The latest high in Turkey’s political madness
Yesterday a suicide bomber hit Istanbul’s Sultanahmet Square, killing at least ten people, mostly international tourists. Soon, the president declared that the perpetrator is “a suicide bomber of Syrian origin.” This seemed to confirm the initial suspicion, of mine and many other observers, that this was probably an attack by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
Why ISIL hit Turkey once again, what this tells us about Turkey’s security, and what the government should do — such questions need to be discussed in the days ahead. But besides all such worrying matters, I am also worried about something else: The ability of Turkey’s dominant political psychology to deal with such delicate matters.
By the dominant political psychology, I mean the mood of the ruling elite and their supporters. They seem so angry at everybody other than themselves, that by this very zeal they have the potential to make everything worse — in the exact same fashion of the “Old Turkey” that they passionately despise, but increasingly resemble.
To show what I mean, let me tell you the top controversy of the past week: The brouhaha about “The Beyaz Show,” a popular talk show hosted for many years by Beyazıt Öztürk (called “Beyaz” for short), and has hardly been a matter of political drama. It is a late night program that hosts celebrities like actors and pop stars, and people watch while eating popcorn just to relax.
Yet on the latest episode of The Beyaz Show, one of the random people who joined the program by phone, a woman named Ayşe Çelik, made political remarks. Presenting herself as a teacher from Diyarbakır, a pre-dominantly Kurdish city, she called on all the viewers to be “sensitive” to the deaths in the city taking place during the clashes between security forces and the armed and outlawed Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK). “Are you aware of what is happening in the east of Turkey?” she asked. “People are fighting hunger and thirst, in particular children. Mothers and babies are dying. Please be sensitive and do not remain silent.”
Perceiving this as a call for humanitarian care, both Beyaz and his hosts on the show applauded Ms. Çelik. For others, however, hell broke loose. Thousands of government supporters on social media, along with pro-government newspapers, demonized Ayşe Çelik for “PKK propaganda.” They also condemned The Beyaz Show, and its host, Kanal D, for condoning such “treachery.” A prosecutor soon opened an investigation into Ayşe Çelik, who was declared by the Ministry of Education to be a “fake teacher.” Another prosecutor even opened an investigation on The Beyaz Show with the same charge: “terrorist propaganda.”
The unbelievable thing is that the much-hated woman said nothing other than warning women and children dying. This was probably indeed a criticism of the “anti-terrorism” measures of the state or maybe just a neutral complaint from the conflict. In any case, she did not mentioned the PKK, let alone praise the PKK. Yet the pro-government minds were more than convinced that she was voicing none other than the “PKK narrative.”
This is just one incident showing how deep political hatred and paranoia have become in Turkey. To be sure, it is not a problem limited to the pro-government camp. But the pro-government camp is swimming in it. And since it is combined with enormous power, it is a madness that is more dangerous than anybody else’s. A madness that makes one growingly pessimist about Turkey’s near future.