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Ergun Babahan
Feb 28 2019

Turkey is paying a high price for Erdoğan’s resentment

Turkey is paying a high price for the fact that President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan grew up in what was a poor peripheral part of Istanbul and his Islamist ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) is a movement that was established and strengthened on the fringes of society.

Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu is a good example. Last week, when photos of a police officer grabbing a female protester’s behind while detaining her were widely shared on social media, Soylu came to the defence of Turkish security forces. He said the woman’s relatives were linked to terrorist organisations, somehow implying that justified her mistreatment.

Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu is no different. It is sad as for decades this top position as well as the ministry itself was a symbol of respect and credibility. Under AKP rule, it has experienced a severe decline, as has the presidency itself.

This regression is not only linked to the lumpen roots of AKP members, but also to their hatred of segments of society that they label elites. They think they are punishing the elites of the Turkish Republic, by lowering the tone of debate a bit more each day.

Their attitude is nurtured by their upbringing, the environment they live in, and their resentment of the West and people who adhere to Western lifestyles.

The indictment over the 2013 Gezi Park protests, the biggest anti-government demonstrations in Turkey since Erdoğan’s Islamist government came to power in 2002, is the latest example of this attitude. Prosecutors are demanding life sentences without parole for 16 civil society leaders, including businessman and philanthropist Osman Kavala. This case is not only a political manoeuvre ahead of March 31 local elections, but a move against intellectuals who represent urban, cosmopolitan culture.

Writing on Nazi concentration camps and genocide, German-born American philosopher and political theorist Hannah Arendt coined the term radical evil to describe the crimes of the Nazis, arguing that what they did was quite different from ordinary evil, human crimes based on selfishness, and therefore could not be understood by reason.

Today we are going through a similar period of radical evil, though the associated crimes cannot be equated to Nazism. In Turkey, the current political understanding seeks to oppress, exterminate and insult Kurds, conservative dissidents, secular intellectuals, and all other opposition groups.

That is why a police officer can easily molest a protester and the state can comfortably defend the act.

In the “Origins of Totalitarianism”, Arendt argued the Nazi camps were not only meant for the indoctrination and degradation of human beings, but in fact were highly controlled and rational experiments aiming to remove human spontaneity and freedom.

Arendt asserted that totalitarianism was not aimed at establishing an oppressive state to control people, it sought to establish a system in which humans were dehumanised so completely that they were not even animals, they became things.

This approach does not target only enemies, but also supporters. Arendt said concentration camps targeted the humanity of all their inhabitants; they also stripped those in charge of the camps off their human faculties, turning them into mere tools.

That is what we see in Turkey today. The supporters of the ruling party are also not allowed to have their own opinions and attitudes. They are also punished the moment they violate the line drawn by those in power. They are in a situation no different from the opposition, as they do not have the freedom to have a soul and the faculties needed for independent reasoning.

Turkey is going through a dark period in which the purpose is to dehumanise the masses.

Unfortunately, the effects of this period will be felt for generations. A huge price will be paid. Because, as Arendt put it, living in such a fiction and with no opinions may lead to destruction far beyond the one that can be caused by people’s ordinary evil instincts.

 

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.