Why it’s a marriage made in heaven
Shortly before the March 30 local elections, a group of young, angry men in Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s native Rize gathered a demonstration to show their eternal support for the prime minister. They wore shrouds to illustrate both that their support for Mr. Erdoğan would be “till death” and that they attributed divine qualities to him. That colorful support also appeared at the ballot box, as two-thirds of the town voted for Mr. Erdoğan’s party on March 30.
One of the men in shrouds was Kadem Fener, a local tea shop owner who had decorated his shop with big posters of Mr. Erdoğan and a flag that he says “symbolizes Islam.” All that was typically Turkish, hence no news value, until Mr. Fener appeared in newspapers about 10 days ago. His shop was illegal and the municipality had decided to bulldoze it.
A furious Mr. Fener resisted and made a scene: “How dare you do this to a man who supported our prime minister in a shroud?” Good question. And he asked a better one: “Who is the state above the state that dares to do this to a place decorated with the prime minister’s posters and the flag of Islam?” This reminded me of a Turkish defendant, a few years earlier, at a high crime court who, when asked by the judge to defend himself, stated: “I come from a very religious family. My sister wears an Islamic headscarf.” It was a very to-the-point defense.
I personally have known dozens of Turks who pretended to look pious in the hope that the ruling pious would grant them contracts, jobs with fat salaries or promotion, including “drunkards,” as the man for whom they vote often call their lifestyle. I have known Turks who vote for the same man, who say they must vote for him for a better life, and then curse at him at dinner tables full of sinful substance. Such is the unnamed Islamic pyramid scheme that the Turks have built with their Islamic rulers over the past dozen years.
It was not a coincidence that I wrote in this column, as early as March 29, 2006, “Why is (Mr. Erdoğan’s) AKP the mirror image of the average voter?” And wrote: “The answer is quite simple. The average Justice and Development Party (AKP) politician is the mirror image of the average Turkish voter: devoutly Muslim but pragmatist, anti-Western in genes but pro-European Union in anticipation of economic/political benefits, collectivist in theory but individualist in practice, and moralist when ‘the other’ goes corrupt but tolerant when ‘we’ do. Hence, the unusually large margin of tolerance for corruption and mal-governance in Turkey.”
Mr. Erdoğan should have no worries. Of course, he or someone of his choice will win the presidential elections in August. Because Mr. Erdoğan is not just Prime Minister Erdoğan, but also Erdoğan the farmer, Erdoğan the civil servant, Erdoğan the businessman, Erdoğan the worker, the miner and, surely the tea shop owner in Rize. He is the leader with whom your average Turk can best emphatize; and he, with your average Turk. Mr. Erdoğan may not be a democratic, pluralistic prime minister, but he is certainly a great sociologist. He knows very well the ethos of the bond between himself and the tea shop owner in Rize.
He knows that pluralism is not really the best currency in a country where the tea shop owner in Rize would not hesitate a moment to send every political, religious, sexual or ethinic “other” to gaol. He knows that the tea shop owner in Rize privately knows that he would be a corrupt prime minister if he had been elected to the job instead of running his tea shop – and hence his tolerance for corruption if practiced by someone who he thinks will deliver.
But your average Turk, of course, would have his limits about supporting Mr. Erdoğan so staunchly. The men in shrouds would not hesitate to metamorphose from a love into a hate affair with him if the lira starts to trade at 4.5 against the U.S. dollar and at 7 against the Euro after a Hellenic-style crisis.