How do Turks living in parallel universes see the Zarrab case?
Nine out of 10 Turks say they don’t trust their interlocutor. Eighty percent of Turks say they don’t want someone who votes for another political party as a neighbor. These are just a couple of recent survey findings that show the alarming degree of polarization in today’s Turkey.
Polarization has also translated into appearance-based judgements. Women who wear headscarves are identified as conservative, while those who do not are seen as secularists. But the truth is often far less clear cut.
When Turkish clothing retailer LC Waikiki asked its conservative clients whether they would like a separate collection, together with a separate space in stores to try on the products, they received a negative response, according to CEO Mustafa Küçük.
Küçük was speaking at a panel organized by the “common values movement” on Dec. 4. Prior to his speech, Bekir Ağırdır from the Konda research company talked about the almost unbelievable “double lives” that we Turks live: One at home, one in the street.
Turks believe “justice” to be the most important value, according to the survey conducted by Konda. After “justice” come “morality,” “family,” “tolerance” and “honesty.” But when asked to describe the environment they are living in, the majority of survey participants say they see “terror,” “ignorance,” “crime,” violence” and “poverty.” So what are they longing for? Again, the answer is “justice.”
“Turks live in two parallel universes. In their homes, as individuals, they know what is good. They are positive, they have dreams. But in the outside world, Turks become anxious and fearful. As individuals we disdain the presence of the state but in the street we desire a strong state. We know we should stop at a red light. But in the outside world we think no one else is stopping at the red light, so if we stop then others will pass us as we wait. And the number of people who do not stop at red lights is increasing,” said Ağırdır.
Selçuk Şirin, an applied psychologist and professor at New York University echoed Ağırdır’s reflections. “We are very ethical at home. But once outside we enter another ecosystem,” he said at the conference, referring specifically to research on home recycling efforts.
According to Şirin, the survey showed that attitudes to recycling bear little relation to an individual’s income or education level, but are dependent on “neighborhood pressure.” We start recycling because our neighbors recycle and we feel ashamed if we do not do the same.
Turkey needs to take steps in three particular areas to increase its GDP, said Şirin: It needs more women in the labor force, a better education system, and more common values in order to trust one other.
The conference on “common values” came at a time when Turkey is focused on the confessions of Turkish–Iranian businessman Reza Zarrab, who says he bribed Turkish government officials in order to evade U.S.-imposed sanctions on Iran.
One wonders how these confessions resonate in the psyche of Turks. When alone at home, if they give the confessions the benefit of the doubt for even a single second, then they must suspect wrongdoing on the part of the government officials. But in the outside world, where a relentless media propaganda machine repeats claims that Turkey is the victim of a “plot,” do they really think the country has no allies and only has enemies? Do they really think that not stopping at red lights is acceptable? Do they really think that bribing officials is simply fair play?
Do they ever consider that what matters is not so much objecting to sanctions imposed by your supposed ally, but the fact that some in the Turkish government have made personal fortunes at the expense of humiliating the whole nation? What happens in these people minds when they admit to themselves that the confessions may be true?