DPRT vs. clowns

DPRT vs. clowns

When I wrote “The Democratic Police Republic of Turkey” in this column in May 2011, I could not imagine one day police would fine taxi drivers for sporting Ataturk stickers on their cars. The taxi driver in Bursa testified that the police had threatened to seize his car if he did not remove the sticker. 

The “us vs. them” divide with a de jure favor for the pious rules out the possibility of a driver being fined for other commonly-used car stickers: Ottoman coat of arms, or Arabic prayer scripts. 

The unlucky Turks should get used to every possible act of discrimination because they are a minority. Recently, a “clownish” incident made everyone laugh hard. The police arrested two men in clown attire entertaining passers-by and their kids for a few coins. A police report sending the clowns to the prosecutor’s office accused them of “begging in public by means of clowning.”

It is not a coincidence that Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin has said that his government would build 207 new prisons in the next five years. Meanwhile, Turkey boasts the world’s second biggest police force (after Russia) with 475 officers per 100,000 people. 

In 2014, the police force and the interior ministry combined will get about the same budget as the ministry of defense. That tells us something. The Defense Ministry’s annual budget primarily finances NATO’s second largest army and arms purchases that equip it. In other words, some of the taxpayers’ money goes to that budget to counter foreign security threats. Similarly, the Interior Ministry and the police have their share of the national budget to counter domestic security threats. 

If you added the budget for the Gendarmerie to the police (because the Gendarmerie has the police jurisdiction in Turkey’s large countryside, and even in some new developments in urban areas) you will find that Turkey plans to spend against foreign security threats slightly over 80 percent of what it plans to spend against domestic security threats. 

But did Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan not promise to end the “undemocratic state tradition that viewed its own citizens as threat?” Yes, but not all citizens.

Mr. Erdogan had meant to end the state tradition that viewed its “pious citizens” as a security threat. As promised, he ended that. Which apparently does not rule out spending billions of dollars because the state views “other citizens” as a serious security threat, including clowns. 

That money will go to an ever expanding police force, its armored vehicles, gas canisters, tear gas and a rich collection of anti-riot equipment. Luckily, the days of military tutelage are over. The days of police tutelage are just beginning. 

It is only too normal to establish an almighty police force if you have a government with a declared political goal of “raising devout generations,” and millions who refuse to be part of that goal. 

The police must now check if a few youths drink beer at a park, if girl and boy university students share the same flat, if cars sport stickers of the man who wanted to separate the mosque and politics, if clowns behave like clowns on the streets, or if the Turks behave Islamic enough. A new task for the police force, according to one directive from the Interior Ministry, is to put single-room apartments under strict scrutiny – to make sure men and women did not get together and make “bad things” which Islam would not accept. 

Operation Pagliacci should be one of the funniest in modern police history, but not surprising at all. I had heard stories of police abuse against street musicians. “Why do you play infidels’ music,” a police officer asked a young rocker. “Be a good boy and play something arabesque.” With his electro-guitar plugged into a cheap amplifier the young rocker was speechless. Moments later, he pointed his finger to a saz player fifty yards down on the same street and said, “But why do you allow him to play but not me?” “I told you,” the police officers said, “He is not playing infidel tunes.”

Which is why there are thousands of veiled women who walk around and beg freely, or cars that sport all things Ottoman or Islamic. But clowns are a dangerous lot.