In Turkey, anomaly is the new normal

In Turkey, anomaly is the new normal

Not just because this is the land of young men who apologize when they are (physically) slapped by their prime minister, or are insulted by him.

Just last week an Islamist newspaper’s front-page headline explained in big, bold letters why the mining disaster in the town of the slap-fetish happened: The boss’ son-in-law is Jewish!

And since the weekend’s earthquake off the northern Aegean coast social and conventional media have been filled with colorful theories explaining why the earthquake had happened: theories in this category range from “because women at that coast usually wear bikinis,” to “because people in the area have the habit of sinning without regret.”

Facts and figures tell us Turkey is the champion in the entire European continent of workplace fatalities and third in the whole world. Turkish coal mines, for instance, are six-times more fatally dangerous than China’s.

All the same, Labor Minister Faruk Çelik claims “Turkey’s [safety] laws and regulations are more advanced than those of the International Labor Organization’s Safety and Health in Mines Convention.”
No one would probably wish to think about the consequences if Turkish laws had not been more advanced than the safety regulations stated in an international convention. But Soma is safer now: In Turkey, we close down mines after, not before, they kill workers en masse.

Recently, in order to defend Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s obsession about the military coup that toppled his much-beloved Muslim Brotherhood rule in Egypt last year, Finance Minister Mehmet Şimsek explained: “If we condemn military coups abroad, it’s not about the Muslim Brotherhood, it’s our natural reflex.”

Sadly, a few days later came a military coup in Thailand. But in Cologne, Mr. Erdoğan was once again heard condemning the coup in Egypt, without a single word about the coup in Thailand -- except a shy Foreign Ministry statement which “regretted the military takeover in Thailand.” And that came without mention of the word “coup.” In Turkey, the reason why some coups are coups to condemn at least a few times a day, but others are just takeovers that deserve a reluctant mention is Islamism.

(meanwhile, Turkey’s exports to Egypt, one of Turkey’s largest markets in the Middle East, dropped by more than 40 percent from July to December last year from the same period of 2012)
It is the same Islamism that makes Turkey look like countries, which theoretically, Turkey does not wish to look like (but privately it probably does). Forget, for a moment, that the prosecutors are asking for jail terms of up to 52 years for Mehmet Baransu, a journalist for daily newspaper Taraf, and his editor for “publishing state secrets.”

Now, add to that how boldly Mr. Erdoğan has pledged to punish those who leaked (to social media) material that undermined public order and his privacy since December. Sound familiar? Probably not to the western reader. But “production, preparation, circulation or storage of content that undermines public order, religious values or public decency or privacy” is an offense under the Saudi penal code.

What else, in his public speeches, has Mr. Erdoğan most loudly complained of in the recent months? For instance, that his opponents and dissidents are “spies, agents of foreign powers, collaborators of dark forces that aim to destabilize and incite hostility against Turkey.” Only two days ago, he mentioned that “dark hands abroad are attempting to stop Turkey’s rise.” Nice. The Saudi penal code puts this offense as “inciting international hostility against the kingdom.”

Quoting the language of the Saudi anti-terror laws, there are more commons, like “destabilizing society,” or “offending the nation’s reputation,” with the latter going in the Turkish judicial language as “offending the religious or moral values of the society.”

But of course, the Crescent and Star has not yet reached the Wahhabist judicial standards. One major difference, for example, is that in Turkey “booing the prime minister earns you a literal slap on the face for which you are grateful,” whereas in Saudi Arabia “disobeying the rightful ruler” could earn you a prison sentence and a number of lashes. Fortunately, we remain at the stage of de facto punishment for that offense, rather than de jure.