The anomaly of war
The anomaly of war, French essayist Emile Auguste Chartier wrote, is that the best men get themselves killed while crafty men find their chances to govern in a manner contrary to justice. How much of that applies to modern Turkey remains unknown – though predictable.
Normal, in the new Turkish political lexicon, could be best defined as “a brief period of fewer anomalies between two long periods of anomaly.” This, sadly, marks the “New Turkey” that our leaders promised to grant us a few years earlier.
The country has been in a state of emergency since the failed coup of July 15. But was it a peaceful, normal country before July 15, with half of the nation hating the other half, an ethnic civil war and bombs killing thousands in the name of an ethnic land or a Sharia state? Now in addition to the tens of thousands of home-grown Kurdish terrorists the government is cracking down on tens of thousands of home-grown devout Muslim terrorists – without court verdicts proving that they are terrorists. This is the Turkish purge.
It is an old Turkish joke: A car is stolen and the police are unable to find the thief. Frustrated, the superintendent gathers his officers and shouts at them: “I want that solo-working thief caught at once! Understood? Or I’ll have you all posted to all sorts of unpleasant stations and duties!” The next day the police squad happily brings in 11 thieves. One of the officers proudly announced to the chief: “Sir, they all confessed to the thievery.”
A bureaucrat friend reminded me of that joke a few days ago. And he added: “If, one of these days, I ordered my personnel to bring me a list of Gülenists in our department, they will come back and hand me a list of at least 600 personnel. The trouble is our department has only 400!”
This is a non-violent, modern day version of the German “Röhm Putsch,” or the Soviet “Yezhovshchina.” Anyone can be the victim of what looks like a witch-hunt because he or she had studied secondary school here or high school there, if these schools are believed to be “Gülenist” schools; while, on the other hand, the energy minister, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s son-in-law, publicly says that he, too, studied at a Gülenist school.
It is understandable that the government has the reflex to minimize risks in what it rightfully views as an existential war. But, when, hopefully, the danger is over Turkey will not be a peaceful, normal country. Normal, in the years ahead, will only be a brief period of fewer anomalies between two long periods of anomaly.
Mr. Erdoğan’s populist rhetoric has invariably been based on convincing the average Turk that his beloved country is surrounded by (real or imaginary) enemies, outside and inside the country. That rhetoric, and consecutive policy-making, has created powerful and weak state and non-state enemies. The post-putsch Turkish “Yezhovshchina” should respect universal norms of law. It does not. Injustice will create new enemies within, enemies who, let alone being Gülenists, hate Gülenists; enemies united around the feeling of being victimized.
This columnist has often found the government’s pretext to fight (real or fake) enemies childishly amusing but shrewd at the same time: We are about to revive our glorious past and the enemies are trying to stop us.
The wrong diagnosis worsened Turkey’s “health.” Why should the world’s major powers feel envy for a country with barely $8,000 or so per capita income? And the deliberate policy to polarize… Until recently we could talk about polarization. Now we have polarization and hostility among different groups of Turks along religious and ethnic lines. And we are adding the “Turkish Purge” into the flames. Not a good mix.