In President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s narrative, Turkey is a fairy tale. In reality the Crescent and Star is stranger than fiction. It is a collection of unpleasant chronicles unless the reader is one of Mr. Erdoğan’s willing soldiers. It is a successful thriller if shown to a liberal audience.
Mr. Erdoğan is a master politician who loves to travel between the extreme worlds of fiction and reality. He was perfectly honest when he, for instance, said that his rule has “redefined democracy and shown the world how Muslims do politics.” Precisely.
He was perfectly honest, too, when last week in Minsk he portrayed the country which the West portrays as a dictatorship as a land “where people of different roots live peacefully.” No doubt, he feels closer to Belarus where he inaugurated a mosque than to Switzerland where once the Swiss “will of the nation” once ruled to ban mosque minarets.
On his way from Minsk, Mr. Erdoğan told a select group of elite journalists: “For a person to be a dictator … [in his country] the people should not be able to live freely; should not be able to express their opinions as they wish to; should not be able to practice their beliefs as they believe in… Is there such a problem in my country? There is no such problem in my country. In my country everyone says what he wants to say; everyone practices his belief as he wants to; everyone dresses, eats or drinks as he wants to… Turkey has never gone through such a peaceful, free period.”
The problem is that Mr. Erdoğan is not a stand-up comedian trying to give his audience spasms of laughter. The problem is that he really believes in what he says.
Peaceful? The death toll must be over 10,000 since July 2015, in terror attacks and ethnic conflict. Only four months ago there was a coup attempt that killed 246 people. Ideological polarization is so deep that a clear majority of Turks, according to credible surveys, say they would refuse to live next door to neighbors from “the other” ideology or would refuse to give consent to marry their children with someone from “the other” ideology. Turkey is the world’s biggest jailer of journalists. Its government has, in a couple of months, seized private property worth several billions of dollars. Peaceful Turkey… like peaceful Belarus.
And thank you, Mr. President, for allowing us to dress up as we want to. Thank you for not sending into our homes or restaurants Food and Drinks Police to check on what we are eating or drinking. That’s very generous of you. But when you say that “everyone can practice their belief as they wish to,” that amounts to a fairy tale that is not based on a true story. Forget the constant fear in which a few thousand non-Muslim minorities must live, you simply refuse to allow millions of Alevi
Muslims to pray at their prayer houses as your government has persistently failed to recognize their places of worship. And you claim “everyone can practice their belief as they wish to” when you do not even recognize a Muslim sect’s place of worship. Like, as you yourself said, in a dictatorship?
Beyond all that Mr. Erdoğan owes us an explanation. He claims that Turkey “has never gone through such a peaceful, comfortable period in its recent history.” So, when everything is so perfect why does he so passionately desire to change the entire political regime in favor of an executive presidential system? Why a regime change when everything is coming up roses and so perfect? Which one is a lie? That everything is so perfect, or that we need the presidential system to make things perfect?
Will the real Mr. Erdoğan please stand up and tell?