from this presupposition: all individuals have equal potential to pursue goals that can benefit themselves, their families and their community. In order to fully access that potential, every individual must have a wide variety of rights, freedoms and opportunities to pursue the goals that they — and only they — decide to pursue. Because of this, no major parties or ideologies fit my political narrative.

I have grown up in a political environment that has faced: constant government-enforced restrictions on women’s reproductive systems, cancellations of LGBTQ events and police violence within the community, dogged projections of religion on educational institutions, attempts to reinstate a law that would exonerate rapists who married their victims, the arrests and persecutions of journalists and civil workers and the censorship of alcohol, cigarettes and sex from both local and foreign media. It is fair to say that due to my immense opposition to these — as well as other social and political regressions — I’ve come to adopt opposition to the political system in Turkey.

Because of this opposition, I can confidently say that I’m considered a liberal in my home country. Liberal values such as secularism, freedom of association and freedom of speech are hallmarks of Western culture that were applied in modern Turkish political institutions. Now, here I am in one of the countries that developed the ideas that were adapted to modernize, democratize and secularize my country, only to be ridiculed or shamed for supporting those same values. How come my support for speech that opposes the typically left-leaning ideals of NYU makes me a conservative in America, but a progressive in Turkey? I urge you to understand my confusion when I heard that the University of California Berkeley, which was home to the Free Speech Movement by leftist students in the 1960s, was the same university that had to cancel its official “Free Speech Week” hosted by conservative groups due to counter protesters.

Even though I view myself as a liberal, I do not support policies on the basis that they are widely-known as liberal policies without educating myself on the issue first and choosing my own stance. While I support the Republicans’ notion on limited government, I don’t understand how that applies to some of its positions. Limiting choice when it comes to abortion, for example, finds its roots in religion rather than science. The Democrats aren’t perfect either. They are more than willing to criticize the dogmatic tendencies of Christian fundamentalism but not of Islamic extremists. Due to these political inconsistencies, I don’t really see myself identifying with either Democrats or Republicans. I don’t believe in absolute freedom where everyone has the freedom to buy an assault rifle, nor do I believe in the undermining of the law or its enforcers with no reasonable, lawful justification.

It is possible that some of what I believe may provoke others to define me as a conservative. But this, unfortunately, does not surprise me anymore. As Carl Jung once said, “people don’t have ideas, ideas have people.” I stand by the truth of this statement, yet I will try my best to become an exception to this rule as an individual.

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Email Mert Erenel at [email protected]