Why insanity is a Turkish pastime

Why insanity is a Turkish pastime

I felt worried about the worldwide digital imaging solutions powerhouse Canon when I found in my inbox a message from its Turkish PR company. The typical promotion text was heralding that Canon Inc. was developing a high-sensitivity network camera equipped with a fast, high-magnification lens capable of long-range color image capture, even at night, enabling the surveying of subjects that might be hard to see with the naked eye. Totally uninteresting news for this journalist.  

But the press release carelessly carried the headline: “Canon is developing a network camera that can detect a thief’s face from a distance of 100 meters in moonlight.” Canon will count itself very lucky if its Turkish HQ is not attacked by pro-government, Islamist mobs or raided by inspectors from the Finance Ministry. That’s a very dangerous development project for a company that has business in Turkey. 

The evening before I had seen nationalist mobs attacking cafes at the heart of Ankara as people drank their coffee or beer: How dare you drink at a café when our soldiers and policemen are falling en masse! I saw motorcades with nationalist youth holding Turkish flags and chanting hate speech about the Kurds with whom they have been cohabiting for centuries.  

Then I learned from news that the same mobs had attacked more than 100 offices across Turkey of the pro-Kurdish party that won over 6 million votes on June 7 – a party that has more seats in the Turkish parliament than the nationalists. The same party was portrayed by Deputy Prime Minister Yalçın Akdoğan as “an extension of the PKK.” I was curious what Mr. Akdoğan might be feeling about the 80 parliamentary deputies and over 6 million votes by the Turkish electorate for “an extension of a [brutal – my word] terror group.”  

I must admit that I shyly smiled when I read in the news that a group of Turkish nationalists had accidentally beaten one of their own members on the presumption that he was Kurdish. I recalled how the same nationalists had attacked every tourist “with slanted eyes” mistaking them, for instance, for Korean tourists in their hunt for the Chinese less than a couple of months ago – in protest at China’s treatment of its ethnic Turkic Uighurs.  

But I did not smile at the news that (nationalist) locals in western towns now had the habit of stoning coaches with eastern (presumably Kurdish) number plates and that the eastern bus companies had stopped services to the West. That should be worrying, but certainly not for any separatist, as this would be one of the best ways to “separate.”   

When all that was going on in what has practically become a country of multiple wars at home and abroad, I read that the proudly Kurdish/Turkish finance minister, Mehmet Şimşek, made some sense when he said becoming a state under the rule of law was indispensable to closing the gap on the West. No doubt. And I wondered whether the honorable minister was aware how much that “gap” has widened under the autocratic/Islamist rule of his own leader(s).  

But it seems there is no limit to the Turkish sense of irony. Another piece of news on the same day quoted Talat Ulussever, board chairman of Istanbul’s stock market, as he proposed “a model which would shape all stock exchange activity in line with a structure more compliant with Islamic rules.” Traders who swear never to drink a glass of wine, or eat pork; traders whose wives have their heads covered? Mr. Istanbul Bourse’s suggestion deserves revisiting in a future column, but it perfectly fits into the realistic surrealism of the days we are living in.  

Realistic, because any other guess would have been unrealistic about where the Crescent and Star has ended up. And surreal, because it is surreal by the standards of the hemisphere the finance minister wants to catch up with. Too bad the Islamists do not understand that they cannot be Western and Islamist at the same time.