Doğa Ulaş Eralp
Mar 30 2018

‘Irrational’ is the ‘new normal’ in Erdoğan’s Turkey


Over the last few weeks, certain high-ranking state employees and ruling party officials have started acting a bit odd in Turkey. The governor of a conservative town in central Anatolia stood on the balcony of his official governor’s office for his farewell speech, where he held an imitation ‘Zülfikar’ - Prophet Muhammad’s nephew Ali’s double-edged sword -  and pledged the conquest of Jerusalem by the armies of Islam celebrating the fall of Afrin at the hands of the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK).

A few days later, a prominent member of a local branch of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s ruling AKP in the Aegean province of Aydın, officially launched a campaign to head the local AKP branch, donning a white Islamic shroud.

These are two recent examples of unconventional political moves that have taken place recently. There have been strange behaviours by the public as well. People have been knifing oranges in an apparent move to protest the Netherlands, which banned a minister from Erdoğan’s cabinet to enter the country. Shopkeepers have been burning 1 USD bills as a ‘tour de force’ against American interventionism in Syria.  

Such political acts have become more visible as Erdogan’s authoritarian regime is tightening its grip on Turkish society, by way of the State of Emergency law which curtails civil liberties and freedoms.

The channels of political visibility in Turkey which are permitted and viable are ones that submit to the authoritarian narrative, further perpetuating the muting of independent narrative.

In the late 1940’s while working in California, renowned German sociologist Theodor Adorno, who fled Nazi Germany, developed a scale to measure the extent of receptivity to fascist propaganda among individuals who have been subjected to such political instruments. Adorno called that scale, the F-scale; F representing the “the pre-fascist personality” that is receptive to authoritarian ideologies. The scale includes measures such as conventionalism, authoritarian submission, authoritarian aggression, religion and ethics, superstition, power and toughness as well as anti-intraception.

Conventionalism suggests conformity to traditional societal norms and values of the middle class. The more individuals adhere to conventional ways of being, the more susceptible they become to authoritarian propaganda.

In the largely conservative Turkish society where values such as submission to elders, praise of nationalist violence are constantly portrayed as the true values, hyperbolic public expressions become conventional ways of ensuring national unity and denying alternative worldviews that question militarism, authoritarianism, heteronormativity, patriarchy and war.

Such political acts have two very clear objectives: authoritarian submission and authoritarian aggression. Knifing oranges, wearing shrouds, rattling imitation sabers all call for absolute obedience to the ‘father figure’ and at the same time send a very strong message of intimidation to those who foolishly dare to question such conventional values.

Furthermore, such propaganda is hidden in the disguise of Islamist-Nationalist rigor, an imagined revival of Ottoman Empire under the divine leadership of Erdoğan, poised to avenge 300 years of Western/Christian domination in former Ottoman lands and their domestic partners, Kurds, Alevis, Armenians, Communists and Democrats.

It’s no longer surprising when the president of a state university publicly asks for the mass extermination of all socialists and democrats in Turkey, whom he publicly labels as heretics.

This so-called ethno-religious propaganda feeds into the superstition widely held across the conservative heartland of Turkey, that no foreign power or its domestic agents can test the power and resilience of Muslim Turks or emasculate them by questioning the divine right of Erdoğan to rule. This belief closes the door for self-criticism, condemning all that question it as anti-Muslim and anti-Turkish.

For many of you who may not be familiar with the rise of Nazism in Weimar Germany during the interwar period, the language adopted by Turkish public officials reflects that Turkey will eventually become a totalitarian dictatorship shaped by the cult of Erdoğan and sustained by perpetual war within and outside of Turkey.

Nonetheless, there is still time before the potential rigging of the 2019 elections, which would be the last nail on the coffin of Turkish democracy.

The important question for those who are still insistent on opposing this downward trend is to explore non-violent ways of pushing for a public counter-narrative of peace, social justice and democracy to come into existence - this at the risk of facing long-term prison sentences.

Understandably, there are not many politicians or political activists willing to take that risk in Turkey.

However, silence would mean the perpetual exposition of public displays of authoritarian behavioral disorders that may give way to political cannibalism.

And we all know how the ‘’Silence of the Lambs’’ ends, don’t we?