On the man who caught his wife insulting Erdoğan

On the man who caught his wife insulting Erdoğan

In the district of Torbalı in the Turkish coastal province of İzmir, a prosecutor recently received a most unusual complaint: A 40-year-old truck driver, identified only as Ali D., was calling for a criminal case against his wife. You might expect that the issue related to adultery, or perhaps something regarding their child. But no, the issue was purely political: Ali D.’s wife had committed the unspeakable crime of insulting Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. 

“I warned her,” Ali D. told to the prosecutor, as the press reported. “But whenever our president appeared on TV, she either insulted him or changed the channel. The more she continued, I said ‘I will record you and then sue you.’ She said, ‘do it.’ So I recorded her insults.”

With this evidence in hand, Ali D. really did apply to a prosecutor to sue his 37-year-old wife, identified by the initials G.D. As I understood from the press reports, the couple had already had problems. And there’s no wonder that G.D. also went to court asking for a divorce after her husband filed the case. So the “insulting the president” episode may just be the straw that broke the camel’s back in this apparently turbulent marriage. 

But still it is remarkable that a man has sued his own wife for the latter’s unfriendly remarks about a political leader. It is even more remarkable to hear the same man say: “I would even have sued my own father, if he had insulted our president.” We seem to have here a political devotion that overrides all family ties, which you should not expect to see in any reasonable society. As the American adage suggests, “Family comes first,” and most people around the world would agree. For Mr. D., however, the principle seems to be “The leader comes first.”

More importantly, there is something that makes Mr. D.’s personal story a national phenomenon: He is not alone. There are indeed millions, if not tens of millions, like him. They are enchanted by the president and they love him with all their hearts and minds. That is fine, one could say, as love is not a bad thing and people have the right to channel their love into whoever they want. But there is a darker side of the picture: Those who love the president with all their hearts and minds also hate the president’s enemies with all their hearts and minds. They see these enemies, which is roughly the entire other half of Turkey, as nothing other than traitors to the nation working for foreign governments with bad intentions.  

Arguably, this passionate love for the president comes from Turkey’s cultural codes: This is a nation of cults of personalities, where political leaders, or sheiks of religious orders, or even pop icons, can easily turn into demigods. However, the particular cult of personality that moved Mr. D. is also carefully cultivated by massive propaganda. Every single day, at least dozen newspapers and TV channels, along with thousands of employed “trolls,” pump into society love for the president and hate for his enemies. 

This might be working as a “political model” for Turkey — at least for now. But it has terrible costs. The destruction of families, as in the case of Mr. D. is only one. Turkey has also lost all its ability for political consensus, let alone any reasonable dialogue. Political violence is on the rise, both as a result and a cause of intense polarization. What lies ahead of us, as a hatefully divided nation in a volatile neighborhood, is simply unknown.