A nation of spies and traitors

A nation of spies and traitors

About two years ago, I was more optimistic about the future Turkey. Here was a country that was finally able to break the decades-old military dominance and began to question taboos on history or minorities. A peace process with Kurdish separatists was promising a bright future, free from the concept of the “enemy within” that has poisoned Turkish politics since the beginning of the Republic.

Things went down in terrible downward spiral, though, in the past two years. First, the Gezi Park protests of June 2013 triggered the old narrative of the “enemy within.” The protestors were not defined as angry crowds with political demands (right or wrong), but the pawns of foreign conspirators that wanted to destabilize Turkey and topple its elected government. The political language of “Old Turkey,” that the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government claimed to have abandoned, came back.

Things got much worse with the political war between the AKP government and the Gülen Movement, which was once its greatest ally in defeating the masters of “Old Turkey.” Soon, both sides began condemning each other as the enemy within. According to the AKP, the Gülen Movement was manipulated by Zionists and American “neo-cons.” According to the Gülen Movement, the AKP was manipulated by “Iranian spies.” None of them were able to consider their enemies as being just paranoid Turks, like themselves.  

Now the political language is so obsessed, bitter and irrational that almost every political stance is branded as “treason” by someone else. For the hardcore supporters of the AKP (or, more precisely, the persona of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan) the rivals are not mere political opponents, but “traitors” supposedly “purchased” by evil forces that want to halt the progress of the glorious “New Turkey.”

But the same logic can easily be found among Erdoğan’s opponents, as well. For them, Erdoğan is a traitor, too, who “sells” the Turkish homeland to the PKK, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, officially a terrorist group, for his own political gains. They condemn the “peace process” between the government and the PKK as the best evidence of “high treason.” In return, the pro-Erdoğan camp blames these opponents of the “peace process” as the real traitors “who only want to see more blood.”

In my writings in Turkish, I often argue against this culture of traitor-hunting. I suggest that we Turks should learn to see different political views as only that: different political views, which are genuinely held, and not conspired with evil intentions. In return, I get accusations of thinking like a “Pollyanna. When I insist, I get accused of whitewashing the traitors, thus becoming a traitor myself.

I am convinced that this delusional and hateful political culture is the main problem in Turkish politics. It makes dialogue and consensus impossible, and fuels constant tension and conflict. It had brought the country to the brink of political civil war in the 70’s, when the militants of the right and left wings were shooting each other on the streets. Today’s political civil war, luckily, is largely bloodless, but it is no less insane.

We need leadership to evolve, to mature, and to go beyond this madness, but leaders often take advantage of paranoia rather than curing it. Still, to preserve some optimism, I will hope new Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, who is much more erudite than most of his predecessors, can take steps forward.