Forgetting Principles and Gentlemen

For most topics, people hold their opinions close and do all they can to defend them. Arguments about religion and politics can get a lot more heated than discussions about sports or the environment. When arguing with someone with a different point of view, it used to be that there were lines you wouldn’t cross, like unwritten gentlemen’s rules that everyone followed. Today though, especially if you’re defending a different political opinion, you’ll quickly be labeled an “enemy” by the other side.

Being seen as an enemy is becoming common these days. Touching on this topic is Marvel’s 2006 comic series Captain America: Civil War, which was adapted into a film in 2016. The “civil war” in this film shows that there are heroes on both sides, and no matter how big the battles are, there is still room for gentlemanly conduct.


Viewers will recall that the civil war was between Captain America and Iron Man, and all the other superheroes chose a side for various reasons. The film and the comic book are more or less the same, but in the film, authorities want the superheroes to work for the UN; in the comic book, it’s the US that pays their salaries when a new law passes requiring superheroes to register with the government and be accountable for their actions. Of course, because of this, they have to share their secret identities with the authorities.

This law splits the Avengers in two. Iron Man and Mr. Fantastic from the Fantastic Four support the law, but Captain America and his group are completely against it. Soon, the argument between the two groups escalates into war. The bad guys that the superheroes had been fighting for years even join up with the US government to hunt down the superheroes who are against the law.


The situation in the film is a bit different. There is still the new law, but the Avengers team works with the UN. Captain America starts the argument because he thinks the law will take away their liberty or force them to do jobs they don’t want to do. He’s also afraid of being excluded from some operations or having his hands tied in situations due to a lack of authority. Iron Man supports the law because he believes the Avengers need the regulations to be able to continue their work and eliminate the problems they are facing.

As a result, both sides enter a struggle for their opinions, beliefs, and values, but after a certain point, vengeance also becomes an issue. Both superheroes are fighting for their own convictions, so the other heroes who choose support either Captain America or Iron Man all have arguments to justify their actions. At the end of the movie, however, even though they’ve fought a huge war against each other, both sides understand that they will have to work together again one day. That is, they didn’t forget how to be gentlemen.

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When we look at Turkey and other nations today, we can see that we’re facing a somewhat different situation. Groups with conflicting beliefs accuse the other side of being “traitors” or “enemies,” even to the point of leaving their own principles behind. It’s as though the concept of gentlemanliness has been forgotten.

Actually, it wasn’t so long ago that very few people spoke up openly for press freedom when media outlets that were ideologically allied with the Kurds or to Fetullah Gülen’s sect (the group accused of carrying out the coup attempt in 2016) were being shut down. After that, media outlets started being closed right and left.

Very few people spoke up for democracy when local elected mayors from HDP (People’s Democratic Party, which focuses on Kurdish rights) were detained and replaced with trustees. But then this started to happen to other opposition municipalities, and some assistant MPs were removed from office and arrested.


Finally, there’s jailed journalist and writer Ahmet Altan. He wrote an essay from prison that was published in Cumhuriyet newspaper, and all hell broke loose on social media. While some people who said they support press freedom were shooting at the newspaper building, others said the publication of Altan’s writing was a betrayal of journalistic values. Again, we are in a situation where principles and gentlemanly conduct have been forgotten.

Furthermore, the same criticism can be made of President Tayyip Erdoğan, who said “I am the prosecutor” when the military was getting beaten down in a series of sham trials. Very few people criticized him at the time.

People who are dissatisfied with the ruling AK Party or who have any other complaints turn their criticisms and anger onto certain others for fear of getting into trouble—no one is bold enough to criticize or show their anger to the President.

As for the Kurdish issue, this is a litmus test for lot of people who claim to believe in democracy. This issue, like the Armenian issue, is a red line. We saw once again what the state thinks of the Kurds when the police intervened this past weekend on the Saturday Mothers demonstration, a weekly protest for mothers of Kurds who were disappeared in the 80s.

No matter what novels a person reads, or the films he or she enjoys watching, or whatever hero he or she looks to for guidance, someone who believes the king, or rather, the president is wrong and can stand up to the highest authorities is among those who face the most injustice.

Today in the US, one issue is that society is breaking down like it is in Turkey. A lot of people think those with different opinions are the “enemy.” The basic difference there, though, is that opponents of President Donald Trump and his policies can speak openly. They know they won’t get into trouble for doing so.

Also, when people as Democrats or Republicans divide the country into two, everyone can still act together. When it’s in the best interests of the country, no matter how different people’s beliefs are, they can come together in a moment if they have to.

Turkey, however, has reached such a state of division that when people find even their best friends don’t share the same beliefs, they are willing to fight to the death. It seems that if Turkey faces an even larger threat, people will not be able to unite and act together.

If old friends like Captain America and Iron Man lived in Turkey, they would set aside gentlemanly conduct and not hesitate to kill each other, arguing that heroism requires this in certain situations. In any case, those who still know the importance of gentlemen and principles and want to pass this on to future generations are continuing to write stories about their superheroes.

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