Turkey’s Secularists Had Better Remain Delusional

Written by Mustafa Akyol on August 12th, 2011

[Originally published in Hurriyet Daily News, with readers’ comments]

You might have been following the events in Syria. In a nutshell, the country’s corrupt, dictatorial and brutal regime has killed more than 2,000 unarmed protestors in the past six months. And it seems willing to kill more and more.

This shameless violence put the Turkish government, which had come to the point of “zero problems” with Syria before this year, in a difficult position. To its credit, though, Ankara raised an increasingly harsh voice against the crimes of Bashar al-Assad and co. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan condemned the “barbarism” of the regime, and more recently said Turkey was “losing patience” with the ongoing onslaught. (My personal message to Damascus is simply, “God damn you, you thugs,” but I understand that governments have to be a bit more diplomatic.)

This week, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu flew to Damascus, in a much colder tone than before, to warn Assad that he will either behave or “end up like Moammar Gadhafi.” Syrian tanks left Hama after that meeting, reports say, although Turkey keeps “monitoring” the situation.

Tool of the West

Meanwhile, though, an interesting criticism of the Turkish government came from Turkey’s main opposition party, the all-secularist Republican People’s Party, or CHP, and that is what I really want to probe today. The party’s leader, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, criticized the government for simply being too harsh on Syria. He said that Erdoğan’s “we-are-losing-our-patience” statement was just “words uttered before a war,” and such outbursts could deal “a heavy blow” to Turkey’s image in the region.

In an exclusive interview with the Hürriyet Daily News, Kılıçdaroğlu also depicted the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, as a “tool” of Western powers. “The Western powers now want to punish Syria. And using whom?” he asked, obviously referring to Erdoğan and Davutoğlu.

I bet that rhetoric would make both Damascus and Tehran happy. But it made Turkey’s secular liberals, who have higher hopes for Kılıçdaroğlu, quite disappointed. One such figure, Aslı Aydıntaşbaş, a columnist for daily Milliyet and a strong advocate of putting more pressure on the Syrian regime, wrote a piece titled, “The CHP made me very surprised.”

“The CHP, which promotes a ‘contemporary’ Turkey, needs to defend human rights and democratic values,” argued Ms. Aydıntaşbaş, “not dictatorship.” But the “isolationist” rhetoric of Kılıçdaroğlu, which resonated with anti-EU and anti-U.S. paranoia, she argued, was quite the opposite.

Strange but true

I, for my part, fully agree with Ms. Aydıntaşbaş’s criticism of Kılıçdaroğlu. But, unlike her, I think such a delusional CHP might actually be a good thing for Turkey.

I am not totally kidding, and let me explain why. Until recently, I have been among the people who believed that Turkey needs a more liberal, open-minded and globalist opposition than what the CHP has represented. If the secularists challenge the AKP from such a “progressive” ground, rather than a terrible synthesis of obsessive secularism and xenophobic nationalism, I thought, the AKP would be pushed for more progress.

But politics does not always work according to such rational calculations. Especially in Turkey, it actually works quite irrationally. The opposing political camps hardly benefit from each other’s criticisms. They rather tend to do the exact opposite of what the other camp says.

Lately, we have seen this during the election campaign. The CHP tried to sound a bit liberal on a few issues, such as the Kurdish question, and that had a very negative impact on the AKP, which was quickly pushed to use more nationalist rhetoric. In a similar fashion, Kılıçdaroğlu’s “anti-imperialist” tone on Syria seems to have helped the conservatives in the past few days get closer to the view of Turkey’s Western allies.

So, since the CHP and its secularist base have no chance of coming to power anytime soon, the best thing they can do, I think, is to keep on being illiberal, isolationist and irrational. That will really help the AKP camp to grow more liberal, globalist and reasonable. I know it is silly and strange; but it is just true.


3 Comments so far ↓

  1. Balbazar says:

    Very nice confession Mr. Akyol, thank you!

    Mr. Akyol states that “the CHP and its secularist base have no chance of coming to power anytime soon”.

    How does he know?

    Given that Turkey is supposedly a democracy, how can he so obnoxiously claim that the opposition has no chance of coming to power?

    He can, because he knows that today’s Turkey is not a democracy.

    He knows that those who currently hold the power are not there temporarily as would be in a real democracy, they rather have all the intention to stay forever and are making sure that no opposition can take over power from them through democratic means (just like the Assad family, Gaddafi, Mobarek, or Mussolini).

    That sentence is the confession of this very fact that every knows of, but nobody has the courage to speak of.

  2. Kathy Weemer says:

    It is difficult to judge what democracy is, since it always is dominated by those with money. Look at the American system, it is certainly flawed to an extent that we can only choose between 2 sides of one coin. The problem is that there are hundreds of different coins, but we never hear of 99.9% of them. It is just as easy to say that the rich get richer and the poor stay poor.

    Unfortunately, these are facts of life that we cannot change without a massive shift in belief. Without the benefit of a mind-control machine (mass media), the poor folks cannot have their message heard. The situation in Turkey is no different. The powerful and rich will continue to rule unless some now unforeseen force or groundswell of some other belief can shake the foundation of the current system.

    What can you do to change this? Start by changing your beliefs.


  3. nyoped says:

    Straw man is an informal fallacy based on misrepresentation of an opponent’s position.

    Mr. Akyol deliberately misrepresent CHP’s stance on Erdogan’s foreign policy.

    CHP criticized the language Erdogan used against Sryia and Israil (Mr.Ayol deliberately skips the Israel part and focuses on Syria to make CHP look worse in the eyes of Western readers).

    When Erdogan was too late to criticize his Syrian friend Assad, CHP also criticized him. CHP stated that Turkey should be on the Syrian people’s side against Assad but avoid inflammatory language.

    I’d like to remind that Erdogan and Assad were very close up friends until last year.

    Mr.Akyol and his Islamist friends try to present CHP as pro-Israil in Turkey and as pro-Assad in Western media. I call it ‘whatever works’ tactic.

    Cannot we Turks support the Arab spring and question Israel’s actions without using Erdogan’s war rhetoric? That’s what we secular Turks want.

    Unlike Islamists we do not see Israel as an eternal enemy. An unlike Islamist Erdogan and Mr.Akyol we have never consider Assad a close ally.

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