Beware of self-destructive Turkish propaganda

Beware of self-destructive Turkish propaganda

Yesterday, the Hürriyet Daily News reported about a recent warning by Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan to all ambassadors of Turkey who were gathered in Ankara for an annual “envoy’s conference.” Accordingly, the prime minister told his top diplomats to go and warn the whole world about the domestic “plot” against his government. He reportedly said:

“A very important task falls on your shoulders. We expect you to exert more effort to defeat this treacherous plot targeting Turkey by telling your counterparts the truth. I request you to underline that what’s going on is not a corruption operation, but a coup [against the government].”

In the eyes of the PM, this “coup” is organized by none other than the Gülen Movement, which has opened thousands of modern schools in more than 130 countries. Notably, it was the same Erdoğan who, until very recently, praised these schools everywhere he visited. But now, describing the Gülen Movement implicitly as “a group of Assassins,” and telling his ambassadors to convey a similar message to the whole world, he might well be putting those schools at risk.

This is an example of how Turkey’s domestic political war began to damage its foreign image as a nation. But it is not the only one. While such anti-Gülen remarks dominate the AKP (Justice and Development Party) rhetoric in myriad ways, a counter-rhetoric is also in progress.

Just one example: A journalist is known to be a member of the Gülen Movement recently wrote on Twitter that Erdoğan’s fans greet him as a “Jihadist.” Technically, this was a translation of a word that the pro-Erdoğan crowd used in a rally: They cheered for “Erdoğan, the mujaheed.” This term, “mujaheed,” which has been used in Turkish politics for decades, only implies a hero of Islam who strives for the faith with peaceful means. Yet the post-9/11 term “jihadist” is a much scarier one, for it refers to the armed terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda, who slaughter innocent people for fanatic causes. Here was, in other words, a propagandistic translation, not an objective one.

A biased lens can be observed in some of the recent comments about Turkey’s role in Syria, and Ankara’s alleged support for the jihadists there as well. The Turkish government has certainly miscalculated the course of events in Syria, and also did not see the trouble coming from the fanatics within the opposition for a long time, but it would be unfair to say that it is the patron of savage jihadists such as the notorious ISIS or the Jabhat Al-Nusra.

When you look at all such items in Turkey’s propaganda war, in the media and even more so in the social media, you see a common trend on both sides: demonizing each other with all possible means.

Both camps depict each other as the worst thing that has ever happened in Turkey. Both argue that Turkey has never been more terrible, and the only reason is that the other side is treacherous, mad and malicious.

 My suggestion to all objective observers is to follow all this propaganda with caution, and not to take its extravagant claims too seriously. Whatever they say about each other, the Turkish schools that the Gülen Movement have opened around the world are great, and most of the things the AKP government has done in the past 11 years are worthy. It is just that we Turks get too irrational too often and too quickly.